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Charity cyclists eye opening trip through migrant crisis

November 1st, 2015 9:55 PM

By Southern Star Team

Kieran, Sean and Cian on their arrival in Turkey

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IT began as a pipe dream in work, but last week one West Cork man achieved his 4,640km goal by completing a Dublin to Istanbul charity cycle.

There were a few dramas along the way for Cian Whooley, from Ahakista, but none as ‘eye-opening’ as crossing paths with the desperate migrants in Hungary who were fleeing for their lives.

Cian, along with friends Sean Rowland and Kieran Hanley, arrived into the Turkish capital recently, after their nine-week Trans European journey came to an end.

‘It’s incredible to finally get to Istanbul,’ he said. ‘It always seemed so far away and there were a few moments during the journey when we wondered if we’d make it. It was a great feeling when we reached the final destination.’

Cian and Sean departed from O’Connell Street in Dublin on August 3rd and were joined by Kieran in Serbia, though that turned out to be more drama-filled than expected.

‘The airline didn’t transfer my bike on my connecting flight, so I had to wait a few days before I could join the lads. Eventually I met them in Sarajevo and got going,’ Cian told The Southern Star.

The cyclists could never have known before they set off that they would arrive in Budapest at the height of the migrant crisis, and Cian admits that it put many of their own minor setbacks into perspective.

‘Along the journey there were times when you’d feel sorry for yourself, from bad weather, to struggling with directions or problems with the bikes, but you soon realise how insignificant these are.

‘The sheer volume of migrants was mind-boggling. We saw families sleeping in leaking tents, huddled together in parks, desperate for a new beginning. It was very sad to witness, but at the same time a real eye-opener. We are often very sheltered from these events in Ireland.’

Travelling through sixteen countries, the accommodation varied from campsites, to couch surfing to rented apartments, but one common theme throughout the cycle was the goodwill and support which they received throughout.

‘In Serbia, one local fixed our bikes and took us to a restaurant and insisted on paying for us while we were in his town, while couch surfing allowed us to get to see places properly armed with local knowledge. The guy we stayed with in Salzburg took a day off work to show us around, in Orleans in France we got a full tour and ended up at a birthday party, while in another place we stayed, the owner who we hadn’t yet met, left house keys out for us and told us to help ourselves to anything,’ he added.

The aim of the cycle was to raise funds for Friends of Bantry Hospital and Special Friends Mitchelstown.

‘My two-year-old niece Rose was diagnosed at birth with a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called Williams Syndrome,’ Sean explained. ‘It affects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide, but requires constant medical attention.’

Special Friends is a voluntary group run by parents in Mitchelstown which offers practical assistance and support to the families of children with special needs and is very close to my family’s heart.

Bantry Hospital will receive all the proceeds Cian raises for t      l, where the Irish Community held a pub quiz to raise money and the Irish Ambassador in Turkey has requested to meet the three cyclists at a specially arranged civic ceremony in the Turkish capital.

Donations can be made at rotharchallenge.com

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