Wheels of fortune have me in a spin in a Spanish cycling haven

January 20th, 2017 7:10 AM

By Southern Star Team

Brian Canty, left, from Innishannon, along with business partners Louise Laker and Lee Comerford, from the UK, moved to Spain in 2014 where they pursued their passion for cycling by starting a bike-tour company called Eat, Sleep, Cycle.

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Innishannon cycling fanatic Brian Canty, (31), left West Cork in 2014 for a new life in Spain. Two years on, he can’t believe he’s still making it work, and has even started a new business

WEST Cork has a special place in my heart and mention of it evokes very fond memories of my childhood in both Innishannon, and down around Clonakilty, where my dad’s side of the family hails from.

Dad was born on a farm in Lyre so, naturally, I spent some time down there where his sister and my aunt still live.

I have very fond memories of the simple pleasures of my youth – hot baking; and even hotter summer afternoons doing odd-jobs on the farm; bitingly cold winters feeding cattle, working on a Saturday and maybe stopping on the way home to watch a GAA match – any match, anywhere, and having an ice-cream to finish a perfect day.

It was simple and satisfying – coming home in the evenings, tired and dirty, and feeling like I did something useful.

Nowadays, I live an altogether different life and the first question I always get asked is ‘where?’ and ‘why?’, though there’s definitely more curiosity about the latter.

I moved to Spain in late September 2014 after four brilliant years working in the media in Cork city. Yet, looking back, my only regret is not doing it sooner.

I was 28 at the time I left – single and debt-free, so when people say ‘What a risk you took!’, I respond with: ‘The risk would have been staying in Cork.’ And I really believe that.

I’d reached the end of a glorious chapter in my life – working as a sub-editor on the sports desk of a national newspaper.

Sure, there were long, hard nights and few weekends off, but I loved what I did, which meant what I did for 40 hours a week was more hobby than job.

But I was getting older and more stale and had wanderlust. And I knew a life on a farm or in an office in the city I was born into, just wasn’t for me.

So I took off and pitched up in a city in north-eastern Spain called Girona.

Now it’s ‘home’ and has been, ever since I made that big decision to leave wonderful West Cork.

But here I have a higher standard of living – and for less money – than I had back in Ireland.

By ‘standard of living’ I mean, amongst other things, much lower rent (I pay €290 a month for a five-bed which I share with two others.) 

We rent out two rooms and make our rent payment from this. 

The apartment has a pool, and views of the city and Pyrenees that’d take your breath away.

I also lead a more active, outdoors-y life. I have more options to stay fit and healthy. And I have the sun. Okay, I’ll stop now!

Of course, Spain was in the grip of a recession when I arrived. University graduates scrambled for any kind of work. 

Unemployment rates for the under-30s were among the highest in Europe, but luckily for me, I had no intention of working in a local business. Or so I thought ….

I planned to generate revenue through advertising from a cycling website, renting out rooms, writing freelance articles on travel and sport for anyone who would pay … and then hope for the best.

I knew nobody when I came and I didn’t speak Spanish. Which was just as well, because here the spoken language is Catalan, and they actually frown upon anyone speaking Spanish. They’re in the middle of a long and convoluted process of trying to secure autonomy. 

The first few days after my arrival were certainly difficult, but slowly and surely I was welcomed into the community – even without making any effort to speak Catalan.

I do think fondly of home from time to time, and I’ve lost count of the nights out in Cork I’ve missed, along with the stag parties, the Galway Races, the Saturday evenings at Valley Rovers games, the Sunday afternoons listening to C103 for Páidí or John Cashman, the Sunday Game highlights.

I miss County Final day. I miss coleslaw and Ballymaloe Relish. I miss proper fry-ups. I miss the 100km spin on the bike to Kinsale and coffee in the Lemon Leaf café.

I miss the big blow-outs in Dublin and watching my nephew grow up. Being from Innishannon, there is a lot to miss.

Right now, I am missing the buzz which is building up to the first Canty wedding in March, and I definitely miss having Sunday dinner at home.

But for all the things I miss about home, there’s too much here that I love and the scales between Girona and Cork seem – now, at least – tipped overwhelmingly in the former’s favour.

Recently, I took the greatest plunge of my life so far when I went into business with two friends from the UK.

That we only know each other less than a year is daft enough, but the fact none of us has a word of Catalan is even more daft. We started a bike rental/touring company based here last May, and for the three of us, it represents our greatest passion in life – cycling. 

We had a hiccup the day we opened the shop when some guy stole a bike, but after a frantic chase we retrieved it (by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’). It has only embellished the rollercoaster journey of this trip I’m on.

Luckily for us, Girona is fast becoming the sport’s cycling Mecca, with hundreds of ex-pats now calling it home and tens of thousands more coming each year for visits – it’s just 40 minutes north of Barcelona by train.

We saw this influx as an opportunity and so launched our site last year – providing road bikes, day trips, multi-day tours, training camps and cycling holidays, for everyone from the hardened racer to the weekend warrior.

We have no idea where we will be in one, five or ten years’ time. 

Between us we have engineering, sports science, journalism and marketing degrees – however useful they will be remains to be seen!

But we hope our love, passion and determination will make up the shortfall, because all we really wanna do is make enough money to live comfortably. 

Could I have had that in Clonakilty?  Yes, probably. 

So maybe that chapter isn’t quite closed yet … !

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