Last July I first shared this story, recounted to me many times by my father when I was a child. I hope that those of you who read it last summer will enjoy revisiting the tale, and for those to whom it is new, I hope it brings a smile to your face.
When my dad was a young man growing up in Ireland he was an avid cyclist, and he spent every spare penny he had on the maintenance of his bicycles. When he was able to take a holiday from work, he and his friends would cycle around the country. Together they navigated the entire Republic of Ireland. They were very well prepared, carrying with them sleeping bags and a primus stove for cooking, together with a neatly compact kit of cooking implements, some food, candles, and torches (a kind of flashlight) for night lighting.
Each day the travelling group would go as far as the wind and their legs would carry them. Overnight accommodations were arranged as they went. Their fellow countrymen were very helpful and very welcoming. Many nights they found themselves sleeping in the hayloft of an accommodating farm in exchange for helping out a little the next day. After such nights they were usually greeted with a delicious breakfast of fresh eggs, sausages, bacon, and coffee so strong "it would grow hair on your chest", as my dad used to say.
On a trip up into Connemara they found themselves arriving in a small village too late at night to make any sort of sleeping arrangements. They had cycled through the Twelve Bens, a mountain range which, while not exceptionally high, has roads so narrow and drops so steep that cycling through it is not for the faint of heart. The weather had closed in on them, and visibility was very poor; they had to stop for a while before completing their journey through the mountains, thus the very late arrival at the village.
The weather was still a little unstable when they arrived, and not wanting to get drenched by an overnight rain while sleeping under the stars, they decided to seek shelter inside castle ruins one of the party had spotted in a field on the edge of the village. They made their way through the field, gingerly stepping over 'cow pies', and trying to quiet the clatter of their bicycles so as not to unsettle the cows. My dad loved the darkness of the night; he said it seemed as though there were a billion stars in the sky.
They arrived to discover the ruins of the castle were in good enough shape that they would be well sheltered for the night. They pulled out their gear, lit candles, heated up the primus stove, and prepared a small meal over which they enjoyed animated conversation about their day's adventures. They used the torches and candles to poke around a bit inside the ruins before finally extinguishing them and settling in for the night.
My dad said he had never slept so soundly. They slept late into the morning and awakened fresh and ready to go into the village for a hearty meal before they once again set out on their bikes.
Along the road they met a shepherd moving a large flock of sheep down the road. He directed them to a small pub where they could get a meal, and told them to avoid the castle ruins on their tour because during the night he had noticed strange lights in the castle keep. He said he was worried that the angry ghost who used to haunt the place might be back. The cycling party said nothing and proceeded to the pub.
They arrived to find the place in an uproar with a couple of villagers excitedly talking about strange lights seen in the castle ruins the previous night, how the lights moved around so much, how they were glowing for a while and then suddenly gone. There was one "ole fella" (my dad's words) in particular who seemed to delight in regaling the group with stories about apparitions met and ghosts that had once haunted the ruins, and who wondered aloud what this reappearance might mean.
My father and his friends felt they should own up to the fact that it was them lighting up the ruins the previous night, and not an angry ghost; however, everyone seemed so excited about it that they just didn't have the heart to say anything. The 'cycling apparitions' happily shared a meal with the villagers at the pub and continued on their journey.
Copyright ©J. Geraghty-Gorman 2010.
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