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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

#1313 • Tour of Eire

March 1953 saw me early morning training with Les Thompson, we would start at 7am going to Borrowash �Shardlow �Sawley x-roads and then home. I rode the early season events to get fit for the two Track Leagues. Later that month we received an invitation from the Eire Cycle Federation to ride in their �Tour of Eire 4 day�. Tom Crowther received the invite and after a meeting of various riders he decided to pick a team representing Derby National Cyclists Union, the riders picked where Reg Morton Derby Ivanhoe, Eric Thompson Derby Mercury, Bill Henshaw, Bren Thorpe and myself (luckily) all of Long Eaton C.C. We trained fairly hard for this event but I don�t remember us training together. Reg Morton did fetch me out for �sprint� training - mostly in the dark - on the A52 from Risley down to finish at Borrowash 30 sign. Each one leading out in turn. We did manage a weekend training run to Stratford on Avon starting on a Saturday morning, I came home on Sunday. The rest went down to Chipping Norton on the A44 then back through Banbury and Coventry. The time soon came round for us to leave for the Tour it was at the end of April 1953.

You may wonder why I am singling this Tour from the many I was to go on in the future, but everyone who rode this and the 1954 Tour holds them in their memory. We left Derby on the Monday; I drove our 1938 Bedford Van with Bill Henshaw, taking the bikes and luggage. Tom took Reg, Eric and Bryn and Lew Barker who had entered solo, Tom had bought an ex-Army Humber. It was O.k. but it drank petrol - only doing about 15 mile per gallon whereas the Bedford did well in excess of 40 m.p.g. We had an uneventful drive to Holyhead, apart from Tom running down an escape road on one of the many bends between Uttoxeter and Stone. We unpacked the bikes etc, had a word with the harbour Master, he knew us well by now, and as usual he allowed us on the boat before the London Mail train came. We had a meal and retired in to pre-booked cabins to sleep before the mailmen dropped their bags in the cabin above, although the ship we were in was brand new i.e. the �Cambrian� we had the same trouble with the mailbag and newspaper drops as on the old �Princess Maud�

We had managed to leave the transport at the bus garage in Holyhead (no charge) they were much safer there, the head man there also left me a bottle of petrol in the van so I could start the model on our return later that week. The reason for the petrol was that on this long stroke pre-war van the petrol pipe ran close to then engine and after stopping the petrol evaporated from the pipe. We had to remove the top of the carb, pour in the petrol and so prime the pump, what a palaver. The van also had a nasty habit of sticking in top gear, which necessitated removing the top of the gearbox and then pushing the sliders in to a square, and then refitting, it would be O.K. for miles then.

We arrived in Dun Laoghaire at 7.30am first having to be sprayed with anti foot and mouth disease deterrent (there was an outbreak in England at the time). We had again booked accommodation at Mrs Ryan�s and breakfast was all ready for us, what a fabulous place Mrs Ryan�s was and how she looked after us and a family of seven we will never know. (I was to visit her some thirty years later with my step- son David)

As well as the boarding house they also ran a pub or at that time a �drinking shop�.  Mr Ryan looked after this establishment; it was from him I learnt the reason why our name had two �T�s. He reached above the bar and brought down a huge dusty black book, this listed all people who where inside the pale fence built by the English years ago, and those people beyond the pale, i.e. Butler with one T inside and with two Ts �beyond the pale� - we learned different things every day. In an outhouse at the rear of the pub there was a bike, which six riders could ride on, it was used for pacing on the track - or had been in the early 1920,s. (This model was to be the subject of much laughter some 45 years later at a Golf dinner.

The race started in Dublin on a Thursday morning, there where 140 starters. We rode down the 6 miles from Dun Laghaire to the ceremonial start on O�Connell Street in the centre of Dublin. The start proper was another19 miles very close to Bray. We all had a �pee� then the lead car dropped to tricolour and we were off. Reg, Eric and I stayed near the front, just like we did on the track. There was a prime at Gorey which was won by Eric, he also won primes at Arklow and Enniscorthy, in no time at all we were on the outskirts of Wexford in sight of the �five mile to go� sign, there was a mass sprint all four of us were in the first twenty but not in the prizes.

Our digs were terrible, four small beds in a room you could hardly sling a cat round. The evening meal was held in the best hotel in town all competitors and officials eat together, the fare was first rate. We were soon in bed, woken by Tom early the next morning.

We went down for breakfast where the woman was cooking over an open fire , the porridge was awful - all black sooty bits in it . The bacon and eggs were the same the eggs being blackened, We - Eric Reg and I ate ours but Bill, Bren and Tom would not touch theirs. We checked over our bikes had a quick rub down with embrocation, packed our bags for the luggage van and then donning track suits we went down to the headquarters hotel where Tom managed to get us another breakfast. Good job he did for we had a long way to go to finish at Waterford, we bought fruit etc for our feed during the long stage which took us inland to Kilkenny and then down into Waterford. Again Reg, Eric and I were in the front group for quite a while. When on the way near Thomastown a donkey cart ran into the peleton , the damage done was unbelievable our team managed to avoid it but those at the back had a hell of a time. In fact quite a few were injured and packed. Ted Gerrard (later to ride in the PeaceRace) smashed his bike so bad he managed to make one machine out of three and finished well inside the time limit. Dave Duffield who comments on this event in his Tour de France spiel with Eurosport may well recall this smash as he and Dave Keeler were involved. About twenty miles to go Eric and I went to the middle of the bunch to find Bill and Bren, we sent Bren up front, by the time we got back to the front of the peleton a break had occurred and we could not bridge the gap. We were elated at the finish as we learned that Bren had won the stage and was to wear the Purple race leader jersey. 

Our �digs� in Cork were first class, we were in the �Headquarters Hotel� and were entertained by the De-Lacey family who at that time ran the Irish Dunlop Rubber Company, we had a most marvellous meal laced with the best wine and champagne, Reg Morton taking a real shine to Miss De-Lacey.

The next day was to be the mountain stage i.e. Cork via the Boggeragh mountains and so into Killarney to finish at Limerick. We bought food in a delicatessen in Cork, Brian Robinson and his Huddersfield team were also there and I overheard them saying they were going straight from the start gun in Cork. I relayed this information to Tom and the other members of our team and we made a plan to �go� with them. Sure enough from the start we �went� - Eric, Reg and I from our team, with Brian Robinson, Haskell, Gran Hayley and Tom Oldfield from Huddersfield R.C., Willy Long, Jack Ryan and Shay Elliot from the Dublin Wheelers. In seemingly no time at all we had 10 minutes lead on the main field. It took our manager Tom, miles to catch us as he could only obtain a 125cc Motor Cycle. We were expecting food and drink from him as we had ridden quite a few hard miles. Much to our surprise he was hopping mad with us for leaving Bren in the bunch (I.e. Race Leader) but we had known that Bren would not be �going� well as he had refused breakfast � as, we discovered the reason later - he was a devout Roman Catholic and the day was a fast day.

We, at that time on the race, were race leaders and all the information we got from Tom was to stop working, we like fools did this , much to the annoyance of the rest of the �breakaway group�. We did not stick this abuse long and we started to work again but on a mountain just before Killarney I was dropped. After about ten miles on my own I was caught by a chasing group which contained Dicky Bowes and his Solihull lads, I managed to stop with this group when we caught the leaders just short of the finish at Limerick. The stage was won by a lad from Liverpool, he was one of the McIntyre brothers the others being professional boxers, we finished well up but out of the prizes, we had also lost the purple jersey this going to Shay Elliot.

We again had good accommodation the evening meal being held at the Town Hall where we had at least three helpings of roast beef, none your modern pasta meals for us. Quite a few lads had saddle boils we were all walking like �cowboys� worst of all being a lad from Surrey named Don Ford , he was in real agony. We were up as usual for the last day of racing i.e. from Limerick via Naas to finish on Wood Key outside of the Guinness factory in Dublin. It was a fairly easy day, Eric and I did breakaway at Naas but were soon caught as we were close to the home of Joe Joe McCormack; we had promised him we would let him lead the group through his home town. We were soon in the city of Dublin and I have never seen so many people at it was estimated a quarter of a million people saw the sprint down Wood Key, every flat top building was packed with people; they were up lamp posts and down Wood Key thousands of kids were sat on the pavement kerbs and we were sprinting for the line down there, luckily there was no tip ups. The whole of the Ryan family was there to meet us and we were overjoyed to see them. In the evening the meal and prize giving was held in one of the best hotels in O�Connell Street, I think it was the Royal right opposite the Post Office of 1916 fame. We obtained several photographs - some of which Bill Henshaw still possesses I hope he will lend us some to put in this story, we caught the boat next night and so drove home, we did stop once at an all night petrol station in Bangor, Tom had to put gallons in his Humber, then it was the turn of the Bedford, whereupon Lew Barker leapt out of the Humber shouting to the petrol attendant to put a fart in each tyre and two gallon in the tank as the van runs on air it certainly was economical. So ended a most successful tour we had nurtured many friendships in the Emerald Isle.

For anyone who’s interested, here is an interview with Alf on VeloNews.com about this race and his career.

bert 12:11 280705

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