Much has been said, and rightly so about the heroics of the Celtic players last Wednesday night, in turning over the mighty Barcelona. Less than 12 hours after the fulltime whistle had blown on a night that will live long in the memories of every Celtic Supporter, six hardy souls set off on a journey of 243 miles from Ballymote Co. Sligo that they won’t forget anytime soon.
On the day AICSC Honorary President Sean Fallon raised the league flag at Celtic Park back in August, The Celtic Charity Fund also launched its 1254125 campaign with the simple aim of raising money for those most in need, in Celtic’s 125th year. It was as part of this campaign that Jim Kelly, Mark Cameron, Ray McFarland, Alistair Schulz, Paul Muldoon and Robert Campbell decided to take the 1254125 pledge and cycle from Brother Walfrid’s hometown of Ballymote Co. Sligo to Celtic Park.
Only hours after the beating of Barca on a “fresh” November morning “The Celtic Six” set out on the first leg of their journey ably assisted by “the man who drove the van” Andy Muldoon. After quick visits to The Kerins homestead and Brother Walfrid Park, home of Ballymote Celtic F.C. the Bhoys were on the road with Blacklion Co. Cavan 47 miles away to be the finishing point for day one. The members of Bhoys of Erne C.S.C. with flasks of tea and coffee at the finishing line were certainly a welcome sight for the cyclists, most of whom hadn’t had any sleep the previous night as they caught the midnight ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast.
Friday morning came about a little quicker than expected for most, as the phrase “one for the road” rang out in McHugh’s of Glenfarn into the wee small hours. Day two was the longest route on the cycle with an 81 mile journey from Blacklion Co. Cavan to Lurgan Co. Armagh lying in wait for the Bhoys. Albeit a little stiff and tired, mid afternoon saw the Bhoys arrive at the clubrooms of Lurgan No. 1 C.S.C. where Maria Foy as always, provided a warm welcome and much needed refreshments. What had started out as “The Celtic Six” was now very much “The magnificent Seven” as Andy played a dual role as van driver and motivator in chief. That night over a few sociable beverages in Lurgan, as strangers came up to congratulate them and wish them well, it began to dawn on the Bhoys on what they had undertaken and what they were about to achieve. Once various presentations had taken place and pictures were taken for the local paper a relatively early night was had by all.
The previous two days exertions began to take their toll, and on Saturday morning six stiff bodies climbed aboard their bikes for the relatively short trip from Lurgan to Belfast to catch the ferry to Cairnryan. Well known collector (and vendor) of Celtic memorabilia and member of Ballymena Shamrock C.S.C. Jackie McGreevy made the trip down to Lurgan early on Saturday morning to accompany the Bhoys back up the road. As their sailing wasn’t until 12 noon Jackie took time out to show the Bhoys various landmarks along the route, most notably Long Kesh prison and then on to Milltown Cemetery where they all paid their respects at the graveside of the legendary Charlie Tully. Belfast port was a welcome sight and the two hour ferry crossing was a chance to refuel and catch forty winks.
On reaching Cairnryan the plan was to push on as much as possible and make Maybole before dark. In theory this shouldn’t have been a problem but with the wind howling, the rain beating down and the small matter of several steep climbs along the coast road this was going to be no walk in the park. At one stage with a serious wind in their faces the idea of finishing in Girvan on Saturday evening was mentioned, but this was not going to be an option. Much like the tunnel in Lisbon The Celtic song was belted out a few times as the peloton steadily weaved their way along Scotland’s west coast, and random chants of Come on You Bhoys In Green kept the spirits high as the Bhoys completed the 67 mile stage and arrived in Maybole safe and sound just before dark. Soaking wet and very tired the bhoys loaded their bikes onto the van and headed for Irvine where they were staying Saturday night. Once showered and fed the mood improved greatly and it was off to Irvine C.S.C. for a few sociables and a bit of craic. The hospitality afforded to the group by the members in the Irvine club was top class and picked up the cyclists spirits for the final stage.
Sunday morning meant back into the van and back to Maybole to start the last leg of the journey. Although tired and sore, the adrenalin was pumping and the Bhoys started to eat into the 48 miles that lay between them and Paradise. At around 1pm the bhoys rolled into Glasgow and St. Mary’s Church on Abercrombie St. was the first stop. Only days after a mass hosted at the same venue by The Celtic Graves Society to mark the clubs 125th anniversary, the group posed for photos outside where the whole Celtic story began. In the shadow of Celtic Park they mounted their bikes for one last time and headed for the finish line, the small issue of a slight diversion on the approach to Celtic Park due to a march was overcome and they were on the home stretch.
Job done!!!!! At approximately 1:30pm cheered on by Celtic supporters, family and friends the magnificent seven proudly posed at the Brother Walfrid statue with the Celtic cross they had brought all the way from Ballymore, retracing the steps taken by Andrew Kerins all those years ago. After a quick shower at Barrowfield it was back to Celtic Park to take in the game against St. Johnstone. Half time saw all seven do a lap of the pitch to generous and well deserved applause from the crowd, finishing off in the centre circle where they presented the cross to Celtic Chief Executive Peter Lawwell. Speaking afterward AICSC Transport Officer Jim Kelly said “This was a fantastic opportunity and something I will remember forever, hopefully many more people will get involved in 1254125 and do their bit for charity in Celtic’s 125th year.
Event organiser and cyclist Mark Cameron said “the hospitality and generosity the group experienced on their journey was out of this world. From the Celtic supporters on the ferry back from the Barcelona game, to the locals in Blacklion, Lurgan and Irvine everyone was really good to us” Regarding 1254125 Mark said “this is a great chance for people to create their own piece of Celtic history in the clubs 125th year by becoming involved in 1254125, have a cake sale, get your head shaved, host a coffee morning or run a marathon it doesn’t matter it’s all about getting involved and raising funds for a great cause”