For this one, we’re going to take a ride around Ireland’s famous Dingle Peninsula, on the west coast, south of Galway, impossibly beautiful in a nation of impossible beauty. Dingle town is a rollicking place filled with pubs and the surrounding area offers massive hills, ancient stone walls, ruined castles, and frequent stops to let sheep cross the road.
I was lucky enough to bike the Dingle peninsula on a house-swapping trip with my mom and sister in 2000. (Yep, a house swap. As in, an Irish family came to stay at my mom’s place just outside Toronto and we stayed at their place in Dublin. We even had the use of their car, although their insurer was a bit jaded and insisted we pony up $200 because apparently, North American drivers don’t have the best track record driving on the left.) While in Dublin, a cabbie told me that “Irish is a state of mind,” prompting a previous St. Patrick’s cycling mix here. As it happens, I am one-quarter Irish through my maternal grandfather, and I have the pasty skin and love of music to prove it.
When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down) – Great Big Sea (3:24): Okay, not exactly Irish but by God, if you took the west coast of Ireland and smooshed it into the closest land mass to the west, that’d be Newfoundland and Labrador, a place of Irish immigrants and strong traditions. Back in 1994, I was hiking on The Rock (as they call it) with some friends, and we popped into a record shop in St. John’s – this was back when they still had record shops. We asked the clerk who the next big band out of the province would be, and without hesitation, he said, “Great Big Sea.” They’d played their first gig less than a year before and had one CD out. We bought it. They’ve since gone on to four Platinum and six Gold albums in Canada. This is the most successful of their many songs. Let’s adjust the resistance until we can feel a flat paved road underneath our feet. Nevermind – it won’t stay flat for long. We’re riding easy through Dingletown, with its thatch-roofed homes and cheery pubs.
The Boys Are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy (4:30): How am I just finding out that these guys are Irish? We’re passing the town limits. To our left is an ancient Druid cairn. The road isn’t in great condition – time for some jumps. 8 counts up and down with the music. You won’t need much tension for this – maybe 4/10, they’re plenty challenging, but coach a couple of optional tension increases.
I’m Shipping Up to Boston – Dropkick Murphys (2:34): Alright, you got me again, these Celtic punk rockers hail from Quincy, Massachusetts. The road evens out and gets a little better so we’re going to stretch ourselves with some speed work. Recover to 0:30 then do sprint intervals: 15 seconds on/15 seconds off. You’ll have time for four of them.
Mari Mac – Great Big Sea (3:19): There I go with the Great Big Sea again. This song is tremendous fun and regularly has the audience singing the chorus, “my mother’s making me marry Mari Mac!” Recover to 0:45 and then MORE sprints, three of them, each 30 seconds long at 0:45 – 1:15, 1:45 – 2:15 and 2:45 – 3:15.
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison (3:03): The sun comes out over the water as we pick our way along the sharp curves that hug the coastline. There’s a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean to our left. Four count jumps along the rising road, resistance at 6/10 – these are almost as challenging as the previous set.
Dreams – The Cranberries (4:15): We’ve got some rolling hills to climb now, ever upward. We’ll do lots of small tension tweaks – two or three upward, then down again, as we tackle this hill. Come on up out of the saddle for this one. Hey – what’s that ahead? Another group of riders. They’re recovering at the top of the hill, drinking some water, enjoying the view. Let’s try to catch up with them.
The Kilburn High Road – Flogging Molly (3:43): Purists will point out that this band hails from LA, but they are Celtic punk rockers and the lead singer was born in Dublin, so that makes them Irish in my book. This song appealed to me because when I lived in London, England, I lived just off the Kilburn High Road. It’s a scrappy working neighbourhood.
We catch up to the other riders and they propose a friendly race down the hill and across the valley to the base of the next, much larger, hill. The wager is a round at the pub back in Dingletown. Are you in? We’ll take the song at our race day pace, about 80-85% of maximum effort. I use visualization throughout the race with two riders in the other group leading and separate attacks to pass each of them before we get to the base of the hill. I promise everyone they can have as much time for recovery as they want or need when the song ends.
Magnificent – U2 (5:24): Whew… everyone is sucking wind and water. We bid goodbye to the other riders, who are heading inland. We’re going over this hill and hugging the coast. With this song, and the next, we’ve got a 10 minute climb ahead of us, so take as much time as you need to feel ready to work again – you’re still going to get lots of hill. We’re going to take the first half of the hill seated, so let’s jack up the resistance, push back in the saddle, and go. I coach a few tension increases on the way, and caution riders that they should always be able to ride with the music. If they can’t, they have too much resistance on the bike and need to back it off. I’d have no Irish credibility at all if I didn’t include some U2 in this mix. They’re only the most famous Irish band of all-time.
Whisky in the Jar – Metallica (5:05): A traditional Irish folk tune, covered by… Metallica? You bet. Thanks to Bill Thomas on Facebook for this one. It’s a relief to come out of the saddle, take the resistance back, and push to the top.
Desire – U2 (2:59): It’s the top of a U2 sandwich! Now that we’ve reached the top of the hill, the road levels out to a fast, steady flat. Take this one at about 70% of your maximum effort. Those who need more recovery can take what they need and rejoin us when they’re ready.
Mandinka – Sinead O’Connor (3:49): Another smaller hill to tackle here. Medium tension, out of the saddle. This song would also work for 8 or 4 count jumps if you felt like doing some more of those.
Rocky Road to Dublin – Irish Descendants (5:32): This group of second-generation Irish Newfoundlanders offers one of dozens of covers of this Irish folk song that dates back to the 19th century. Time for some single-leg training: 15 seconds each leg, then 30, 45, 60 seconds with one leg doing all the work and the other coming along for the ride. Keep your feet in the cages if you’re not clipped in, and focus on making smooth circles with enough tension to make you happy when it’s time to switch legs. There’s 30 seconds for recovery here as well. You can space it out 15 seconds at the beginning and end, or however you like.
The Old Black Rum – Great Big Sea (3:31): This is a perrenial pub favourite here in the Atlantic provinces, with pub-goers much prone to chiming in on the boozy chorus: “the old black rum’s got a hold on me, like a dog wrapped round my leg”. We’ve swung around on our way back to Dingletown and hit a long flat – perfect for a bit of speed. Recover to 0:38 then tackle two sprint intervals of 45 and 55 seconds at 0:38 – 1:22 and 2:20 – 3:14. We’re brought up short by a herd of sheep crossing the road. There are some other cyclists waiting, too – our friends from eariler. While we wait for the sheep to make their way across, our friends demand a rematch. Another race, this time to the town limits, double or nothing? Sure.
Swagger – Flogging Molly (2:05): The whole song is a race to the finish line, 90% effort for as long as you can stand it. This time the other riders are determined to beat us, but we’re not going to let that happen, are we?
The Unicorn – The Irish Rovers (3:18): Shel Silverstein wrote it but the Irish Rovers ran with it and it became their biggest hit. The group is Canadian but two of the members were born in Ireland. They had their own CBC musical variety TV show through much of the 1970s, which helped to popularize Irish folk music across the country. (We spent many an evening with the Rovers at my house.) When I told my classes that I was working on a St. Patrick’s ride for this week and asked if they had any requests, this was the one that came up.
This mix needs one more song for goodbye music. I was torn: Black Velvet Band? When Irish Eyes are Smiling? Something from the Pogues? Chieftains? Riverdance? Corrs? The Script? That one’s yours… I want to finish with a big shout out to the former cycling pingers and to Chris over at Chrispins, who provided all of the great music ideas for this ride.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!