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Club History

A History of Shannonside CC, followed by accounts of the original 'Athlone Bicycle Club'.

Shannonside CC was formed in Oct 1998, following a meeting in the Royal Hotel, Athlone. The hotel has since been demolished but the club has survived. The meeting was convened as a result of an informal chat following the Cooperation North Maracycle of that year. The previous club in Athlone had disbanded a few years earlier. It had been known as Athlone CC (Win Electric).

The membership at the beginning was close to fifty, with a very good age spread and quite a few mountain bikers as well as road riders. The underage section was very successful at road-race events of all ages with two of our members representing Ireland at home and abroad.

At this time some of our senior citizens in the club raced at various levels quite unspectacularly, with one of them throwing his steed over the ditch half way up the “Butts” vowing never to race again. He never did, but started touring with the other senior citizens. This lasted for a while until he decided it was no easier than racing, so he resorted to horse-riding instead.

The club also hosted four All-Ireland underage league finals and a Leinster time trial and road race championship. The numbers were spectacular compared to today’s underage races and it was not unusual to see 150 boys/girls on the road for the finals.

With the decrease in underage activity, the club now has an active touring section, a small number of racing cyclists and a growing body of triathletes. The touring members partake in numerous events all over the country and we have developed a certain expertise in the science of the gallop or 'ging'.

The annual international pilgrimage is to the bone-shaking Ronde van Vlaandaren (Tour of Flanders) in Belgium each April. The club hosts an annual event, called the Tour of the Heartlands, every May. Other clubs, both local and further a field, have lent great support to this event.

Racing within the club is changing in nature each year. We compete in IVCA races, Cycling Ireland events, and in the rapidly growing Midlands Interclub Cycling league. The triathlete and TriAthlone influence is also having an effect, with some cycling-only diehards now trying their hand at running and swimming as well. Hopefully, the process will work both ways and some of the triathletes will attempt competitive cycling events also.

Recently, we have collaborated with other midlands clubs to host a Summer interclub league. This exciting development is hopefully a growing one and the races include ordinary road events and time trials.

As ever, Shannonside CC is looking for new members of all abilities, for touring, training, racing or simply keeping fit.

History of cycling in Athlone pre-Shannonside CC

The First Athlone Bicycle Club      extracts from an article by Gearoid O’Brien

The sport of cycling was well established in Ireland by 1878 when it was administered by the Irish Cycling Association.  Later after the establishment of the GAA cycling became part of GAA meetings.  The two different bodies had different constituencies – the Irish Cycling Association drew their members from urban areas and these tended to be Unionists or moderate Nationalists whereas the GAA opened the sport to the working classes, mostly from rural areas and these tended to be strong Nationalists so inevitably conflict arose between the two groups.  

We do not know the precise date of foundation of Athlone Bicycle Club but it seems most likely to have been 1892.  In April of that year the club held its first run to Birr.  The cyclists left Athlone at 8.30 a.m. and reached Birr at 12 noon.  Having visited various attractions, including Lord Rosse’s world famous telescope at Birr Castle they returned to Athlone in an even shorter time and the members expressed themselves well pleased with their days outing.  The next season began with a day trip to Longford on Easter Monday when they visited Goldsmith’s home in Auburn as well as the Barracks and Cathedral in Longford.

In the 1890s there was a cycling boom when the penny-farthing bicycle was replaced by the ‘safety bicycle’ making bicycles cheaper and safer to use.  The other great improvement around that time was the introduction of pneumatic tyres in 1888 and they gained popularity in the 1890s.  Athlone cyclists were well served by M.H. Foy’s store in Athlone which claimed to have one of the largest and best equipped work-shop in Ireland and was capable of carrying out all types of cycle repairs.

Second Annual Meeting in the Meadows

In August 1893 the Athlone Bicycle Club held its Second Annual Meeting.  The day, we are told, “was all that could be desired” and they met in the Queen’s Meadows by permission of the colonel commanding the garrison.  “The country people flocked to the town, the fair sex in their brightest garb and it is estimated that when the first event took place there were some 5,000 people present.  Competitors had come from as far as Athy, Castlebar and Leitrim.

Among those present were Mr Charles O’Donoghue, Ballinahown Court, High Sheriff for County Westmeath; Messrs Dogg, A.E. Johnston of Burgess; Thomas Chapman; R Gladstone; T. Ahern; W.T. McElroy; J.P. Foy and W. Haire.  The judges for the cycling were Messrs M Kilkelly and J. Haddock. The Telegraph Steward was P Ghent; Lap Stewards: Sgt McCarthy, J McHugh, R. Moore and A Ferry.  The referee was R. Baile and the handicapper was Mr P.P. Sutton.  M.J. O’Flynn and P Duffy were the Short Call Stewards.

M.H. “Scorcher” Foy won the two mile confined race but the open races were all won by visiting cyclists.  The captain of the Athlone club was Mr John McHugh who worked in the furniture department of Thos Burgess & Sons.  The Second Annual Meeting included a boy’s race over 220 yards which was won by M Hogan from P.C. O’Flynn and William Egan.

Cycling Gains Popularity

At the AGM of Athlone Bicycle Club in March 1894 Mr Charles O’Donoghue was appointed as president of the club with Mr P.B. Tracey and Mr James Conway as Vice-Presidents. The committee members included: Messrs O’Flynn; Fry; Gladstone; Stitzel and Ghent with Mr McHugh as captain.

The club held its first ‘run’ of the season to Moate on Good Friday followed by a run to Banagher on Easter Sunday.  When the club made a run to Ballinahowen Court in June the party was entertained to afternoon tea by the club president.

The first road race of the 1894 season was held in June.  It was held over the Coolvuck course of ten miles.  The following were the handicaps: Foy scratch; Messrs Ferry, Jones, Heaton and Bacon 4 minutes and Messrs Connell; Guinan and Connor 6 minutes.  Sgt Bacon won by six yards from Guinan and Connor came in third.

A report in the local press in February 1895 tells us that when the entire expanse of Lough Ree was frozen over that skaters and cyclists could be seen on the lake.  The ice was reported to be five inches thick.

In April 1895 various new members joined the ranks of Athlone Bicycle Club and these included Mr James Lyster; Mr J Gaynor, solicitor; Mr Charles E Fair, solicitor; Dr McCormack and Mr Michael Kilkelly.

An unfortunate accident marred the first run of the season that year.  In April twenty-three cyclists took to the road but a brake which was carrying spectators crashed at Cornamaddy.  The horses apparently took off at a furious rate and broke their reins leaving the driver helpless.  Miss Conway and Miss Ghent jumped from the brake and were injured.  The clothes of the latter were caught in the wheels and she was dragged some distance along the road.  The horses were only brought to a standstill when they ran into a wall at Mr Kearney’s place and the entire party returned to town.

Apart from Athlone Bicycle Club other clubs organised cycling events in Athlone in the 1890s these included the Y.M.C.A. and the Catholic Young Men’s Society and while members of both the local garrison and the R.I.C. were involved in the Athlone Bicycle Club the RIC also had its own designated club in Athlone and boasted a membership of forty.

Reproduced courtesy of the author, this article first appeared in The Athlone Miscellany column in The Westmeath Independent.