It’s the 2nd biggest cycling race in the world, it’s part of the European Grand Tours which include the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, and it’s coming to Northern Ireland, it’s the Giro d’Italia.
Giro d’Italia kicks of its Grande Partenza in Belfast on the 9th May 2014 and as part of the build up to the event we were invited along to take part in a pre Giro tour around the route. We covered the City centre route, due to be held on the 9th May, the Coastal route, due on the 10th May, and a tour around Armagh where the route is due to begin on day 3, 11th May before it heads toward Dublin.
Starting at Titanic Belfast, we followed the route to Stormont Estate, before heading back into the City centre, along the banks of the Lagan past the Lyric Theatre, down Stranmillis, past Queens, then headed past the Grand Opera House and the Crown Bar, then on to the City Hall. Along the route, things were already starting to go pink, the traditional colour of the Giro. The Tourist Board is encouraging the City and Northern Ireland to go pink for the Giro Festival, so be prepared to get your pink on!
The first stop on our tour was a visit to Commercial Court in the Cathedral Quarter to watch it being transformed pink. As we arrived the famous red benches were being given a coating of bright pink gloss. And on the wall above the street were two cyclists, pedalling away! They aren’t real cyclists of course, but they are a fun contribution to the Giro from Willie Jack, the brains and passion behind all the murals and fun of Commercial Court.
And then we headed North along the route to Dunluce Castle where we met up with Danny McKinley from Sheans Horse Farm who are working with members of the McDonnell clan on the “Granting of Safe Passage“ for the 200 elite cyclists along the Causeway Coast . They will be escorting them on horses past Dunluce, Kenbane and Redbay Castles. When we arrived at Dunluce, we were welcomed by a pink horse, such it the commitment to going pink!
Next on our tour we passed Giant’s Causeway where they have a pink bike on the roof, then on to Carrick-a-rede rope bridge with pink bicycles sitting amongst the daffodils at the entrance. Along the route were various pink walls, tractors, and signage. Even pink yellow man has appeared in The Sweetie Jar in Ballycastle!
The scenery of the Causeway coast was stunning on the sunny Spring afternoon, and we can only hope that during the Giro that we have clear skies to show off our beautiful countryside to the estimated 775 million people watching as the Giro is broadcast in 174 countries.
The day ended in the beautifully refurbished Ballygally Hotel which sits right on the Giro Route. Steeped in history, the 17th Century Castle is full of nods to its past, including two 200 hundred year old stunningly refurbished chairs sitting grandly in the foyer. The hotel has had quite an impressive makeover with 18 new seaview bedrooms added. We relaxed in the beautiful hotel gardens before dinner in the Garden Restaurant. The hotel is fully booked on the day Giro passes by, as a lucky wedding party booked it up before the Giro was announced. What a wedding day, the day the world’s second largest cycle race comes to town.
The next morning we headed to Armagh to tour the City which hosts the start of the last leg of the Northern Irish Giro tour.
Visiting Navan Fort we were greeted by some Celts embracing the pink theme and we learnt about the history and importance of Navan Fort, the ancient capital and seat of the Kings of Ulster.
Heading into Armagh to follow the Giro route through the City, we visited St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, where according to tradition, St Patrick built a church on the hill from which the city derives its name, Ard Mhacha – The Height of Mhacha. After seeing the Tandagree Man, a 2000 year old carved stone, we visited the Cathedral Crypt, No5 Vicars Hill, then the Armagh Public Library which the race passes immediately in front of. We were amazed to learn that the library, Northern Ireland’s oldest, is home to the publisher Benjamin Motte’s first edition of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, dated 28 October 1726.
We finished our Giro tour with a visit to the Armagh’s Mall to watch Armagh Cricket Club in their newly printed pink ‘whites’. Then as a last and totally unexpected surprise, we were taken to see the giant bicycle which will sit in the centre of Armagh’s Mall during the Giro concert and firework display, all pink themed of course.
Can you see how this is going to look on TV during the race? With helicopters transmitting footage from the sky and TV crews reporting from the ground, Northern Ireland’s amazingly beautiful countryside is going to be broadcast out to the world, along with stories of our remarkable myths, legends, people and history, from Narnia to Lilliput, Finn McCool to Cú Chulainn, John Boyd Dunlop to St Patrick.
So get your pink on, and celebrate our country and Giro!
For more details on all the Giri festivals, check out our last post.