Blog post: My journey around Ireland to promote the Global Goals
22 August, 2017
By Maurice Hurley
Hi, my name is Maurice Hurley. I'm a former teacher from Dublin and a volunteer with Global Citizenship School, a support for primary teachers interested in human rights and global citizenship education. We use the INTO network and website to contact and hopefully inspire teachers.
This spring, I undertook a 2,200km solo awareness-raising cycle on the island of Ireland to promote the UN Global Goals. I set off on my bike from Dublin city centre on 30 May, following a route around the coast of Ireland. My journey took me south to Wexford, across the bottom of Ireland to Cork and Kerry, up the west coast to Giants Causeway, down the east cost to Belfast and, finally, back to Dublin again. The cycle lasted 22 days in total, finishing on 20 June, a beautiful sunny day.
The plan was to call into primary schools enroute and partake in awareness raising assemblies to help children become more aware of their role in saving their planet. I also hoped to tap into local and national media and in the process get more people talking about the Global Goals.
About the Global Goals
In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed, on behalf of our countries, to sign up to the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development (also known as SDG’s). If these 17 goals are successfully completed by 2030 it will mean an end to extreme poverty and inequality, and possibly save our beautiful planet. Every government, organisation, school and individual person has a role to play. My cycle with school visits was a way to spead the word from the bottom up, as well as a most enjoyable adventure!
My travels through Northern Ireland - Derry and onwards
I first reached Northern Ireland on 14 June, which was the sixteenth day of my travels. I left Donegal town early and was having a lovely rural spin northwards up along the Foyle river when I encountered DUP and Sinn Féin posters. It then clicked in my small southern brain that I had crossed into Derry, Northern Ireland. On spec, I called into Ballougry School and was introduced to a very kind teaching Principal, who then invited me to talk with her P6/7 class. All of my school visits (bar this one) were organised in advance, but this spontaneous stop was really nice because it was my first visit to an NI school. We had a really interesting Q&A session as the class weren’t expecting a 60 year old lycra-clad Dublin cyclist to arrive into their classroom along with his bike! I was equally delighted to visit a school in a rural border area that I had never heard of.
I continued on my way, reaching Derry city, where I took a few photos of the bridges over the Foyle, before toddling over to Ardnashee School & College, a really great and inspiring school for pupils with special educational needs. There are some fantastic things happening there, such as an aquaponics project, and the grounds include a unique outdoor play and educational facility, called the Playtrail. Who would have thought of adding wheelchair accessible swings to a playground? Teacher Dan Byrne, an Aussie of all things, gave me the complete school tour. I left hours later a very uplifted individual indeed having met with some of the classes and seen first hand the great initiatives happening at the school! Thanks, mate!
Cyclists take note that the road from Derry to Limavady and on to Coleraine is exciting for all the wrong reasons – old boy-racers with fast cars, no hard shoulder or cycle friendly alternatives,etc. I just went into Olympic mode and pedalled like crazy to get off the road asap. I arrived in Bushmills for an overnight stay in the luxury four star local hostel. Of course, I made time to try a wee Bushmills in the very relaxing Bushmills Hotel, complete with a welcoming fire (in June). Bushmills is a quiet, but interesting town, with its red, white and blue bedecked statue of a WW1 memorial on main-street. I’m learning.
The Causeway Coast
Day 17 saw me visiting the Giants Causeway and, strange to say, I really enjoyed it. I had been there (by car) 20 years previously and wasn’t that impressed, but this time around I got it! Plenty of tourists were also enjoying the experience of the well organised site and taste of pre-human history here on the north coast of an island in the Atlantic. A short spin and a cup of coffee followed with a fellow cyclist, who told me the future will most certainly be all about ‘artificial intelligence’, with the big question being on “governance”, as in who will control AI and humans on this planet. A very interesting chat for an 11am coffee.
Next I went on past Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which I somehow missed, but saw through the light rain from a nearby viewing point. I reached the lovely town of Ballycastle and visited St Patrick's and St Brigid's Primary School. I received a great welcome from Principal Eamonn Magee, other members of staff and a few Inspectors doing the ‘what makes ye such a great school’ visit. A super assembly and cycle through the massed ranks of the pupils made this an excellent visit.
I cycled on to Torr Head and what a super tough cycle that was. The weather was a bit misty and I had been told by people there was a bit of a climb up to the headland. However, they forgot to mention that the whole cycle from Torr Head to Cushendun was a tough ride, leaving you trying to keep the pedals turning in lowest granny gear. On the other hand, it was specularly scenic, with views of Scotland, and in my mind is possibly the best 25k cycle in the whole island of Ireland. Southwards, directly alongside the coast from Cushendall, also turned out to be brilliant. The area was very flat and scenic. I then headed inland to a fantastic and most friendly new hostel beside the Sheddings. It was in the middle of nowhere, but in full view of Slemish (Sliabh Mish) where St Patrick reputedly minded sheep. Strange to say it looked very much like Croke Patrick in Mayo where St Patrick also visited (allegedly – sure why else would they have named it after the Saint?!).
Antrim, Belfast and the Mournes
Day 18 of my cycle saw me take many wrong turns in the mist. I cycled 25km to cover what should have been a 10km distance on my trip around Slemish to Belfast. The Glens and Hills of Antrim are well worth a trip, though preferably on a clear day! I arrived in Belfast a bit late for my school visit in East Belfast. First though, I took the tourist photos of the Titanic sculptures with the Harland & Wolff cranes in the background. I also photographed the colourful murals along the Newtownards Road before arriving at St Joseph’s Primary School (Ballyhackamore). There, I took part in another great assembly attended by almost the whole school, with the support of the newly appointed Principal, Paul Donaldson. I had hoped to visit the nearby 1,000 pupil Strandtown Primary School, but I was too late. I did make it to the school, but all the pupils were leaving and the staff were going into an exciting mid-June staff meeting. Nonetheless, I chatted to some teachers about positive changes that could be made to the school system in NI. We also discussed how the teaching of history in schools here needed to focus more on the history of humanity and also look to the possibilities in the 21st century, what with artificial intelligence and climate change coming to dominate our very existence as humans! Another great conversation with strangers on the hoof – a great benefit of having the time and opportunity to cycle around for a few weeks.
I journeyed up the hill to Stormount the following day. I cycled past it the first time, but doubled back as I had no school visits. The sun was shining and it turned out to be really well worth the visit. Stormont is a very impressive building. I enjoyed seeing the young families enjoying the playgrounds and woods surrounding Stormont, before I cycled straight up the middle of the road to Mr Carson’s statue. At the time I was there, Stormont had been inactive politically for a few weeks as the DUP and Sinn Féin and others were in negotiations, but one still got a sense of the long history of the place while there. A very interesting group of tourists in their 60s then arrived at the statue. Originally from NI, they had all trained in the medical field and emigrated years ago across the globe. Now they were at a reunion in Belfast. Some great stories and perspectives there, but our paths merely crossed for a few minutes.
Ards to Newry
On Day 20, I cycled on past Comber, having missed the cycleway to Newtownards, and enjoyed a lovely hour or so at a local summer fete. Then I headed down the east side of Strangford Lough and the Ards peninsula. Having crossed over to the Irish sea near Ballywater, I met a few cyclists out for their annual spin to Cloghy. After a cuppa tea and snack, I took the ferry from Portferry to Strangford and then hopped back on my bike to cycle down the beautiful South Down coastline via Ardglass. Even though this was my first sunny day since I had left Dublin on 30 May, it was a truly beautiful cycle, particularly when I arrived in Newcastle where, according to Irish musician Percy French, "the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea". I really enjoyed my day off cycling in Newcastle - I had an ice-cream and sat on the beach looking at the Mournes.
Day 21 saw me cycle inland via Hilltown to Newry. I met up with my new cycling buddy, Anna Grindle from the Global Learning Programme (GLP), and we both had a nice spin into Windsor Hill Primary School. There we were met by the very welcoming Principal Isobel McKane and shared a cuppa in the staffroom before we had class visits and a really nice session with the pupils in the schoolyard. Then it was upwards and onwards, over the currently invisible border towards Dublin and the end of the journey.
Looking back on my travels
All-in-all, it was a great and memorable trip, punctuated with lovely school visits and beautiful scenery. Thanks to all those who helped me complete the journey, including the GLP Team, who selected a number of GLP Schools in NI for me to visit. I hope I've left all the pupils I've met with some food for thought and, most importantly, the belief that they can play a role in shaping the future.
Additional photos, plus videos from Maurice's Global Goals Cycle can be found here.