The slogan “Shoulder to shoulder”, used by the Cycle Against Suicide members, was very much in evidence in the grief-stricken hall in Donegal town.
Earlier yesterday morning, up on 700 cyclists departed from that very same sports hall at the Abbey Vocational School full of joy and inspiration.
Sadly, within hours, tragedy struck in Barnes Gap when one of their trusted and loved members tragically lost his life in a collision with a lorry.
Brendan O’Connell, originally from Cork, but living in Tralee, was leading the large group of cyclists when the collision happened.
When word spread amongst the community in Donegal town who had housed the cyclists on Tuesday evening, people just sprang into action.
Doctors, paramedics, counsellors, clergymen, husbands, wives, children all arrived at the school simply to ease the pain and offer whatever support they could. Simple hugs, tears, even a few laughs as together in a human chain they got the cyclists’ bags into the hall with the odd quip about the bags “that would make Ryanair”. Laughter for some was helping ease the pain.
Blankets, foil wraps, tea, coffee, sandwiches, seemed to appear out of nowhere .
The hospitality of the people of Donegal Town had to be seen to be believed - accommodation offers from all the hotels in the area poured in as well as from all those who had housed the cyclists on the previous night. Restaurants in the area just threw open their doors and made sure everybody was fed. This was really people working shoulder to shoulder and coping in a very sad situation.
Paul Diver of the Sandhouse Hotel and also a volunteer said, “There is no doubt that the hearts and minds of the people of Donegal travel with these cyclists on their journey. This has been a heartbreaking day.”
A grief-stricken Jim Breen, founder of Cycle Against Suicide, said, “We have lost a truly great friend and we are all just consumed with sadness.
“Brendan was a Gaelgóir. He learnt his Irish in New Jersey; he just didn’t trust his Irish teachers. I remember him coming for an interview years ago. Typical Brendan, he arrived in his motorcycle helmet; he got that job.
“The grief I feel at his passing is just so immense.”
A Garda Forensic Collision Investigation team were at the scene of the fatal accident all day, with Barnes Gap re-opened to traffic at 6pm on Wednesday.
The Cycle against Suicide has been suspended for today (Thursday) and a decision will be made later on today in Moville as to whether the cycle will continue.