“To be fair I wouldn’t trade it (the bike) for a curly wurly” 

Meghan O' Halloran 

How one young person brought light from the darkness and cycled across Europe for charity.

Anyone that has lost a family member knows that it teaches us a lot about ourselves. We gain strength in a time of great sadness that we didn’t realise we had inside. 20-year-old Aaron Bermingham lost both his grandmother and uncle in the space of two months of each other at the end of 2021. A trip that he had been planning during lockdown out of boredom, gained a new meaning for him. 

As I sit and interview Bermingham I can’t help but become stressed listening to his lack of planning and organisation for his trip. He recalls stories of his travels; while spinning in his chair, dressed casually in a jersey, he laughs at his lack of training before the cycle. I expect a long answer about months of preparation and hours of training, as my diligent nature could not imagine an undertaking like this with my whole town’s support behind me, without knowing every hotel, coffee shop and road sign from Dublin airport to Rome. This is where we differ. 

Before leaving Ireland Bermingham did one trial run, an approximate 40km round trip to Courtown Co Wexford and back. He tells me after this cycle he decided not to train anymore because he found this trip too difficult. While most would throw in the towel, myself included, this did not deter Bermingham. His laid-back attitude and determination prevailed. He planned to cycle from Barcelona to Rome, and while he booked his flight there, he made the decision not to book a flight back to Ireland as he wasn’t sure how far he would make it. 

“That’s really how I do everything, when I done my leaving cert, I wasn’t the most studious person, but I thought, ah it’ll be grand and that’s basically how I approached the cycle as well and it paid off.”

Bermingham chose four charities, all for different personal reasons to fundraise for. After losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease and his uncle to lung cancer last year,  he decided his first two charities would be Alzheimer’s Ireland and Irish Cancer Society in honour of them. He knew the effect that the pandemic has had on people’s mental health so he also fundraised for Samaritans. Bermingham chose the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) as his final charity as he is from the town of Arklow Co Wicklow, a maritime town that relies heavily on the support of the RNLI’s services. Both his father and grandfather were involved in Arklow’s RNLI station. 

As I speak to him, I notice small details. A collection of what appears to be American jerseys hangs behind him, yet another indication of his love of sport. I get a real sense of his optimistic and calm nature as he speaks to me, qualities that he needed throughout this difficult journey.

He talks about the undertaking he made, a sacrifice that would be unthinkable for most as if it’s a normal cycle along the Wicklow way. To give up summer with friends interrailing, island hopping or arriving with a box of Barry’s tea bags at JFK airport, for the dream J1 to New York is not something that seems to have entered Bermingham’s mind even though it would for so many others his age. Instead, he went alone for a month, and raised vital funding after the pandemic prevented fundraisers from taking place for the past two years. I have such admiration for him as I listen to the story, while also feeling a sense of disbelief and confusion as to how he made it to Rome. 

On day 26 his final day, Bermingham had just 12 hours before he caught his train at midnight in Turin, Northern Italy. This wasn’t without its struggles. Halfway through a nine-hour journey, Bermingham was awoken in the middle of the night. Tired and slightly hungover, he was met by armed Italian guards on the tracks and forced to remove his bike to make room for the growing capacity of passengers. He tells me at that moment he almost felt like a frustrated teenager again, throwing a tantrum after his phone had been confiscated by his parents. While he admits now the bike was almost falling apart, it had been his trusted companion for a month. 

He was left with an ultimatum. 

“The bike god knows where it is now, but it was left at some Italian train station in the middle of the countryside at 3 am.” 

Throughout the month Bermingham cycled a total of 1611km. He met a lot of people along the way and made friends with several of them. “On my rest day in Cannes, I got the train to Nice…I had a Wicklow GAA jersey on, and your man sat across from me on the train was on the phone speaking fluent French. After the phone call, he said ‘oh I’m glad to see the GAA is making the trip around the world’. He was from Gorey I think.”

The idea of the Irish man abroad, the diaspora that we hold so dear means that there will always be a slice of home no matter where the Irish travel to. 

The target Bermingham hopes to reach is €10,000. If you would like to donate, visit the link below. 

Bermingham is now about to embark on his next adventure. After being left with no choice other than to interview for a dream job halfway through a day of cycling in the intense heat of this summer on the continent, Bermingham sweaty and exhausted hid his bike and entered the hotel lobby for an interview for a job at a ski resort in Canada. 

He got the job. He will emigrate to Canada at the end of this year, which I have no doubt will lead to more stories in the future. 

DONATE HERE: https://www.idonate.le/fundraiser/charitycycle2022

Meghan O’Halloran

Image Credit: Aaron Bermingham