THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: Belfast girl cycles 385 miles in 23 hours

From the News Letter, June 27, 1955

Sunday, 27th June 2021, 6:00 am
Miss Isabel Clements from Dundee Street in Belfast cycle from Mizen Head in Co Cork to Fair Head in Co Antrim in June 1955 in 23 hours 2 minutes and ten seconds. Picture: News Letter archives
Miss Isabel Clements from Dundee Street in Belfast cycle from Mizen Head in Co Cork to Fair Head in Co Antrim in June 1955 in 23 hours 2 minutes and ten seconds. Picture: News Letter archives

At about 5pm on Sunday, June 26, 1955 Miss Isabel Clements from Dundee Street in Belfast dismounted from his bicycle at the back of a little of cottage at Fair Head in Co Antrim and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

And well she might, for she had just completed a 385 mile journey from Mizen Head, Co. Cork, In the remarkable time of 23 hours 2 minutes and ten seconds - and had the distinction of being the first woman to complete the distance on a bicycle.

Twenty-five-year-old Isabel who was a clerk in a factory, she was the youngest of a family of three. She had been set a time of 30 hours by the Road Records Association, but thought that if the weather was favourable she would cover the distance in 27 hours.

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She was going so fast that, when her mother and the other members of the family went to Antrim by car at 6pm to wave her on her last stages of the journey, she had already passed hours before and was having a bath and check-up in Ballycastle.

Breaking records is nothing new to Isabel, noted the News Letter. In 1954 she had set up new times for the Belfast-Enniskillen and back and Belfast-Dublln and back runs, and ever since she began cycling, four years ago, she had her eye on the “end-to-end” record.

At first the Road Records Association thought the trip was much too difficult for a woman, but Isabel, by her long-distance records in 1954, convinced them that she could accomplish it.

Notable, two men had covered the mileage in about 21 hours.

She belonged to the Belfast Cycling Club and at five feet two inches in height she was probably one of the smallest members.

She trained under the eye of Peter Woods, her fiance, who is gardener employed by Belfast Corporation. They planned to marry in August. He made out the meals chart for the journeys and fixed the stops for food. Along the way she had four short stops for “chicken, blackcurrant juice, honey and glucose”.

Accompanying her were two vans carrying equipment as well as officials and timekeepers.

Describing her journey Isabel said that it had been very enjoyable and that the weather had been very favourable.

At one spot on the road, she was not sure where, her record attempt nearly came to an abrupt halt when a stray horse wandered on to the road brushed against her as she passed.

Another incident was trying to get round a drunk man without slowing up.

She said that she was not nearly so tired after the long ride she thought she might have been.