Ulster chaplain gets on his bike for 400-mile Irish challenge

Rev Barry Forde, who is cycling the length of Ireland for charity,  outside Queen's in Belfast
Rev Barry Forde, who is cycling the length of Ireland for charity, outside Queen's in Belfast

GRAEME COUSINS talks to an Ulster chaplain who is leading a team of cyclists on a 400-mile trek along the length of Ireland

A man of the cloth will be switching to lycra when he attempts to travel the length of Ireland by bicycle.

Rev Barry Forde (right) with James Turner

Rev Barry Forde (right) with James Turner

Rev Barry Forde will lead a group of five cyclists from the Hub Chaplaincy at Queen’s University and Stranmillis College on a 400-mile challenge from Mizen Head in Cork to Malin Head in Donegal.

Benefitting from the charity cycle will be two charities working with children and young women in Uganda.

The four-day cycle will take place from May 4 to 7, with Barry guessing that day three will be the most gruelling.

Barry, who is the Church of Ireland and Methodist Chaplain at Queen’s University and Stranmillis College, said: “All the optimism of the first two days will be gone, but we’re not home yet.

Rev Barry Forde on his bike during one of his regular training rides

Rev Barry Forde on his bike during one of his regular training rides

“On day one we’ll be up and running, we’ll be excited, day two will be picturesque – Spanish Point and the Cliff of Moher.

“We’ll have momentum on the first two days, and again on day four when we’re motivated by thinking about getting home.

“I am not looking forward to day three when I will really be feeling the struggle. It will be the long one, the tough one – Galway to Sligo.”

Joining Barry on the cycle are The Hub’s worship team leader James Turner, James’ dad Alec Turner, Chris McDowell, a member of the Church of the Resurrection at Queen’s, and Peter Anderson, a member of the chaplaincy management group. The team will be supported by Carol Turner, wife of Alec and mum of James, who will drive the support vehicle.

The Rev Barry Forde with Isaac, a member of the Abaana New Life Choir, which is sponsored by the Hub

The Rev Barry Forde with Isaac, a member of the Abaana New Life Choir, which is sponsored by the Hub

Along the route the team plan to stop off at Church of Ireland parishes as they pass through the dioceses of Cork, Limerick, Tuam, Elphin and Kilmore, and Raphoe.

Barry, who began his chaplaincy at Queen’s eight years ago, said: “We’re planning to stop off at different churches along the way for tea, coffee, buns, nutrition.

“We’ll have a picture taken at various churches to invite or encourage any other churches who want to support us along the way.”

Asked would they be getting their heads down for the night in any parochial houses, Barry said: “We’re not sleeping in any church halls, we’ve organised all our own accommodation through Air B&Bs.”

Discussing the training for the 400-mile point-to-point challenge, Barry said: “I’ve been averaging about 100 miles a week since the start of the year. We’re all at different levels, we’re doing okay. We’ll get there.

“I would get up two or three mornings a week between 6.30am and 8am to cycle around Belfast, cycle up Divis, Black Mountain and then once a week – especially for the last five or six weeks – I’ve been getting out for a longer run of 50, 60 or 70 miles.

“I’ll maybe get a few hours on a Saturday. Sundays are a bit curtailed for me, I’ve got other stuff on.”

Barry, who lives on campus at Queen’s University, added: “I only took up cycling three and half, four years ago.

“I turned 40 and my wife decided I needed to do something active to lose weight and get in shape so I borrowed a bike, jumped on it and really enjoyed it.

“It has worked. I’ve lost a bit of weight and feel a little bit fitter.

“I borrowed a bike from one of the guys who’s going on the trip with us – James Turner.

“I’ve got my own bike now. I’ve got a couple actually – a summer bike and a winter bike. I’ve got the bug.

“I’ve done a few charity cycles, but this is far and away the biggest challenge we’ve done.”

Before becoming chaplain for Queen’s and Stranmillis, Barry, who grew up in Portadown, was a curate in Coleraine.

Previously he had worked in the legal profession.

Asked if he cycled with his dog collar on, Barry said: “I’ve yet to find a dog collar in lycra but there’s always a first.

“The students are younger and fitter than I am. I get a few looks when I put on the cycling gear, but we’re alright.”

Fellow Hub cyclist James Turner has both the cycle and the trip to Uganda to look forward to.

He said: “I love a challenge. I figured the 400-mile cycle would be good to raise the profile of the charities, and would be something massive that would push me out of my comfort zone.”

Another reason the 400-miles will be a big challenge for James is that both he and his father Alec are Type 1 diabetics.

The Ugandan charities which the team with be supporting are Abaana – based in Bangor – and Waakisa.

Many of the Hub team have been privileged to witness the work of these charities first hand, as they visited Uganda in 2015 and 2017, and another team of 22 is preparing to go in June.

James, who has been in Uganda before with the Hub, said: “I am looking forward to seeing our students getting involved with the activities and throwing themselves into a different culture, stepping up to the mark with challenges like running kids’ clubs, and cleaning latrines.

“It is as much about that as it is seeing the joy on the faces of the children we are working with.”

The cyclists and the students who will travel to Uganda had the opportunity to meet some of the children supported by the charity Abaana when they hosted the New Life Children’s Choir at the Hub last week.

The choir’s tour of the UK and Ireland has been highly successful with Abaana, who are based in Bangor, reporting that they have gained 357 sponsorships since the tour began.

One of those children on the tour is 15-year-old Isaac who is sponsored by the Hub.

He said: “A few years ago I was living on the streets of Kampala. I had to sleep on steps at night.

“I heard about the street programmes, and took part for a month, then they told me I could go to the New Life Home.

“It is nice. I have made new friends. I love to sing and I am excited to be in Ireland, but it is cold.”

Abaana founder and chief executive Scott Baxter was at the Hub with the choir.

He said: “[The cyclists from the Hub] are very committed to Uganda and are great supporters of Abaana and are passionate about helping communities.”

Gina Copty, a parishioner of the Church of the Resurrection, will be on the team heading to Uganda, and her husband Chris is doing the cycle.

Gina has worked in human rights and is also trained in counselling for rape survivors. This will be valuable in Uganda, as Waakisa supports vulnerable girls who are pregnant and alone – and in some cases may be victims of rape or incest.

She said: “I hope I can use my strengths in this area to contribute to making someone’s world a better place.”

To learn more about 400Miles4Uganda, or to make a donation, visit www.400miles4uganda.org