‘On the Road’ with Jack Kelleher

Posted on: 5th May, 2015

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Above: Jack Kelleher at Clonakilty Bicycle Festival 2014 (brown waistcoat)

West Cork resident Jack Kelleher is on the adventure of a lifetime. The 72-year-old retired judge and bike enthusiast left Clonakilty on March 13, with his bicycle as a companion, on a six-month journey around the world via container ships and trains.

Following his boyhood desire to be a merchant seaman, Jack says he is taking a look at the road not taken. So far, he has travelled through or stopped in France, Malta, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Malaysia. As you read this, he is pausing in China to explore Shanghai. From there, he will catch another container ship, the ‘Hanjin Amsterdam’, bound for Canada.

“It felt right to take this trip now,” Jack tells Mary O’Brien. “I had the time and the space to do so. And, I’m overdue to visit family in America.”

With five children and four grandchildren to catch up with, Jack plans to rail it across North America, combined with scenic and sentimental bike trips, visiting family and friends along the way.

Although quite fit from regular yoga classes and cycling, Jack has found parts of the trip physically demanding at times. “Transitions from train to taxi to hotel with a bike and belongings are a little harrowing. I’d compare it to the work of young mothers trying to grocery shop with a couple of kids in tow. It has its moments,” he says.

Right now he’s looking forward to his bike trips in scenic places, including Vancouver Island, the Redwood Highway and the Erie Canal Towpath and in particular a bike trip from Monterey, CA, to Morro Bay, CA, along the coastal scenic Highway 1.

“I cycled this route when I was 15 years old (1957) and have wanted to re-visit that trail… As a kid I took a bedroll and slept behind petrol stations and on the beach. This time I think I’ll look for hot showers and cozy beds.”

Although his family are in America, Ireland is home now to Jack and he aims to return in September. “My journey will end at Molly’s in Recorders Alley, where it began. I’m returning to Clonakilty because it’s my home. I spent summers in Ireland beginning in the 1980s and knew I’d live here permanently as soon as I could find a way,” he says. Jack’s grandfather was from Crow Hill, near Upton. “I wanted to return to my own place and people. I love the sea and Clon is right on it.”

Since moving to West Cork six years ago, Jack has become a valued part of the local community. He volunteers at a local charity shop, runs a bike maintenance clinic as part of the Clonakilty Bicycle, Festival every year, is an active member of the Clonakilty Favour Exchange and child minds for two local families that he met through his interest in home schooling. They have since become close friends.

A usual suspect in any cycling venture, he is also a committee worker in Tommy O’Donovan’s effort to establish a public bike scheme in Clonakilty, making it the first small town in Ireland to have such a system.

When he’s not daydreaming about bike cafes, Jack’s passion is writing and he participates in the library writers group and several informal groups in Clonaikilty. He is using his time on trains and at sea to write stories and his blog ‘On The Road’, as well as ‘The Taco Club Newsletter,’ an email travel log for five young friends who are like grandchildren to him.

“This adventure I’m on is also a kind of retreat,” says Jack. “I’m thinking about what next?”

To find out what’s next on Jack’s adventure read his blog at jackkelleher.ie.

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