The Last Commute

The journey begins like this: a small bike, a bobbing orange flag, a larger bike. A dad and his daughter, age four. Destination: the Naoinra.

At the start, I wasn’t so sure, but in this father knew best and under our watchful eyes, and with the occasional warning shout, the first rider, and then the second, became cyclist commuters, learning road safety and the irrational actions of motorists, as much as anyone can. As it turns out, since that beginning I’m the only one who has fallen: once a bike malfunction, the other time a collision between front wheel and back wheel of two bikes at speed along the canal. Knees and hands recover, as does dignity.

Our route takes us through the maze of mountain roads that is Drimnagh, alongside the children’s hospital, past the Good Counsel church and the Mourne Road school before the convergence of pupils, parents, and lollipop ladies. We swoop easily around the huge roundabout.

We take the cut at Bosco’s, wait for the lights to cross Davitt Road. The first breath of air is at the canal. We keep our eyes open for nesting swans and their babies, each day something new. We marvel at the skim of ice on rare frosty mornings. Only one of us has ever gone in: straight down the ramp from the Drimnagh Luas stop, across the expanse of canal path, and with a plunk! into the reedy water, bike and all. That day we learned it’s not too deep there.

Across the canal, there is the memory of a boy with his grandfather, every morning his wide, friendly wave, and “Good morning, bikers!” still echoing, the young boy’s path long changed, likes ours is about to.

We weave our way through the top of Inchicore, past houses that look still asleep, the road pocked and jolting. Around past Inchicore College; I often consider the irony of by-passing a primary school, a secondary school and a college on our route to another, farther place of education.

We race up the hill in Kilmainham on the South Circular Road, under the great, grey walls of the gaol. “Mama Mia, here I go again!” the youngest commuter often belted out at the bottom with the hill looming ahead.

This is our only stretch of bike lane for our entire commute, though with the not-quite-but-almost-two car lanes, this bike lane is little more than just a painted line in one of those lanes. I ride a little to the right of the bicycle in front, instinct telling me to be ready to take the hit from behind. The hill is easier now without the toddler in the bike seat on the back, or the stooping to reach the smaller cyclist, giving an extra push to get us up over the top together.

On our right is the stone entry of another hospital, the Royal Hospital, now home to IMMA, the museum of modern art. The top is our second breather, and we ease our way carefully past the waiting cars at the lights at Con Colbert Road, now seeing groups of walkers, scooters, other cyclists heading toward Islandbridge and the school.

This twenty minute, fourteen year journey, ends with two bikes: a parent and a son, who is hurtling into the teen years. The fluorescent orange flags have disappeared, much to the cyclists’ relief, though high viz still lights us up. The memories I take with me: the stillness of the neighbourhoods still coming awake. Clusters of children in uniforms walking to other schools, ever more diverse as the years pass. Trying to understand a detailed story that always starts with You know what? from the person alongside me, while also watching traffic and pedestrians. The morning winter light brushing the surface of the canal. The enormous thudding of wings as swans take flight from the water.

All good journeys must come to an end, and the time is up for this one. We move on to different things, at different speeds, with quiet mornings, sudden falls, and other roads ahead. And not an orange flag in sight.

6 thoughts on “The Last Commute

    1. Thanks Helen (and so cool that you used to live on Kennedy Street!)! No big new path, just lots of small ones going different places: this was written when our youngest finished up in primary school. This week he finishes grade 10 equivalent – can’t believe both how fast that’s gone but also how long ago those commutes seem.


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