The Clare 250 has been in operation since 1980 and a central figure since the outset has been Ennis woman Claire Nugent who has now stepped down from her roles in the Clare 250 cycle and in the Clare 250 Lourdes pilgrimage.
However Claire is not leaving the project and will continue her involvement as operational manager of the Clare 250 Cancer Centre at Ballygriffey, Ruan..
Speaking to The Clare Echo this week, Claire said she is leaving both roles “with many happy memories. In the early years it was more like one big family even through we had big crowds. They were all passionate about what we were all doing and those involved got tremendous satisfaction seeing how the fundraising benefitted the many people who were taken to Lourdes every year. Those who travelled to Lourdes formed a great bond but sadly many of them are no longer with us”
“The building of the Cancer Centre was another great achievement. The funds raised from the cycle paid for everything and there is no debt. This is great credit to the cyclists and to those who contributed to the fundraising. None of this could have happened without them”, explained Claire.
On account of the pandemic, there was no cycle last year with supporters hopeful it will return when the lockdown lifts. The centre remains closed but when vaccinations are complete, personnel will return.
This project started out in 1978 with the formation of the Ennis marathon team whose purpose was to beat a Mallow club’s record in the Guinness book of records for the longest indoor soccer tournament Training for this event consisted of two four mile walks a day, one at 6.30am and the other at 7.30p.m. This led to a number of fundraising events for various groups.
The 250 mile cycle started in 1980 when the late Fr. Pat Cotter, a native of Doonbeg, asked if the group would help raise money as he wanted to bring children with special needs to Lourdes. Claire’s father, the late Matt, a noted hurler with Clare and Munster, suggested a charity cycle.
After completing her secondary education at Ennis Vocational school (now Ennis Community college), Claire spent four years working in the Department of Social Welfare in Dublin before being transferred to Limerick where she spent a further two and a half years.
Claire was eager to find work in her home town of Ennis. Her father Matt and Ennis man John Dunne were great friends, a friendship that started on the hurling fields. John had started his own business in the wholesale drinks industry and he was looking for someone to take care of the office administration duties. She took on the role and with the office in John’s home she became great friends with his late wife Eileen who passed away in the mid 1980’s.
While Claire had no aspirations to lead the back up crew for the cycle she quickly mastered the task. Her team of approximately 20 had to cater for about 150 people at the peak of the event. She played a part in every event that took place from the late 1970’s to the present. To mark her retirement a tribute booklet has been produced which includes comments from many of the people who have been involved in the Clare 250 over the years.
Fr Pat O’Neill has been involved with the group for 26 years and remarked, “it is fair to say that nobody knows the amount of time, energy and dedication that she has given to the pilgrims and also to the centre at Ballygriffey”.
John Dunne’s daughter Emer, another key figure in the Clare 250 said “nothing that was ever undertaken was ever about her or us or the people on bikes or the people on the road. It didn’t matter how tired or sore you were, the only concern you should have is for the person who gets to set foot in Lourdes or in the centre because of what you do. Claire has been selfless on a scale that most couldn’t manage”
Amongst the fundraisers in addition to the annual cycle, organised were Malin to Mizen group cycle in 1992 and 1993, Howth Head to Sline Head in 1994, Mizen to Malin and back to Mizen in 1994 and Malin to Mizen and Ennis to Dublin in 1995.