Cycle challenge tribute to the late Drew Nelson

Orangemen who took part in the cross-border cycle from Rossnowlagh to Kilkeel in aid of the Drew Nelson legacy project
Orangemen who took part in the cross-border cycle from Rossnowlagh to Kilkeel in aid of the Drew Nelson legacy project

Family of the late Drew Nelson were among a group of cyclists who completed a gruelling fundraising cycle in his memory last weekend.

Nephews of the former grand secretary joined Orangemen in the arduous challenge of cycling almost 130 miles from Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, to Kilkeel, Co Down – all in less than 10 hours.

Saturday’s intrepid cross-border cycle – across five counties – was organised in aid of the legacy project in Mr Nelson’s name.

The fundraising challenge was the brainchild of Tyrone lodge, Aughintober LOL 38, who recently set up their own cycle club. Sixteen cyclists completed the journey, with a number participating in relay teams. Stuart and Scott Nelson were among the group.

Aughintober cycling club secretary, Steven Cairns said: “It went really well, and everything went according to plan.

“The sun followed us the whole way and the support we received along the route was brilliant.”

After an early morning start in Rossnowlagh, the group travelled onwards to Fermanagh, with an arranged stop at Maguiresbridge Orange hall. Local Orangemen provided food and refreshments for the cyclists and accompanying marshals. Similar stops were made at Mulnahorn (Tyrone) and Kilcluney (Armagh) Orange halls respectively. The finishing point was Kilkeel Orange hall.

Mr Cairns said such kindness and provisions were greatly appreciated, as was the support of onlookers.

He said: “Whenever we came into Kilkeel, people were out cheering and applauding us, and capturing the moment with their camera phones. It was very overwhelming.”

As for his highlight of the day, Mr Cairns referred to a poignant request by an Orangeman in the Republic.

“We were given a wreath by a district master in Rossnowlagh who told us to lay it in Kilkeel whenever we got there. It was laid at the war memorial.”

Asked how the group felt after their challenge, Steven quipped: “We had a few sore legs after, but everybody was good. We drove home!”

He confirmed the cycle has so far raised a total of almost £3,500. Aughintober is just one of a large number of lodges and districts organising ongoing initiatives to raise funds for the legacy project.

To permanently recognise the contribution of one of its most high-profile members, the Orange Institution intends to majorly expand its current student provision in the university area of Belfast, with the ultimate aim of creating a standalone ‘Drew Nelson Centre’. It is also envisaged a designated development officer will provide career advice and guidance to young people across Northern Ireland and the border counties.