The Alo Donegan Cup.
The Alo Donegan Cup – A Tribute to an Irish Cycling World Record Holder.
When Naas CC hosts its Open Time Trial this coming June 15th, the fastest man on the day will be awarded the inaugural Alo Donegan Memorial Cup. Those with a keen eye for historical records will be familiar with the Kildare native and his catalogue of brilliant achievements on two wheels – the first man in the world to break the 1 hour mark for 25 miles; the world record holder for 50 miles; international tandem champion (with his compatriot Bertie Donnelly); Limerick to Dublin record holder; multiple grass track Irish record holder (often competing in Croke Park no less); and a member of the Cycling Ireland Hall of Fame, inducted in 2012.
Recently, club Chairperson Trish McGuane along with Racing Secretary Emily-Anne Doyle, enjoyed the hospitality of Alo’s family as the club set out to honour the great man’s achievements on the bike.
2 L-R: Ger Donegan, son of Alo; Trish McGuane, Chairperson Naas CC; Leo Donegan, grandson and club member
The family retain an incredible array of trophies, records and memorabilia associated with the exploits of this outstanding cyclist – most especially against the clock. Many of these feats were accomplished on a heavy fixed-gear single speed bike, which must surely have demanded unending reserves of technique, determination and bloody-minded hardness.
The fact that he outshone many British rivals of the time, on the road and track, was a boom for the relatively new Ireland that emerged in the inter-year wars.
His landmark 25-mile record in 1934 stands out above all, naturally enough, and was a cause for much scrutiny and adulation at the time. Held on the Navan Road on an out-and-back circuit, the record of 59:05 was accomplished in hard rain in front of a fascinated, cheering crowd.
Writing in 2013, journalist Robert Mulhern captured something of the magnitude of the feat. It was labelled “a limit line for physical endurance, a feat comparable to the four-minute mile in running, out there somewhere at the edge of breaking point. But Alo Donegan was built to a challenge. At 5’ 7’’ with a deep barrel chest and tree-trunk thighs he was possessed of explosive physical force.” Furthermore, the man’s character dictated that he was of “quiet demeanour and modest personality, but on a fixed-wheel bicycle his charisma cheered crowds and chilled opponents.” He was the Fausto Coppi of cycling – before Il Campianissimo even sat on a bike. Being born in rural Ireland however, quite removed from the glory of continental road cycling, meant that an international road race career never came his way.
3 National 50-Mile Record: 2:03:47, also set in 1934, riding a single-gear bike.
Alo was associated with the now defunct Swift CC, while he latterly made Portarlington his home, a place fittingly enough, located 25 miles by bike from Naas. He was an accomplished tandem rider and even went on honeymoon by tandem. He also took to setting Place-to-Place records, the most notable of which is his Limerick-Dublin record. Even more remarkable on that occasion was the fact that he fell in Mountrath, breaking a collarbone, and met misfortune in Newbridge where the bridge was being repaired. Despite these obstacles, the record was his, one which stood for decades. It took none other than Phil O’Brien, national time-trial champion and gentleman-commissaire to this day, to lower the record; subsequently, Dave Peelo lowered it again and the record remains in place 25 years later.
It is fitting that the club located in the town where the Donegan family reside, should name the perpetual cup in honour of one of the finest and most pioneering of time trial riders the country has ever seen.