Charity Cycle and Walk – RWC France 2023

The Cyclists and Walkers had a wonderful time in France during the Rugby World Cup in raising funds for seriously injured rugby players, culminating with the Walkers witnessing an incredible performance by Ireland (and Irish fans!) in Stade de France as they beat the reigning, and now new World Champions South Africa on Saturday 23rd September.  Everyone who was there said it was the most incredible sporting experience they have been a part of.  Thank you to all our Cyclists and Walkers who joined us on the Charity Cycle and Walk and for raising much needed funds for those in our rugby family who have been seriously injured playing the game we all love.

A big thank you to our Cycle and Walk Rugby Gear sponsor – Canterbury for providing us with ‘France 2023 RWC Charity Cycle & Walk’ branded Ireland rugby caps, rucksacks, polo-shirts, fleece tops and hoodies.  The kit, photos of which you will see on this page, was outstanding and very gratefully received by all Cyclists and Walkers, with many other fans both Irish and Irish in spirit, asking about the gear.

The Cyclists kicked off on Friday 8th September landing in Bordeaux with a welcome dinner kindly hosted by Killester Travel – our travel partner for both the Charity Cycle and Walk – thank you to Killester Travel.  The next day the Cyclists enjoyed the morning in Bordeaux at their leisure before heading to Stade de Bordeaux to witness Ireland’s first pool match against Romania.  The Cyclists were joined by none other than Kevin the Carrot and Gilbert from Aldi!  After the Saturday night victory, the following morning’s cycle, 125km, headed north to the Medoc region, famous for their wonderful wines and châteaus, taking in Lamarque, Jonzac and Cognac, made famous by the Irish Wild Geese Richard Hennessy.  We would also like to thank PC Peripherals who very kindly sponsored the cycling jerseys which you will see in the photos.

The cycle continued from Cognac to Rochefort on Monday, crossing the Viaduc de Martrou with a great view of the unique Pont Transbordeaux Bridge which was unfortunately closed for works.  Continuing along the coast at Châtelaillon-Plage, the Cyclists landed in La Rochelle – a beautiful old port town, completing 110km.  La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara was not spotted but we will come back to ROG later!  The next day, the Cyclists toured the popular Ile de Ré circuit including St Marin and the Lilleau des Niges nature reserve hitting just under 65km.  On Wednesday the Cyclist toured ‘Green Venice’ – the Parc naturel régional du Marais Poitevin, taking in picturesque parkland, canals, wildlife and villages including Arçais and Coulon.  The Cyclists joined over 45 Co-Operation Ireland Cyclists for lunch in La Sevre Niortaise followed by a beautiful afternoons cycling, some apple picking and tyre changes before landing into Bressuire and clocking up 128km on the way.

A return to cycling alongside vineyards and châteaus through the Loire Valley took place on Thursday, cycling another 110km.  A very nice stop off at the very unusual Les Cathedrales de la Saulaie Cave for lunch then cycling along the Loire River to Angers – a city dominated by a 13th century castle.  The following day the Cyclists continued from Angers to Nantes.   Starting off we were told it was a nice easy day, no hills but we soon realised that was not true, a few little ones were thrown in; with a total of 107km cycling to the historical capital of Brittany.  This ended six days of cycling clocking up 645kms in total.  Apart from a few bruises and mozzie bites everyone arrived in great form for a drink in a nearby Irish Pub.  This was followed by the farewell dinner that evening once again hosted by Killester Travel where the Cyclists were also joined by the Walkers for their welcome dinner.  The dinner took place in the very cool Little Atlantique Brewery.  This is where we met our tour guide for the week – Bruno, as well as other rugby fans on the same coach, who the Walkers got to know over the next week with fun certainly had!

Special thanks to everyone who donated so generously to the IRFU Charitable Trust at the dinner on Friday night, which was very kindly arranged by Paddy and his team from Killester Travel.

The Walkers completed a small tour of parts of Nantes on Friday afternoon, hitting 6.8km, completing a longer tour around Nantes on Saturday including the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany and the beautiful Jardin des Plants, before meeting up with the Cyclists and heading to Stade de la Beaujoire to see Ireland beat Tonga in the second pool match.  Including the odd trip to the stadium bar, the Walkers clocked up 11.3km on Saturday.

The Cyclists departed for home the following day, while the Walkers departed for Tours, enjoying an afternoon guided tour around Tours, walking 9.2km and naturally ending up in an Irish pub to watch Fiji beat Australia.  Thank you to Niamh and her team in The Pale for looking after us.  The following day was spent touring two amazing and famous châteaus.  The first, Château de Chambord, a private estate and vineyard tour building up a thirst for a wine tasting, followed by the stunning Château de Chenonceau – it’s history, the grounds, remarkable architecture – little wonder it is listed on UNESCO’s world heritage list, was a highlight for many.

After clocking up 12km on Monday, Tuesday took the Walkers from Tours – briefly stopping off at the Irish Team training grounds in Tours to catch a glimpse of the team training before being boarded and ushered on by the Gendarme!  Onwards to Le Mans for a walk around the gorgeous old town, glimpsing the famous 24 Hours Le Mans racetrack; then on to the striking port city of Saint-Malo where the Walkers toured the beautiful beach, circled the Garrison walls, walking out to the Fort National while the tide was out, then to Les Ramparts Saint-Malo to witness a stunning sunset over the sea.  The biggest days walk with 14.8km.

Apart from the Rugby, the walk to and around (and up & down!) Mont Saint-Michel on Wednesday was another highlight for many Walkers.  Needs to be seen to be believed but the Mont literally rises out of the sea with most of the land around it flat, with the Mont itself surrounded by water.  The Mont is accessed by a long curving jetty which gives you incredible views on approach.  The Walkers, guided by Michel, explored areas literally off the beaten track around the Mont, eventually heading up to the Abbey which was remarkable – particularly when you learn how it started as a small sanctuary and was built and built to create a magical place with stunning views of the bay and surrounding countryside.  It is little wonder the Mont was the inspiration for Rapunzel’s Corona Castle.  After descending the Mont, and hitting 14.3km the Walkers headed to the beautiful historic town of Caen.

Thursday saw the Walkers visit the D-Day Landing Beaches – walking on the ‘Omaha’ landing beach, followed by a tour around the Normandy American Graveyard which was both somber and striking.  The Walkers also visited the Memorial de Caen Museum learning about the history of the Second World War and the role D-Day played in the wider historical context of the war, the incredible feats of bravery and ingenuity by the Allied Troops and the sacrifices made by the people of Normandy.  After 9.3km walking, the Walkers headed back to Caen to watch France v Namibia … in where else, an Irish bar across the bridge which was hopping.

Honfleur, on the Côte Fleurie (Flowery Coast) was the first stop on the way to Paris on Friday morning.  The rain was truly coming down at this point but some managed to get out and about to view a bit of the port town.  That evening, the Walkers going away dinner, which we initially thought was booked in the Montmartre district, triggered a brisk walk from our hotel near the Arc de Triomphe, all the way up to the charming and artistic Montmartre area, glimpsing La Moulin Rouge on route, and ending at the spectacular SacréCoeur Basilica with stunning views of the Paris skyline.  Made even more stunning with another beautiful sunset … perfect timing!  However on entering what the Walkers thought was the venue for the farewell dinner, we were reliably informed we were in the wrong place!  Another brisk walk (totaling 11.8km for the day) making our way to the correct venue to a lovely dinner, plenty of farewell toasts and some wonderful singing and entertainment from Walkers and friends on Coach 1 – getting us in the mood for the big match the following day!

ROG was mentioned earlier, and it was on our walking tour in Paris the day of the Ireland v South Africa match, where one of our party (thank you Valerie) noticed a certain Irish rugby superstar running along the banks of the Seine.  “Ronan” was promptly roared and he turned to see a group of Canterbury clad Irish fans staring at him!  ROG was very patient as many of the Walkers asked for selfies, eventually dragging himself away to catch up with his running group.  Before hitting the Pont Alexandre III – often referred to as the most beautiful bridge in the world – and bumping in to ROG, the Walkers first made their way to the Arc de Triomphe to meet our walking guide for the day.  Walking the Champs Elysees, passing Le Chalet du Grand Palais and Petit Palais, Place de la Concorde was the next stop with their beautiful fountains somewhat overtaken by the Rugby World Cup Fan Zone!  We then made our way through the picturesque Jardin des Tuileries high-fiving and engaging in lots of banter with the many South African fans that also descended on Paris that weekend.  The beautiful Louvre was the next stop then across the Pont Neuf to see the still stunning Cathedrale Notre-Dame as it undergoes repair following the fire in the year of the last Rugby World Cup, 2019.

It was then time to walk back to the hotel and get the Ireland gear on as anticipation and excitement grew for the night’s match.  While a number of Walkers were in a lift, it stopped on a floor opening up to four rather large Boks.  The Boks took one look at all the Irish in our green gear as the Irish called “crouch, touch, pause, engage” – the Boks backed off and left us with … “Sorry Irish there is not enough room in there for the four of us and three world cup trophies.”  The Boks won that one!

But they did not win the Pool match and what a match!  Epic is an overused term but it applies here with many of the Walkers having been on previous Rugby World Cups, Lions Tours and summer Tours to the Southern Hemisphere, and no one had experienced an atmosphere quite like Stade de France that Saturday night in Paris.  The energy, the intensity and the absolute noise of rugby fans – a majority certainly in the green of Ireland, made for an unforgettable experience, all culminating with an Ireland win and a stratospheric rendition of the Munster fans and now the Irish fans new anthem – Zombie!  The fact that Ireland was the only team to beat the eventual tournament champions South Africa, is testament to how brilliant the Irish Team were at the Rugby World Cup, despite sadly falling to New Zealand at the Quarter Final stage.  Roll on Australia 2027!

Celebrations continued in to the small hours of the morning with many a late riser for the Walker’s final breakfast in France.  The Walkers walked just over 120km with some hitting a bit less and some hitting a bit more but all thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Thank you to our Media Partner, DMG Media (you can see one of their Press Ads adjacent) and our Video Partner Get Broadcasting (who completed the adjacent 60sec Big Screen Ad for the Aviva Stadium) for helping us to promote the Charity Cycle and Walk – your ongoing support for the IRFU Charitable Trust is greatly appreciated.

Finally, and once again, thank you to all our Cyclists and Walkers – you know who you are – for making this Rugby World Cup Charity Cycle and Walk such a memorable and wonderful experience for all.  And on behalf of our seriously injured players and their families, thank you again for your incredible support!

Check out the IRFU Charitable Trust’s Instagram pave (click here) and facebook page (click here) for photos and reels from the Charity Cycle and Walk in France.