LOVED BY EVERYONE from Michael Collins to your granny, the High Nelly bike was a fixture on the Irish roads up until just a few decades ago.
With the advent of mass-produced motorised transport, the bicycle fell out of favour, but there are still thousands of trusty High Nelly bikes thought to be in sheds and attics around the country.
This week, President Barack Obama could become the owner of the very first High Nelly manufactured in Ireland in recent times – and the very first Irish-made bike in 40 years.
The bike is being sent to the American President as an unofficial gift by a Co Limerick company, Goeco.
If you’re wondering how this could be the first Irish-manufactured bike in four decades, Marty Mannering of Goeco, the company behind the resurgence of the High Nelly, explained that Raleigh closed down in 1976.
Goeco stepped into the void by accident. Eight years ago, they were manufacturing devices that could be put on ordinary bikes to make them electric, when they were visited by a man who wanted to turn his High Nelly electric.
The difficulty in sourcing replacement parts for the bike, coupled with the realisation that lots of other Irish people must have the bikes at home in need of refurbishment, set the company off in a new direction.
Now, it supplies parts for High Nelly bikes to 14 countries online through its website HighNelly.ie, and also manufactures its own new High Nellys.
Tomorrow, Mannering’s son Paul will travel to Atlanta to launch the bike at a special event
He will bring the very first High Nelly bike that Goeco produced – with the frame number 001 – which will be gifted to President Barack Obama. The bike is being sent to him in connection with Moneygall, Obama’s ancestral home.
We made [Obama] aware that his great, great grandfather was a cobbler and this was what he got around on.
Mannering and Goeco believe that “nobody had ever historically documented anything to do with the bike in Ireland”, so the company created its own history exhibition, which travels around schools.
The War of Independence was fought on bikes. You even had the Catholic Church trying to stop the use of bikes.
Today, there are 11 High Nelly clubs around Ireland, with 3,500 members in total. What’s the secret to the High Nelly’s success?
“It’s not the bike, it’s the stories attached to them,” said Mannering.
We’ve all got parents and grandparents [who had one]. Every single person in the country has those stories. It’s not particularly the bike. It just so happens it’s coincidental that its the bike – everyone needed it, not as a toy but as a survival mode of transport.
The chassis of the bike “just lasts forever and ever”, so all that is needed is the replacement parts. Many owners have quite the connection to their High Nelly, bikes, said Manning.
“We’ve people leaving in tears when they leave the old bikes behind… we have them in tears when they pick them up refurbished. The bikes themselves are something special, but the stories are even more special.”
There’s even a bike waiting to be refurbished that was used by a runner for Padraig Pearse in the Easter Rising. Now that’s some history. Who knows what could be lying in your garden shed?