Local cycling fraternity saddened by loss of McNaul

TRACK RECORD. Wallace McNaul, pictured on Thursday handing over his entire collection of railway books - amassed over quite a number of years - to Keith Beattie, Museum Manager.INBM31-12 010SC.
TRACK RECORD. Wallace McNaul, pictured on Thursday handing over his entire collection of railway books - amassed over quite a number of years - to Keith Beattie, Museum Manager.INBM31-12 010SC.

The cycling community in North Antrim has beenleft devastated by the news of the death of Wallace McNaul in the early hours of Monday.

Wallace was a special man, a great mechanic and supporter of cycle racing in Ballymoney. Additionally he was an honorary member of Cycling Ireland, along with sporting greats Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche.

“Anyone who has been on a bike in the Ballymoney area will know of Wallace McNaul,” said Maurice McAllister of Ballymoney CC. “He was involved in cycling for over sixty years and was the founder of Team Route with whom he travelled far and wide.

“He was instrumental in getting ladies involved in the sport in this area and even though I have spent the last forty years in cycling myself, I would always have felt able to go to Wallace for advice. He was a wee man who did so much without any real recognition, including assisting Maurice Foster OBE in his record-breaking achievements.

“Wallace had a great interest in photography and collecting memorabilia about Ballymoney especially footage of local characters and, of course, the trains. Unfortunately, due to ill health he was prohibited from doing much, much more.”

Councillor Bill Kennedy, Mayor of Ballymoney, added, “Wallace McNaul was a real gentleman he had been in ill health for a number of years but that didn’t prevent him from leading an active life.”

‘Five, Four, Three, two, One…. Go’ :

A Tribute by Richard Nicholl to Wallace McNaul, a cycling Legend & Gentleman

For many in North Antrim and farther afield these words will stir up emotions and feelings. In a Team Route cycling Time Trial race Wallace would have arranged everything to perfection, the turn steward, the bicycle holder, the timekeeper and St John’s Ambulance to name but a few preparation tasks. ‘ Sixty seconds ‘ Wallace would announce as the rider in front departs. Mouth dry, you would allow the start assistant to hold you and the bicycle upright. ‘ Thirty seconds ‘ Wallace would announce; any good luck message from Wallace ?; not a chance. ‘ Ten seconds……….five, four, three, two, one……..Go! ‘ Wallace would say in his own unemotional style; you were here to race along Ballymoney roads, not to exchange pleasantries.

What ‘go’ really meant entailed cycling as hard as you could for the race distance. All sorts goes through your mind during the race, the adrenalin is pumping and the lactic acid is building. You don’t play at bicycle racing.

Wallace was born in November 1937, although the exact day was always a closely held secret. He lived in Union Street, Ballymoney, all his life and attended local schools, including Ballymoney Technical College where he developed his love for Engineering. Wallace worked with NI Roads Service, primarily in the Street Lighting department until poor health curtailed a promising career.

Whilst Wallace will be best known and remembered for his contributions to Cycling, which eventually earned him the title Honorary Member of cycling Ireland along with the Irish cycling greats Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, his contributions to railways and cinema will be remembered by many others in North Antrim. For example Wallace contributed to the recovery and restoration of a Cinemascope Lens Unit from the former Palladium Cinema in Coleraine.

The Palladium on Society Street, Coleraine ceased to operate as a cinema in August 1990, one week after the opening of the Jet Centre Complex. The Palladium had opened in the early 1930’s in response to the growing popularity of cinema going in the town and now forms an important part of the history of entertainment in Coleraine. An article written by Peter Winter, on the closure and re-development of the Palladium in March 2007, caught the attention of Wallace McNaul. He contacted Coleraine Museum staff, and together, with the permission of the re-developer Steven Moore, they braved the near derelict conditions in order to rescue objects of interest from the building. One of the many objects rescued was a Cinemascope Lens Unit.

Cinemascope allows film to be shown on a wider screen, and was pioneered in Coleraine in the 1950s. This unit is an intriguing object in relation to the history of cinema technology and the history of the Palladium Cinema. Wallace and his skilled team all volunteered their time and expertise to restore the lens system to full working order. Wallace explained how they approached this ambitious task: “Henry undertook all the turning and lathe work, Raymond made the wooden base…it may look like just a piece of board but Raymond turned my drawings into the correct position so as when the lens was in the standard format it did not over balance, WilliamMcCombe completely cleaned and re-painted the lens and my part in the exercise was to bring all together as you see today.” As well as this, Wallace had to source and replace parts of the Unit which had deteriorated so badly that they were beyond use.

Wallace was also an avid Railway enthusiast and a member of a public consultation body for NI Railways. Locally Wallace will be remembered for his flower hanging baskets at Ballymoney station.

As a bicycle mechanic he excelled, serving as Ireland Team mechanic in the 1970’s. During this period he assisted with Ballymoney and District Cycling Club and later with his own club, Team Route Cycle Racing Team. The Red and Black club colours, along with the ‘ wee red fiat ‘ became synonymous with Wallace.

Many cyclists started their cycling in the red and black colours, later to move onto other teams or remain in the club. Most notably Wallace was instrumental in steering Vanda McClure( nee McVicker ) to the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, an extraordinary achievement given Vanda only started her cycling as a pastime to improve fitness. Other notable riders developed their cycling ability and success in Team Route including Robert McClean, Armoy, the Workman brothers, Balymoney and a ‘young’ Ryan Patton, who went on to win an all-Ireland schoolboy medal. Local cyclist Jason Henry continues to enjoy the plaudits for his ability on two wheels.

In Autumn 2010 an exhibition at Ballymoney Museum entitled ‘ Cycling Past – the storey of bicycle clubs in Ballymoney ‘ caught the attention of the BBC Radio Ulster programme Your Place and Mine, who prepared a short article to cover the development of cycling in Ballymoney, including Ballymoney and District, Team Route and Ballymoney Cycling Club. Rona Lundy met Wallace and discussed his memories of bicycles, places, events and, importantly, the people he met.

Wallace will be remembered for his unyielding principles and standards which he never compromised. His old school approach proved difficult for many on occasions, however his loyalty was always to Cycling, not necessarily to the Cyclist; it just took us all a while to work this out. Many a fond evening was spent at the back of 55 Union Street building up the latest Moulton, Wallacesport or Gazelle for a new club member or a special order. He had this uncanny ability to secure prototype bicycle products, from Michelin Tyres or Shimano, along with a global contacts book the Prime Minister would be envious of.

So, what was it like racing a bicycle along the Finvoy Road on a summer’s evening ? For many it will be what life is all about, ‘racing’ As Steve McQueen is quoted ; ‘Lotta people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you´re racing, it’s life, anything that happens before or after is just waiting.” (Steve McQueen, 1971). On a good night it was heaven, on a bad night it was hell, but Wallace always gave you your time, with advice on how to improve next time, usually via one of his famous notes.

Wallace, you were a cycling legend, an exceptional ‘ingénieur’, a gentleman and a friend. Thank you for introducing many men and women to bicycle racing. ‘ Five, four, three, two, one……farewell Wallace, thank you for the memories and God bless ‘.