The evening before Sepp flew back to Austria, I remember feeling more than a little envious, knowing that his walking was done. My legs were road-weary, and to be honest so was my head - a part of me (well actually, several parts) wanted my walk to be over as well. Why couldn’t I have been born in Dublin? But, no – Keady was the place of my birth, and Keady was where I was going to have to walk to if I was to complete the challenge. Four more long and lonely days of perambulation.
The next morning, though, as I took my first steps northwards from Santry, I felt a surprising lightness in my gait. I don’t know if this was brought on by the invigorating weather (a cold westerly wind driving heavy showers in from the distant Atlantic), or the fact that I was now entering more familiar territory with place names that I’d grown up with; or perhaps the removal of most of the contents of my rucksack had something to do with it. In any case, after more than eighty days on the road, I concluded that I was probably now, for the first time, just about fit enough to take on The Long Walk Home … Better late than never, I suppose.
Hard to believe … I had used that expression countless times previously, but, walking through Meath, Louth, Monaghan and then Armagh, I realised that I’d rarely meant it as literally as I did then. Curiously, the closer I got to the finish line, the less palpable and credible the achievement of the previous three months seemed to become. It felt increasingly as if I was just out for a wee dander in the country. Being joined by family and friends, and even people I’d never met before on the final stages of the walk, while providing a very welcome diversion, served to enhance this perception. As we conversed our way through the fine countryside around the towns of Carrickmacross and Castleblayney, I found myself struggling to draw out of the thickening mists the memories of our encounters and accomplishments. What we had done in the past eighty days had truly become hard to believe.
At just after five o’clock on 11th of September, accompanied by my family and other supporters, I arrived at the sleek looking Tommy Makem Arts and Community centre in Keady. We were given a rousing reception by the people of Keady along with representatives of the Alzheimer’s Society and local government. There was even a television crew from UTV present. What I found most poignant though was that a lot of Mum’s friends and colleagues had made the effort to come along and show their support and tell me how proud they think Mum would be. I had expected a bit of a welcoming party, but this exceeded all my expectations. I should have felt tired I suppose, as Brendan and I had walked about 27 miles that day, but I was buzzing. I couldn’t sit down and found myself pacing up and down and even shifting from one foot to the other when standing. The celebrations continued till about three in the morning with a predictable Donnelly session in the pub and the stout flowing thick and fast. Even the paterfamilias was there to oversee the proceedings – the second time he’d surprised me that week.
After a few days R & R in Keady, it was time to fly back home. Having taken almost three months to walk to Keady and not having exceeded 3 miles an hour in all that time, the three-hour flight back to Austria promised to be something of a shock. But no, although it was intriguing to look down at all the places we’d oh so slowly passed, there was no trauma brought on by the 500 mile-an-hour speed we were doing. Shame, really ... It would have made a good story: Me screaming hysterically, and trying to break the windows to get off the plane, etc.
Anyway, now that the walking is done, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone involved in making The Long Walk Home a memorable experience for Sepp and me, as well as a remarkable success in terms of donations and media attention. Sepp and I will put our heads together soon and write a comprehensive list of people and organisations that deserve a mention.
By the way, the donation options will remain open on the website for some time yet, so feel free to contribute if you haven’t already done so.