AN IRISHMAN AND his Austrian friend are nearing the end of their trek across Europe to Ireland to raise awareness and funds for dementia.
Armagh-born Eamonn Donnelly and his friend Sepp Tieber from Graz in Austria are currently making their way across England on their 2,500km journey.
The pair are heading towards Wales, before taking a final ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare in Wexford, for the final leg northwards across Ireland to Donnelly’s native home in Keady, Armagh.
The expedition, ‘The Long Walk Home’, is inspired by the life of Donnelly’s mother Margaret who died in April 2014 at the age of 71, after a battling a rare and aggressive form of dementia.
While Armagh is still the place Donnelly calls home, he has lived in Austria since 1990 with his wife and three children.
‘Meaning and purpose’
Last year, Donnelly and Tieber came up with the idea of ‘The Long Walk Home’, borne out of frustration of the disease and they decided to trek and camp all the way across Austria, Germany, France, England, Wales and Ireland.
“The idea [for the walk] featured in many a late-night pub talk, but that’s where it started and ended,” Donnelly said.
When my mother passed away a few years ago, after suffering from a rare and extremely aggressive form of dementia, the idea took on a whole new meaning and purpose.
“Frustrated and feeling helpless that nothing could be done to alleviate the symptoms, let alone cure this cruel disease, it became apparent to me and my family that much more needed to be done to understand and tackle it”
‘A mix of emotions’
Now six weeks into the trek, and over 1,250km down, the journey has come with its ups and downs.
“The journey so far has been marked by a mix of emotions. It’s been tough and yet it’s been amazing. We’ve experienced the extremes of walking in 35 to 40-degree heat, to facing the cold of the lower Alps,” he said.
We’ve seen it all… breath-taking scenery at every turn matched with the beautiful, if not a little dangerous, forces of nature, especially through three days of heavy thunderstorms in the Alps.
Donnelly and Tieber got their first support in Dover, England this week as their bodies and feet began to feel the impact of the long journey.
“There has been plenty of time to think and remember why we are doing this crazy challenge in the first place. As things stand, a cure for dementia seems to be a distant dream,” Donnelly said.
“We strongly believe that we need to be exploring paths to eventually reach it and I hope that in some very small way, ‘The Long Walk Home’ might help answer some of the most fundamental questions surrounding the disease.”
With the support of The Alzheimer’s Society in both Ireland and the UK, Donnelly is aiming to increase awareness about the importance of the issue while raising funds for research in Ireland, the UK and Austria.
The men hope to arrive in Ireland around 29 August and reach their final destination of Keady on 7 September.
The journey is being tracked live on their website.
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