With adventure racing behind her, Helena Duggan has lately tackled orienteering,.. on top of that, here she gets to grip with 55k of cold January night in Wicklow.
“Ah sure it’s only a walk!” I said to Sinead as we jumped enthusiastically off the 16A and headed towards Dublin Castle. The night was bitterly cold, and having been caught rotten before, we resembled Michelin men as we trudged through the city weighed down by layers of fleece. Due to our excitement, or in hindsight our naivity we were on time, two hours on time, and after registration we shimmied and jumped our way to warmth as we pleaded with the clock to strike twelve.
A little after midnight and in front of a gathering crowd of about 200, Gearóid Towey spoke eloquently of Stuart Mangan, a sobering dose of reality reminded us all of why we were there. And so we were off, over the cobblestones and out the gates of the Castle. A few friday night revellers watched on confused as an army equiped with walking poles, clanged and clattered their way towards Christchurch.
We were following the 1592 escape route of Art & Henry O’Neill and their companion Red Hugh O’Donnell. Like Art, I too undertook the adventure with my merry band of brothers (well in my case sisters!) Sinead, Monica and Therese but unlike Art and Co. we were not fleeing the law and we did have proper footwear!
Had someone warned Art about the perils of the Wicklow mountains on a winters night, I imagine he may have met a nicer fate!
As the hours ticked by the road signs got less and less familiar, Harolds Cross, Kimmage, Templeogue, Firhouse, Botharnabreena, and soon the lights of the city began to fade into the distance. Our spirits had ebbed slightly, we dreamt of duvet covers and electric blankets while our breath formed clouds and snow crunched underfoot. We had slipped into silence until Monica broke our thoughts with a profound “Lads look!” and pointed behind us. The view was amazing, the orange hue of the city at night witnessed at 3am from an unnamed mountain road is something I won’t easily forget. We trudged on, our spirits renewed.
By 5am we had reached the first of our three stops. Many dropped out at this point with 25k of serious walking under their belts, they headed proudly for bed. We lost Therese our “first time hiker” at this point. It was still dark and the spread of sausages and sandwiches laid on by the enthusistic Towey family was a feast to mind, soul and body. We warmed our hands on cups of soup and stocked up on layers. I filled my pockets with fizzy cola bottles, my stable diet for the hours to come. Shortly after 5am, we split into groups of about fifteen and started our off roading. The terrain was tough as the mountains were frozen underfoot, the going took it out of almost everyone, the hours passed and bed was now a distant memory.
Our group had once more opted for silence, each fought a mental battle. My words came back to haunt me, “sure it’s only a walk” was hissed in my direction on several occasions.
The morning brought with it some smiles as the cherry sky cast the mountains in an other wordly hue. However, the wind grabbed onto our smiles and swept them away when it picked up around at 10am. Its undeniable presence added more pressure to already weary bodies. At 11.30am after eleven and a half hours of walking and 45k behind us, we reached our second stop and some welcome food at the Wicklow Gap Road. There had been whispers on the track, but as we plonked ourselves onto any available surface and wolfed down some porridge, our bodies decided they’d had enough. With 10k to go when every inch felt a mile, we bowed out. The challenge lost a lot of walkers at this point with only a brave few of our group heading out on the last leg.
On Saturday night, snuggled in dressing gowns and munching on Chinese food, we all agreed we’d underestimated the challenge somewhat (said with a smile!) but that we’d be back next year to finish the lot with more than cola bottles lining our pockets.
The Art O’Neill challenge took place on Friday the 9th of January 2009. The course ran for 55k from Dublin Castle to Glenmalure in Co. Wicklow. The night was organised by Gearóid Towey the reknowned Irish rower in aid of the Stuart Mangan appeal. Stuart was left severly paralysed after a tackle in a rugby match in April 2008.