‘INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE’ Maeve and Alan Gallagher from Westport have described their time involved with Pieta House as an ‘incredible experience’. The are pictured at the official opening Pieta House West in Tuam back in 2014. Pic: Andrew Downes
It can often be hard to step away from something in which you have long played a key role. Alan Gallagher and his wife, Maeve, have been the main organisers of Darkness into Light Westport since it began six years ago. After this year’s event, however, the Gallaghers decided to step away from the organising committee and take more of a ‘background’ role.
“I suppose the logistics of the whole thing were becoming too much; living in Kildare and trying to organise the walk in Mayo was tough. A lot of work was involved,” Alan told The Mayo News last week.
“There’s no doubt that we will miss our involvement in it, but it will be nice to be able to be relaxed now on the night of the event,” Maeve Gallagher added.
When they decided to start Darkness into Light Westport six years ago, the Gallaghers never imagined it would raise over €140,000 for Pieta House.
When the walk began in Mayo in 2012, Westport House was the only venue to host the event in the county. Fast forward a very successful six years and six Mayo venues now host the event annually.
“We’ve come a long way, from having only 250 people attending the event in our first year to this year having 1,700 people … it really is a big jump,” Maeve said.
“We’re very proud of this. Having that amount of people attending in Westport alone is huge, and that’s without taking into account the other five venues across the county,” she added.
Alan, a native of Achill Island, lost his niece to suicide in 2003. He always wanted to do something to help fight suicide, and he got his chance in 2011.
“I was actually watching Secret Millionaire one night, and that was when we first heard of Pieta House and what it was all about,” he said.
“I looked it up and that’s where I came across the first Darkness into Light Walk, which was in Phoenix Park in 2011.
“So I wanted to see was there any way I might be able to start one up in Mayo. I sent Pieta House an email in November 2011, explaining my interest and so on. They got back to me just eight weeks before the event was due to take place, but we went for it, and we haven’t looked back since,” he added.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” Maeve chimed in. “It’s been like group therapy. It was great we met so many people and made so many new friends for life.”
The event has grown every year, but not without help, and both Alan and Maeve are extremely grateful for all the assistance they received over the years.
“A lot of thanks really does have to go to the people of Westport, they really have been fantastic. Both big and small businesses from around the town have given what they can to help us. The event was really something that took off in the town itself,” said Maeve.
“We have never had to pay for anything for the event, everything has been given to us. It cannot be underestimated as to how grateful we are for that,” said Alan.
“A big thanks must go to our volunteers as well. We really couldn’t have done this without them. They were immense over the years. We never found ourselves short of volunteers; we were so lucky. Only for them it wouldn’t have been possible,” Maeve added.
As with every journey, there are special moments along the way, and both Alan and Maeve had a few to choose from.
“The first year was very special. It meant a lot to us. The year we did the walk with Lord Altamont (RIP) and Lady Altamont, who were the owners of Westport House, was extremely special. Another special moment was when Cora Staunton was appointed ambassador of the event. We thought that was very special. She has been fantastic over the last few years, along with a couple of others – in particular, Fr Charlie McDonnell, Dermot Langan and Dick Burke. These people have been of incredible help to us,” said Alan.
In terms of the future both Alan and Maeve are hoping to stay involved in the background of the event.
“This is something that we really want to stay involved in. We want to keep on helping out in the background. But we think that the timing is right now to step away. Some fresh ideas from a new organsing committee will be good; new people bring new ideas, and we will do all we can to support them,” Maeve added.
Pieta House now also offers a bereavement counseling service on a 24/7 basis. It provides free counselling, therapy and support to individuals, couples, families and children who have been bereaved by suicide.