WALKING THE WALK Brídín Kelly is set to take on the 800k Camino de Santiago to raise funds for a charity close to her heart. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Brídín Kelly is trekking the Camino de Santiago to raise funds for Rock Rose House in her adopted town of Castlebar
TEN years ago Brídín Kelly first became aware of the Camino de Santiago and instantly decided to chalk it down on the bucket list.
Known in English as ‘The Way of Saint James’, the Camino is the ancient pilgrim walk that stretches almost 800km from St Jean Pied du Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life trek the Camino de Santiago annually, for a whole host of reasons.
Connemara native Brídín, who has lived and worked in Castlebar for the last 20 years, expects to complete the trail in approximately six weeks, and she is donating all money raised on her expedition to Rock Rose House, Castlebar.
“About ten years ago I read something about the Camino and always said I wanted to do it,” the 42 year-old told The Mayo News recently. “But unfortunately something always came up, and my son, Cillian, was just too young to go away for that period of time.
“But he’s 21 now, and after the last family holiday in Mexico two years ago, I said that next year I am doing the Camino. I can remember Cillian saying, ‘Oh God, she is on about that thing again!’, but I promised I would go.”
The Conradh na Gaeilge Mhaigh Eo employee fulfilled that promise, in-part, last year.
Brídín got a taste of the journey by completing three weeks of the gruelling trek in 2017. The venture took her through some of the most spectacular scenery, hiking through the Pyrenees mountains at the Somport Pass and miles on end of vineyards. Only for work commitments back in Ireland, she would have kept going.
But that exposure to the ‘challenge’ added more fuel to her determination to go the full distance and experience the Camino in all its glory.
For the memories and various types of people she met alone, Brídín is raring to go.
“I didn’t want to stop after three weeks last year,” she laughed. “I didn’t have the holidays last year to do the six weeks and because we are so busy at work, but I just wanted to walk!”
Brídín also found that she enjoyed the social aspect of the trek. “You meet people from all over the world from different religions and races, and it’s like you always knew them, even from the first day.
“The oldest lady that walked with us last year was an 84 year old from Canada. She has done it for nine years in a row and was so fit.”
This year, Brídín has decided to complete the walk in order to raise funds and awareness for Rock Rose House, Castlebar. “It’s such a big commitment,” she confided, “and I’m very grateful to my committee for letting me do this.”
Rock Rose House is the permanent residency of Mayo Cancer Support, which offers a range of emotional and physical supports to people diagnosed with a cancer, and to their friends and family. It featured in these very pages only a few weeks ago and holds a special place in Brídín’s heart.
“I hadn’t planned on doing it for charity,” she said. “But when a friend of mine mentioned it to me and I looked into it, Rock Rose House came into my head straight away.
“Two of my good friends have used this service; one passed away last year and the other the year before. So I know how important it is, and I feel like I’m giving something back.
“Rock Rose House is extremely important for the county. We all know somebody that has been affected by cancer, and we never know when and if we might need it ourselves. So I’m very, very happy to be doing this for them.”
On Monday, July 9, Brídín will begin the adventure from the south-west of France. She will be walking before 6am every morning and expects to be on foot for 8-9 hours every day.
The trip will be entirely self-funded, but as she puts it, ‘the costs don’t bother me’.
It’s the challenge and that sense of achievement she is chasing, while hoping to raise some money along the way too.
“They say there are three different stages to the Camino,” she noted. “The first stage is the physical; the second is the mental; the third is the emotional. The first two weeks is tough going because it messes with your head.
“But I would recommend it to everyone. Even last year there was such a great sense of achievement, so I can’t imagine what it’s going to be this time around.
“I’m aiming to raise €2,000 and I’ve set up an iDonate page and have sponsorship cards all around Castlebar, so I hope people will be as generous as they can.”
‘People think you’re mad’
People’s first reaction is one of shock when they hear of the challenge that awaits Brídín, she says.
“People do think you are mad,” she laughed. “They always ask whether you would not prefer to go on a cruise or sit on a beach, and I just say ‘I’ve done all that’.
“I remember saying it to my mum – she just said. “Oh my God, I always thought you were mad but this just takes the biscuit!”
However, Trisha Greavy, General Manager of Rock Rose House, says Brídín is an inspiration for taking on such a challenge.
“I think she’s incredible,” she told The Mayo News. “This is a journey too, and it symbolises what people go through on a cancer journey.
“To be able to do something like this and give back by raising money and awareness for Rock Rose House, she’s an inspiration, and we wish her the best of luck.”
To donate to Brídín’s fundraiser, log onto www.idonate.ie/mayocancer or keep an eye out for her sponsorship cards around Castlebar. A tea and coffee morning, with special guest Cora Staunton, is taking place on Friday, June 29 from 10.30am-12pm in the Linen Hall Cafe, Castlebar. All are welcome.