Take on Nature: On the road from the Austrian Alps to Keady in Co Armagh
WHEN Eamonn Donnelly talks about our mountains in Ireland to his neighbours from his adopted home in Austria there are a few raised eyebrows.
“For them they are just hills,” he says.
“On an Irish mountain you will be looking down on a landscape of open countryside or out to sea, but in the Alps it is just miles and miles of more mountains."
English teacher Eamonn plays in a four-piece band called Boxty with his bandmate Sepp Tieber, combining Irish trad with middle European music.
When I spoke to Eamonn and Sepp mid-week, they had just crossed the border from Austria into Bavaria in Germany after trekking through the iconic mountain range.
Thousands of people hike in the Alps every year, but for the Irishman and the Austrian it is just the first stage of a 2,300km journey on foot to Eamonn’s native Keady in Co Armagh.
For Eamonn, The Long Walk Home from Austria, where he has lived since 1990, to Keady is more than just an adventure.
“I’d talked about doing it for a while, but it was the sort of thing I would have brought up over a pint rather than any real plan,” says Eamonn.
“But when my mother died in 2014 from an aggressive form of dementia the idea sort of crystalised and I started to think seriously about it.”
Sepp said that the journey through the high Alps, where they crossed peaks of more than 2,500 metres, was probably the most challenging part.
“We passed through a region known as Wilder Kaiser – a mountain landscape of limestone. Snow is still lying in some of the higher parts of the Alps,” he says.
“There are huts for hikers along the route and we stayed in them, but now that we are coming off the mountains we will be using our camping equipment.”
The next stage of Eamonn and Sepp’s trek will take them past the lakes of Bavaria, across the Danube and Rhine rivers and into France where they plan to walk along the border with Belgium.
After crossing by ferry to walk across the south of England their journey will take them into the Brecon Beacons in Wales and then another ferry to Rosslare and up through the Wicklow Mountains, before coming northwards to Keady.
Eamonn says he found the Alps particularly challenging and he hopes the flatter landscape for the rest of the journey will be slightly easier, although he and Sepp have set themselves a target of 35kms a day to ensure they reach Armagh by early September.
“Coming down some of the mountains in the Alps was more challenging than going up – the loose and wet scree was just falling away at our feet and it was a challenge just to stay standing. But when I remember the reason I am doing it, it gives me a new boost to keep going,” he tells me.
Eamonn accepts that while a cure for the dementia that took his mother from him seems to be a distant dream, we need at least to be exploring paths to eventually reach it.
“The Long Walk Home is a very small step along the way to doing just that, while also honouring the life of an amazing woman, wife, mother, grandmother and friend,” he says.
:: You can follow Eamonn and Sepp’s journey and donate to their fundraising campaign at Thelongwalkhome.wixsite.com/thelongwalkhome. All money raised will go to support dementia research including supporting the work of the Alzheimer’s Society, which supported Eamonn’s mother and family through her illness. Follow them on Twitter on @DementiaWalk or search for the hashtag #LongWalkHome