Take a look at this map of Ireland. A nice route is marked on it. Imagine driving that.
Then imagine walking it -- unless you're an avid hiker it may be a bit too daunting.
Then. Imagine. Walking. It. BAREFOOT!
Which is exactly what my guest blogger today, Eamonn Keaveney, did during the summer, for charity!
I'm renowned for going barefoot 99% of the time -- and I'm as equally well-known by my local media for my barefoot walks for charity as I am for my novels. But this...well, I am in complete awe of Eamonn. No way could I have done a tenth of this!
Over to Eamonn:
‘How are the feet?’ I was asked this question time and time again this summer, as I walked around Ireland with no shoes on and an enormous backpack on my shoulders. ‘Not too bad,’ I usually replied, even if at times it felt like they were hanging off of me. It was sore, to be quite honest. I’m no stranger to walking around barefoot – I’ve been doing it for several years now – but there’s something else about walking twenty or thirty kilometres a day for weeks on end.
There’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is that I was engaged in a 2,000 kilometre barefoot walk around the periphery of the country (I have to admit that I skipped the midlands) in aid of the Pieta House Suicide and Self-Harm Crisis Centre, and in pursuit of the Guinness World Record for longest barefoot journey, which was held by Michael Essign at an impressive 1,488km.
The longer answer of where the idea actually came from goes back to climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday back in 2014, a day when many choose to climb barefoot. I was with my good friend Killian McGrath, and after we had managed to reach the top I was struck by the idea of climbing other mountains in Ireland barefoot – specifically the highest peak in each of the four provinces.
I never actually got around to that (yet!).
But the idea simmered in the back of my mind, and after I walked the Camino de Santiago later that year – not entirely barefoot, I’m afraid – I thought it’d be even more challenging to walk between them.
It all came together one day when, sheltering in Eason’s from the rain, I opened the Guinness Book of Records for a quick peek, saw the existing record, and thought to myself – “Sure I can beat that.”
The rules were pretty strict. No footwear was a bit obvious; I was allowed to wear them on rest days that didn’t contribute to the overall total distance, but could only do so once because I didn’t actually carry any with me.
No bandages or plasters – to stop some genius from wrapping his feet in twenty layers of gauze. No walking aids meant I couldn’t carry a cool stick, but it wasn’t so bad.
And it had to have the spirit of a journey; I couldn’t just add up my trips to the shop over a few months and submit that.
I remember distinctly one of my lowest points. Just under two weeks in, I was lumbering along the Limerick road out of Galway, my feet were on fire (this was before they’d developed a healthy protective layer of skin) and my backpack was almost crushing me. I stopped for a moment by the side of the road for a breather, feeling dismayed at the distance I still had to cover. Then it started to rain heavily.
But I kept going, and it kept getting better, until moments like that were very rare indeed. To be quite fair, I was fortunate to be able to spend my summer getting an excellent farmer’s tan from all the time spent outside, and in what surroundings!
Every part of this island has something to offer the eye, whether it’s a beautiful view or a place of some kind of historic interest. (Again, I can’t really say much about the midlands, sorry.) Cliffs rising defiantly out of the water; ancient, crumbling castles now inhabited only by sheep; mountains kept warm by a cap of cloud; green-and-purple bog stretching into the distance; and gorgeous yellow-white beaches that are as much a pleasure to the unshod foot as they are to the eye...
The only two annoyances are the wind and the midges, and at least when you have one you don’t have the other.
Still, what made it for me was the support I received. Everywhere I went I had people offering help of one kind or another; people stopped and offered me lifts that I had to politely decline, or wished me well, or asked how to donate to Pieta House, which was what it was all about.
I stayed in people’s houses up and down the entire country, was fed and watered everywhere I went, and several times on hot days people actually stopped their cars to give me ice-cream.
The biggest thing I noticed – shoes are too warm now!