WITH thousands of people walking the Slieve Bloom mountains and hundreds of thousands of euros being raised for Laois Hospice over the years, the annual Clonaslee walk will be celebrating a very special birthday this St Stephen’s Day when it will be 20 years young.
The walk was launched last week by President of the GAA, Liam O’ Neill who spoke about the wonderful work being done around the county by Laois Hospice. He also told the audience a little known fact - that Laois Hospice was the first foundation outside of Harold’s Cross Hospice in Dublin to provide the services of a hospice nurse and home care to those unfortunate enough to be in need of such care.
The launch, which took place in the Heritage Centre in Clonaslee was also attended by Peter Naughton, clinical director of Laois Hospice, as well as a large crowd from the local community. They were welcomed there on the night by Sheila Bourke, co-ordinator of the walk.
Sheila outlined the history of the walk, reminding people that it was the brainchild of the late Donal Sweeney and friends Noel Foynes and Michael Dunne. Noel is credited with the introduction of sponsorship cards.
Apparently only 14 people participated in that first walk almost twenty years ago and £216 was raised on the day. This is a wonderful contrast to the 800 to 1,000 walkers last year and €36,000 raised for Laois Hospice, an amazing feat for the community driven annual event.
In all almost three quarters of a million euro, or €738,000 to be precise, has been raised over the past 19 years - all donated to the Laois Hospice Foundation and all by one small village in Laois. Indeed such is the community involvement in the fundraiser, that Christmas in Clonaslee wouldn’t be Christmas without the walk, where old friends are reunited and new friends made, as young and old put on the boots and head into the Slieve Blooms on St Stephen’s Day.
The walk is usually ten miles but a shorter walk of three miles on easier terrain can also be undertaken. To ready itself for the great day there is a flurry of activity of activity in Clonaslee as the huge number of local volunteers make preparations to ensure that the walkers are well looked after on the day.
At the half way stage of the 10 mile walk there is a soup station where Mr Chris Horan and his team are waiting with the hot drink while along the way there are many water stations. Finally on arriving back to the community centre there is a welcome cup of tea and a bite to eat.
The trojan workers feed up to 1,000 walkers on the day with 1,300 bread rolls prepared and 80 loaves made into sandwiches, not to forget the ‘cáca milis’ to finish off. The said cakes are probably in the ovens of the parish as people read this story!
At the launch Sheila also paid tribute to all the sponsors, to Richard Jack and his Coillte team for their co-operation and enthusiasm, and to all the stewards and carpark attendents. She also had a special work of praise and thanks for all of the young volunteers, as they will carry on this tradition in the future.
Secretary of Laois Hospice Mary Delaney reminded those at the launch that because Laois Hospice is a voluntary organisation, every penny raised by the walkers on St Stephen’s Day goes to provide nurses and home care. Originally only one nurse was employed by the Hospice.
Now there are four nurses employed so that those who are ill can live out their lives at home if they so desire and have the best of care. Mary thanked the organisers and walkers on behalf of all the people who have benefitted from the work of the Hospice over the years.
Also on the podium on the night was one of the original walkers and organisers, Michael Dunne from Ballymacrory. Michael paid tribute to the late Donal Sweeney whom he said had a brilliant mind and was a great forward thinker and planner. Michael, like all of the community regretted Donal’s early passing and the fact that he didn’t live to see the fruits of his earlier planning.
Donal’s family - his wife Noreen, and daughters Maura and Sinead were welcomed to the launch as was his sister Loretta and nephew Peter.
Peter Naughton, who since 1989 has been the driving force of the Laois Hospice Foundation, heaped praise on the local community in Clonaslee for their outstanding work in organising this annual fundraising walk so successfully, reminding people that it is one of the cornerstones of the Laois Hospice fundraising efforts.
Hospice plan to provide €1 million to the HSE over the next five years in order to improve and provide home care and hospice nurses.
Finally Liam O’ Neill expressed his delight at being in Clonaslee Heritage Centre, a building he said he had often admired from the outside over the years. He too praised the fantastic community spirit in the village and was astounded that such a small community could hjave raised so much money for Laois Hospice.
He said he knew that many, many sick people would have passed away with less dignity without their homecare and hospice nurse. He added that he felt priviledged to have been invited to launch the walk and wished it every succecss in the future.
People can walk all day on St Stephen’s Day while it is still light and people can also get fundraising with sponsorship cards. To get sponsorship cards or find out more information, contact Shelia Burke at 057 86 48084; Lucy Feighery at 057 86 48063; or Michael Dunne at 057 86 48010.