Craigbane, Banagher, Glenelly and Clann na nGael will 'Climb with Charlie' in aid of charity!

The peak of Sawel Mountain stands at some 2,224 ft, the highest in the Sperrins. It’s a magnet for hill walkers and budding climbers eager to experience Derry’s highest point.

By Michael Wilson
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 1:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 6:10 pm
The Sperrin peaks of Dart (left) and Sawel (right).
The Sperrin peaks of Dart (left) and Sawel (right).

The summit offers magnificent views to any intrepid visitor but it’s the uphill trek rather than the superb vistas that is inspiring a group of locals to take up a challenge laid down by an RTE broadcasting legend.

Charlie Bird was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease last year, a diagnosis the former journalist has admitted was devastating. However, in choosing to go public with his condition, he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support he received, so much so that it inspired him to use that goodwill to help others suffering with a terminal illness, and those suffering from thoughts of suicide and self-harm.

Indeed such was the reaction that it prompted Charlie, a former Chief News Correspondent with RTÉ, to take on the challenge of climbing Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo as part of his national ‘Club with Charlie’ day on April 2 to raise funds for two charities close to his heart: the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta House.

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“Join me in spirit as I raise funds for two charities very close to my heart,” explains Charlie, “My hope is that people all over Ireland, indeed all over the world will get behind me to show support and solidarity with the thousands of people who climb mountains every day due to their physical and mental health challenges. I am encouraging anyone who wants to get involved in ‘Climb with Charlie’ to do so in their own area.”

That’s where Sawel comes in via a quartet of local GAA clubs, all of whom have been touched by Irish Motor Neurone Disease to one degree or another.

Mention the name of Dominic O’Hara to anyone in Craigbane and it’s likely to draw the same sort of positive reaction that the name Mickey Forrester would in Banagher. Both men were local legends, popular and highly respected members of their respective communities, both taken far too soon by a disease that impacts thousands across the country.

Globally, around one person in 30,000 develops MND annually which, in Ireland, amounts to around 150 new diagnosis each year of a disease that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that tell your muscles what to do. Life expectancy varies from three to five years (or occasionally longer) after the onset of MND, depending on the activity of the disease and the particular muscle groups affected.

The statistics are frightening enough but they pale into insignificance next to the personal loss so many Irish families have suffered, loss like the O’Hara and Forrest families are experiencing.

It was against that backdrop that Park native, Thomas Hasson, himself born at the foot of the Sperrins, his wife Theresa, and their regular hill walking partner, former Derry City and Institute footballer, Ryan Coyle, decided to take up Charlie’s challenge in honour of two men who meant so much to their communities.

Both local GAA clubs, St. Joseph’s (Craigbane) and St. Mary’s (Banagher), have rowed in behind the charity effort while Dominic’s best friend, Pearse O’Kane, who happens to be a former Chairperson of Glenelly GAC, has also joined the cause, as has neighbouring club Clann na nGael, Aughabrack.

“Both Dominic and Mickey were pillars of the local communities,” explains Ryan, “They did so much for so many and we thought this might be a nice way to do something positive in their honour.

“We saw what Charlie was doing and Thomas came up with the idea. Our local mountain is Sawel so we decided to organise a charity climb as MND has impacted the local community and when I say local community I include Banagher, Craigbane and Glenelly.

“Sawel overlooks all three and each has lost someone to MND so we feel it is fitting and hopefully a good way for the communities to reach out to each other and remember a couple of very special men.”

All proceeds from the Sawel climb, which takes place on Saturday, April 2, will be used locally and organisers are hoping as many as possible turn out to take part with set-off times at 10am and 2pm, each with three departure points varying in difficulty meaning no previous experience is necessary. Parking is available on the day which will finish with a charity quiz in the Rio Grande Bar that evening and again, all are welcome.

Anyone wishing to donate to the local event from which all proceeds which be spent locally, can do so at www.gofundme.com/f/climbsawel