Intrepid Walkers swelter over mountains
to complete Magee Bluestack Challenge
The three amigos looking fresh before the start of the marathon trek - Sean Gillespie,
Victor Kearney and Charlie McGinty
Liam Hyland saw the start: The temperatures was touching 18 degrees celsius as I arrived in Fintown at 7.30am to watch the start of the Magee Bluestack Challenge. Noel Cunningham was already on stage, his natty pink suit contrasting sharply with the recreational attire of the army of walkers spread out in front of him. Tables for entries were busy, manned by enthusiastic volunteers - the loud-speakers urging the hardy participants to make sure they were properly registered. Vans, back at the rear of the assembly point, carried the letter of the group it was transporting gear for. It looked chaotic - but it was well ordered chaos. Organisers, officials, group leaders, gardai, army and Mountain Rescue milled around consulting each other and making note of last minute arrangements.
As the sun poured down, Noel, on the back of the lorry, was trying to stir his army into song. La, la, la, la, he went, but the response was poor - those departing on the marathon 40km walk and climb were too wrapped up in their own physical and mental preparations.
Finally, as we reached 8am the announcement everybody had been waiting for - Group A was ordered to the front to line up for the start. Last minute sun protection was applied, a final check of gear, then as each name was called, the person filtered through to take his/her place on the road. Group leaders gave last minute instructions, a big round of applause and the first group was away. Among it I spotted Paddy and Annette Diver, Caroline Timony, Pat Ward, Mary Mullin and Orla Doogan.
Between then and 8.30 all were started and the site, that 30 minutes earlier had been a hive of activity, was empty, except for volunteers cleaning up. The 4th Magee Bluestack Challenge had commenced.
Participant Deirdre Dillon describes the day: Sitting on Rossnowlagh Beach on Sunday, my mind drifted back to the events of the day before - the occasion of the Magee Bluestack Challenge - and I felt a real sense of disappointment that it was all over.
The sense of expectation waiting in the air at registration beside ‘midgey’ Lough Finn, was palpable as walkers wondered would they finish.... would the calf muscle injury stick the strain ..... would there be enough water .... did they really need the boots on such a fine warm morning?
Master of ceremonies Noel Cunningham tried bravely to rouse the crowd into a morning chorus but, anxious to be on the way, they found it hard to respond! Eventually the ‘house rules’ were outlined, bottles were filled, copious lashings of sun cream applied and the walk was on its way.
Five groups treeked along the forest on the shores of Lough Finn, albeit separated by intervals of 10-15 minutes. The pace was brisk and spirits were high as we left the road behind and ascended into the hills.
There is a misconception in the Bluestack Challenge that Group E is the slow one, but nothing could be further from the truth - as time and time again throughout the day we caught up on our counterparts in D.
The breakfast stop near Lough Muck was a welcome sight as the suns rays were beginning to take their toll. Bacon rolls, professionally supplied by the Army, were well received - washed down with equally welcome mugs of tea. A quick chat with friends in other groups, then it was back to the road and a gentle ascent up the side of Dairaghan Beg. The scenery was stunning and the going was easy as we delighted in the peace and tranquillity of this heavenly spot.
Water stops were frequent as the temperatures soared but most were prudent and careful. Rumour had it though that a few of the hares in Group A actually left their water bottles behind and had to rely on the generosity of other walkers to quench their boiling thirst. Not so in Group E! (continued on other stories)
100 years from now
In the year 2107, it may still be possible to find old copies of Donegal Times covering the period 2000-2007. Anyone bothering to read them will be surprised at the primitive way we lived 100 years previously. Some things however will seem the same; Ernan McGettigan IV will continue to rotate between presiding over the Town Council and donning the chain of first citizen; Town residents will still be complaining about lack of amenities even though huge shopping malls ring the city and the latest in multi-dimensional entertainment and recreation facilities are dotted throughout.
But perusal of the pages of the century old Times will prove educational. It will reveal the fight to save our river and quay from the vandalism of a sewage scheme that was poorly planned; of the role Bord Pleanala played to curtail unsuitable development; it will explain why the mart is still sitting in the middle of town, even though a state-of-art facility was offered to its executive at Ardlenagh in 2004.
The 22nd century reader will be surprised to learn that the high-speed rail that carries passengers from the centre of town all round the island had its roots in a ‘Save the West’ movement formed 100 years earlier and astonished that the international airport at the Holmes hadn’t even been thought of. They will also be envious of the fact that not every hill within a three mile radius was filled with housing and development - and will wish the early 21st century planners had worked to complement our natural assets rather than destroying them.
Our descendents will laugh that our river and inner bay was a filthy cess-pit, on which the plethora of water recreation and sports they presently enjoy, was not possible. But they will decry their ancestors for the slip-shod way they allowed the clean-up to take place. The manhole structures will carry a board-walk but the ‘Tier on the Pier’, although reduced in height, will be a blight on the natural environment and a blemish to the memory of those in charge of town and county when its construction was planned.
The 2107 populace will be surprised that Donegal and Mountcharles were two separate towns - and the residents of Tanatallon will still be revelling in the fact that the first super-casino has been built on the Main Street stretching back from where Georgie Dunlevy’s used to be. The town has reverted to the name of Monte Carlo to attract super rich punters - seen as a small price by its residents for the wealth and affluence the area has amassed.
2107 readers flicking through the pages of old Times will learn of council ineptitude, inexcusable planning decisions, closure of factories, destruction of our river, unimaginative leaders, people of vision banging their heads off a stone wall, high unemployment, lack of accessible treatment for patients with life threatening diseases, decimation of the fishing industry - and an election that said - retain the status quo - we’re happy the way we are!
They will learn that Killybegs was once a prosperous fishing port and that the massive liners that now frequent the harbour on a daily basis only started arriving in the early 2000’s.
The Breakfast Club will still meet in Linda’s Krustier Kitchen and marvel that their great-great-great grandparents started this great tradition, so important for the communication of the latest news and information around the town.
The new university at Killymard will be called the Martin McAlllister Institute of Conservative Studies, a right-wing centre of learning, erected in memory of the one true intellectual residing in town in early 2000 - and whose letters to the Times are collectors items stored and re-read by academics and the learned. The correspondence will be pointed to by professors as examples of perfectly constructed and grammatically correct use of the old English language - never using a small word when a big one was available. Students will pour over Martins every utterance, as we did Shakesphere, trying to unravel the convoluted sentences - and reading into them deep meanings that the author probably never had in mind.
Future readers will note that we had a Waterbus seating 130, which would sail down the bay and turn around the Green Islands before heading back. Compared to their six engine jet-powered hydro-boat carrying 500 that can circle Aranmore and be back in an hour, this will seem very quaint.
But who can say - maybe 2007 will not seem so bad to the residents of Donegal Town in 2107. If trends worldwide, nationwide, and locally continue, the relative peace and stability we now enjoy may seem a mecca of harmony and tranquillity to the reader of the 22nd century.
And have no doubt, Donegal Times will be seen as the paper of record covering these momentous years. Other rags may dip in and out of local events since the turn of the millennium, but the Times is the only one that has meticulously noted happenings that paint the complete picture. Future readers will see photos of the weddings of their great-great-grandfathers and mothers, read of the births of their grannies and grandads, marvel at graduation and other milestones in the history of their family - and thank God that this paper recorded it all.
Oh, another thing that the 22nd century reader will find the same - McGettigan’s on the corner will be still winning gold medals for their sausages!