Four inspiring women have hiked the breadth of Ireland, raising over €6,000 for mental health services in the process.
Four women – Jess Glynn, Ali Milne, Maria Plaias, and Jenny Benoist – travelled by foot from the Irish capital, Dublin, to the west coast city of Galway in order to raise money for Irish mental health services.
They completed the mammoth 240 km (150 mi) journey over seven days, racking up a total of 321,000 steps in the process.
We caught up with Jess during her recovery (“sleep – and lots of it”) to talk to her about the group’s preparation, the journey, and the importance of mental health facilities in Ireland.
The route – Dublin to Galway
The journey began at Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock, before the women traversed the city to the majestic Phoenix Park. They then made their way to the start of the Royal Canal Greenway in Maynooth, Kildare, which led them to the centre of the country.
The serenity of the greenway, along canals and abandoned train lines, ensured a peaceful first half of the hikers’ arduous journey. The second half, however, was anything but.
“We found ourselves walking along main roads with speeding cars flying by and down back roads in pitch darkness,” Jess told us.
One of Jess’s hiking companions and founder of Irish women’s hiking and adventure group the Out Out Club, Ali Milne, “spent months planning the route, the accommodation, [and] the snack stops before we set off on this epic adventure”.
Beyond mere logistics, Jess revealed that she could not have completed this mammoth task without Ali: “I am so grateful to have a friend like her in my life, someone who pushes me to dream big and go beyond the limits I have created in my own mind”.
Indeed, the entire group of extraordinary hikers collectively spurred each other on. “I honestly don’t think I could have done this challenge without the other ladies,” said Jess, who jokingly added, “We will be forever bonded through pain after this experience!”.
Preparation – weeks of training
Travelling the breadth of Ireland on foot is no mean feat, and unsurprisingly, the walkers underwent 13 weeks of training before setting off.
Their training regime consisted of walking a variety of distances. “We would walk three or four times a week, with one long-distance walk every weekend,” Jess told us. These weekend walks ranged from 25–42 km (15.5–26 mi).
This prepared their body for the task at hand, but as Jess revealed, “nothing could have prepared us for the mental challenge”.
“On days one, two, and three, we relied heavily on our physical strength and ability, but what happens when that disappears?
“It was incredible to see the power of our minds kick in! When you think your body has nothing left to give, your mind will push you further than you could have ever imagined”.
This undoubtedly took a mental toll on the women, and indeed, Jess said, “Each one of us had our own breakdown moment at some point in the week, but we picked each other back up every time.
“We gave each other pep talks, we read out encouraging messages we had received”.
Jigsaw and Dowdstown Counselling Services – the beneficiaries of the women’s hard work
Both online and in-person, Jigsaw provides mental health advice and support for young people aged 12–25 across the country. It also helps families and educators develop the requisite skills to support the young people in their care.
On a local level, Dowdstown Counselling Services provides affordable counselling for all who need it in County Meath. It offers face-to-face, phone, or online counselling and is an organisation “near and dear” to Jess’s heart.
The group opted to raise funds for these services because “our mental health is equally as important as our physical health, yet it still doesn’t receive the same level of care and understanding in Ireland,” said Jess.
“Being open, honest, starting conversations, and sharing our experiences is the first step to supporting the next generation”.
So far, the team has raised well over €6,000 – a far cry from the original target of €500. Most of these donations have come via the hikers’ GoFundMe page, but locals have also stopped them along their travels to contribute cash donations.
Jess recalls a woman in her 70s in an Athlone hotel “who asked if I would wait in the breakfast area as she wanted to run up to her room to get some cash so she could donate.
“She told me her son was going through his own mental health struggles and how important it was to talk about these things.
“We don’t realise how common these struggles are and how many people are facing their own internal battles until we start talking to each other”.
If you wish to donate to the cause, you can do so here.