AN ESTIMATED one fifth of the population of Athy made a special effort on Saturday night (11 May ) to get up pre-dawn and take part in the Darkness into Light walk in aid of Pieta House.
“We had 1,500 register, but well over 2,000 turned up on the night,” said Richard Daly, principal of Athy College, and one of the organisers.
Overall, an estimated 200,000 in 19 countries took part in the charity walk.
“It’s been an amazing event. This is our fourth year, and the numbers are going from strength to strength,” he added.
Mr Daly reckons in the region of €20,000 was collected from the reflective walk but as he said: “It’s not about the money. I mean, it’s handy for Pieta House, but for the community, it’s important to be able to walk together for people who’ve been touched or affected [by suicide]”.
The five kilometer walk began in Athy College and took what Mr Daly described as “a very safe route” through the sports grounds of the GAA and rugby club, before walking along the river as the sun rose around 4.15 am.
As part of the event, they had The Old Bog Cottage – a traditional Irish thatched cottage on a trailer with a real turf fire and an accordion player inside.
“We tried to create a bit of an atmosphere, had a singing extravaganza [at the school] for an hour or more before,” he explained. The gates of the school opened at 2am and people began arriving shortly after.
“People signed the Banner of Hope, remembering people they lost,” he said.
Local choir Beautiful Noise sang, and they were joined by youth group Sing and Sign, with Garda Sue Kinsella singing as they signed.
“Don Berry did the warm-up and we released the pack on time,” he said, and the walk was led by Athy piper Joe Byrne
“We organized that all the churches along the route were kept open, and it was amazing the number of people who visited. A lot of candles got lit,” said Mr Daly.
“It was a beautiful route along the river as the sun came up. If you were looking for symbolism for the greatest of cynics…as people made it into a new day as the sun came up,” he explained.
Hotels and hostelries throughout the town opened for 5am breakfast and it seems, were rewarded for doing so with the turnout.
“The places were packed. You couldn’t get into them,” he said, before offering praise for all those who helped make the occasion.
“We have never asked anyone who hasn’t said ‘yes’, whether it’s with food, or electrical stuff. We had ex-army staff here helping with the parking. Anybody we asked it was ‘yes, yes, yes’,” he said.
“It was really, really positive, and people really found this a comfort,” said Mr Daly, referring to the amount of people who have been touched or affected by suicide and self-harm.
“To be honest, it’s more important they’re there rather than registering, and it’s not all about the money. It’s about bringing people together,” he added.