Dublin council initiative is a walk in the park

Everyone gathered for last week’s outing was there for a stroll and a chat

Dublin City Council’s Let’s Walk and Talk programme, has been running for seven years. There are now eleven separate walks around the city, including Irish, French, Spanish and German language varieties, at least one a day. Video: Darragh Bambrick

Sat, Feb 22, 2014, 01:01

On Tuesday at two, about 40 people meet outside the Barge Pub on Charlemont Street, just by the Grand Canal. They are going for a bit of a walk. This is part of Dublin City Council’s Let’s Walk and Talk programme, which has been running for seven years. There are now 11 separate walks around the city, including Irish, French, Spanish and German- language varieties, at least one every day.

The initiative was an offshoot of 2007’s Embracing Ageing initiative and many of the participants are retirees, but there’s no lower age limit and this group features a scattering of young women with buggies. Everyone is here for a stroll and a chat.

Dorothy Fine, an American-born volunteer, does a rough headcount. Like the other volunteers, she’s wearing a yellow high-viz vest with “Let’s Walk and Talk” printed on the back.

“Today,” she says, “we’re going to Herbert Park. ”

Everyone walks along in twos and threes and many seem to know each other.

Paul Griffiths, a former advertising man, is visually impaired and carries a white stick. “Last June I thought I’d take a chance, come along and see if anyone would walk alongside me,” he says. “And they do!”

“Don’t mind him, he tells lies,” says Jack Mason, who is guiding him today. “He lets on his eyes are at him. There’s nothing wrong with him.”

Rain gear
“What’s going on?” asks a third man, Frank Lynagh.

“He’s telling lies to a reporter,” explains Mason. “And don’t listen to him either,” he adds, gesturing towards Lynagh. “He’s from Meath. A Meath ‘smug’ as my father used to say.”

Most participants have sturdy walking shoes. The regulars have waterproofs for rainy days, but on particularly wet days they duck into museums or galleries.

“You get to do all sorts of cultural things you wouldn’t normally do,” says Griffiths. “We signed the book of condolence for Nelson Mandela. We go to quite a few art galleries. I get people to explain the paintings to me.”

Stopped at traffic lights, I hear Rita Fox and Claire Butler discussing a trip to the cinema. Fox organises the Let’s Walk and Talk Christmas dinner. Were they friends before this? “We’re not friends now,” says Butler. “I don’t like her at all.” They both laugh.

What do they like about these walks? “You don’t have to join anything,” says Butler.

“You can just turn up,” says Fox. “And it’s very informative . . . Along the way people point out things of interest and you think ‘I never knew that!’”

As we walk through Ranelagh Gardens, Marjorie Parker tells me about her childhood ambition.

“I wanted to be one of the Royalettes,” she says. “They were a row of high kicking dancers at the Theatre Royal . . . An organist would come out of the floor and they’d start dancing. I loved it. At school the nuns would say ‘And what do you want to be?’ I couldn’t say ‘I want to be a Royalette’ because they’d drop dead!”