Team Porter will run seven marathons for Wickow Hospice


TS Eliot was wrong about April being the cruellest month. The March wind blowing into Luggala this week has been cruel beyond words, cutting through the marrow of the bone, hurling derision at any effort to get warm, inside or out.

The scene at dawn on Monday: from the half-door of my old trapper’s cottage, all light and space whitened by snow, under a wet concrete sky, the shivering dark edges of Lough Tay like the icy shores of the Arctic, only in miniature, the lofty Fancy Mountain of crumbly granite more lunar now than ever, and off in the distance the bulking Lugnaquilla, seemingly beyond the limits of society.
That nice family in Dalkey who recently sold me their Jeep Wrangler have no idea what a lifesaver it’s been. Only the successor to the original four-wheel drive – commissioned by the US army at the outbreak of the second World War – was going to get me up the frozen, meandering hill to the Pier Gates, then into Roundwood for an urgent supply of firelighters, yellow tail, and mousetraps.

No wonder Michael Jackson only lasted eight weeks in this part of Wicklow, and that was in summer.

It was no better on Tuesday, the scattering of native Irish oak and Japanese Umbrella Pine crying out in their primordial world, the herds of Sika deer lost somewhere in the caves along the Clohogue River, or with the black ravens up on Spooks Corner, the icicles still hanging off the sheer face of rock that sides us from Ballinrush. If April is any crueller than this I may not last the year on my lease.

So this is what Séamus Heaney meant when he wrote of Luggala: “The minute you start going down, you do cross a line into a slight otherwhere” – and another climate, too.

By Wednesday morning there was still no thawing of the raw air, at least not inside my old stone building with its cement floors, thin sash windows and no central heating.

Then the sun leaned in with laughter from across the openness, and the suddenly deepening warmth coerced me into going for a run, straight up the The Murderin’ Pass and on to the trails towards Djouce Mountain, the softly persuasive voice of Billy Porter playing on my mind like a simple, catchy tune.

“We’ll see you next July, won’t we? And remember you can do a quarter, a half, a full, or all seven of them, because this is all about participation. We just want people to come out and run next July and raise funds for this very important cause.”

The Wicklow running scene is still new to me, yet anyone who knows it will know Billy Porter: for years the irrepressible spirit and force behind Parnell Athletic Club, Billy also runs Avondale Sports in Rathdrum, and you will not meet a man more enthusiastic about the sport.

He’s also one of the forces behind the Wicklow Hospice Foundation, fully alert to the absurdity that the county remains without a hospice facility of any sort.

Billy’s run for important causes before, including his personal crusade against cancer, but the Wicklow Hospice seems closest to the heart, and he’s not alone.

For the past three years they’ve been on a fund-raising blitz, targeting €3m to build the facility, on agreement the HSE will then run it. They’ve now got a site at Magheramore, got the St John of Gods to operate it, got their planning application in, and about €65m in the bank.

A large chunk of that has just been lodged, some €250,000, thanks to Parnell’s club member and now three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who brought the premiere of Lincoln to Dublin back in January as his own modest way of contributing, equally alert to the fact his adopted county can’t offer one of the basic rights of life.

Now, Billy and his team of Hospice runners are out to complete the final leg. They’ve raised €30,000 already in the last three Dublin marathons, and wanted to finish with something different: so, they’re running seven marathons, over seven successive days, starting on July 7th, at 7.07am.
They announced this in the Glenview Hotel last Friday, and Billy kept repeating was they don’t expect everyone to run all seven, just take on whatever they want.

They’ve designed it that way, staging the first marathon on the Sunday in Bray on a roughly six-mile loop of the town (for the 26.2-mile total), then moving to the safe confines of Avondale Forest Park, from the Monday to the Friday, on a similar six-mile loop, before returning to Bray on the Saturday, July 13th, for the sweet finale.

“Do a six-mile loop, or 10km, then that’s great,” he said. “Add another loop then better again. Two more and you’ve done a marathon. We just want as many people out over the seven days.”

Already signed up for all seven is Ciarán Byrne, from Ballinaclash, and the hope is he won’t be alone. July seems a long way off when there's still snow on the sides of Luggala, but I’m off for another training run, if only to get warm. See