Darkness into Light: ‘Every person makes a difference’
Communities come together for international suicide awareness event
More than 10,000 people turned out for Darkness into Light in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall
Like many small, rural parts of Ireland, a lot of families from in and around Ballaghaderreen have been touched by suicide.
Early on Saturday morning almost 700 people from the small, Co Roscommon town left their warm beds to join the Pieta House Darkness Into Light event to raise money for suicide prevention and counselling.
They joined up to 200,000 people worldwide taking part in 5km walks on Saturday morning which started during darkness and ended in the dawn sunlight.
More than 150,000 people participated across Ireland with an additional 50,000 or so organising pre-dawn walks elsewhere in the world.
The event started modestly in 2009 with 400 people walking in Phoenix Park to raise funds and awareness of suicide in Ireland. Since then it has spread to communities all over the country.
Ballaghadereen, with a population of just 2,000, has seen continued growth in support for the Pieta House fundraiser since it started there in 2015.
The impact of suicide in the community was reflected on Saturday with the many messages of remembrance left on the banner in the school hall.
The walk this year started at St Nathy’s College and wound its way through the town and around tiny backroads which at points crossed small tributaries of the River Lung.
Narrow pathways were flanked by flickering tea lights and hanging lanterns, while flute players Sean Gilrane and Mick Mulvey marked the halfway point with traditional Irish music.
The weather was mild and dry with clear skies making the walk into the rising sun a very symbolic one.
What seemed like endless amounts of tea, sandwiches, fruit and biscuits – as well as a very trendy gluten-free section – were waiting for walkers on their return to the school hall.
Committee member Olivia Moffat offered a “míle buíochas” to those who supported the event, saying “every person makes a difference”.
“There was a huge crowd with lots of happy faces...the weather was in our favour so it was a very successful third year running”.
The first international Darkness Into Light walk this year started in Christchurch, New Zealand, at 8.15pm (irish-time) on Thursday and the last one was in Vancouver at about 2pm (irish-time) on Saturday.
In Galway, tea lights marked out the word “Hope” on the Salthill promenade, as traffic jams of cars and people formed around the Pieta House registration in Leisureland from 3am.
More than 5,500 people set out on foot under a waxing moon along the prom as part of the Darkness into Light event. A dry night and a light easterly wind made for benign conditions, and extra illumination and encouragement was provided by members of the Galway Fire Brigade. Even town crier Liam Silke was out in full robes and hat with his distinctive bell.
Soldiers with the Army’s An Céad Cath at Dún Ui Mhaolíosa barracks provided marshalling along the route, as babies in buggies, students in t-shirts and shorts, and families with Dalmatians, Labradors and German shepherds streamed east to South Park, known locally as “the Swamp” .
Numbers were so great that participants walked almost shoulder to shoulder as far as Nimmo’s pier on the Claddagh - then looping back up by Grattan beach to Salthill as the day began to break.
City councillor Niall MacNelis (Lab), who was involved in the organisation, was delighted with the turnout, which was up by at least 700 on last year’s figure. “We have 16 walks in this county alone - including smaller communities like Spiddal and Oranmore,”he said.
Several seafront hotels and coffee shops opened early for breakfast, while tea, water and bananas were also distributed free of charge in Leisureland.
As contented walkers headed for home - and bed - several people were close to tears.
“They are tears of loss for those no longer with us, but happiness at the support,” one participant told The Irish Times. “If it just makes one family, or one person, feel they are not alone, it is all worthwhile.”
Meanwhile in Australia, nurse Siobhan Greevy – who emigrated to Sydney at the start of this year – did the Darkness into Light walk with her adopted gaelic club, Clan na Gael Bondi, on Bondi Beach.
Ms Greevy, who is from the village of Fairymount just outside Ballaghaderreen, has taken part in the event every year since it started in the town.
“It was great to see such a huge turnout from the Irish community over here to support such a great cause,” she told The Irish Times. “The distance from home seems a lot shorter when you’re lucky enough to belong to such a supportive Irish community.”