Dublin council initiative is a walk in the park
Everyone gathered for last week’s outing was there for a stroll and a chat
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.”
“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!”
Parker has me in stitches. She’s 78 (“and feeling it!”). She’s wearing sensible walking shoes and trousers but also a very striking fur coat.
“It’s faux-fur,” she says and spells it. “F-A-U-X fur. If it gets wet you can just shake it out . . . I used to walk up mountains. Then I got two new knees and that finished me. But I have to get out or I’d go mental.”
In Herbert Park, today’s walk leader, Greg Younge, explains where the toilets are. Mairead D’Arcy from Glasnevin points out a brass plaque about the ash tree. D’Arcy usually goes on the Wednesday walk from Raheny and she recently organised a tour around Glasnevin Cemetry. “I spent a week going up and down trying to find the important graves.”
Vivienne Chamberlain, another volunteer, has organised walks that culminated in the belfries of St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church where she’s a bell-ringer. She works part time and was a carer for her son until he went to live in assisted housing. “I was lacking exercise, friendship and time out of the house,” she says. “This is great.”
Noel McAllorum, once a plasterer now a recreational oil-painter (he shows me some of his work on his phone), says that people often struggle to occupy themselves when they retire. “It’s not the money or the work,” he says. “It’s somewhere to go and something to do. That’s what you miss.”
As we walk back, Michael Foley crouches to get a photo of the canal. “The light was lovely just there,” he says. Foley, who formerly worked for the World Bank, is an accomplished photographer and his Flickr account documents his travels around the world and around Dublin.
Foley remembers that the first walk he went on took him all the way to the Blessington Basin. “On the way back one of the people stopped at a house and said, ‘Did you know that Iris Murdoch lived here?’ and she got up on the steps and gave a talk about Iris Murdoch. You get all these little surprises.”
There are no big speeches today, but by the time we arrive back at the Barge we have walked and talked for eight kilometres along side streets, canal banks and parks. Everyone looks the better for it, except for this reporter, apparently. Several retirees ask if I’m feeling okay. “You deserve a hot whiskey after this,” says Parker, reassuringly.
Rita Fox has other ideas. “I heard the drinks were on The Irish Times ,” she says. I make my excuses and leave.
For information on Let’s Walk and Talk
, see dublincity.ie/Community/CommunityandSocialDevelopmentService