Leading the way.. Kay Carroll with Patricia Smith, Mary O’Malley, Pat and Marie Cooney, Jane Donnelly and Pauline Donnelly heading out on their walk. PHOTOS: SEAMUS FARRELLY

A walk into the unknown and making strides ever since

Walking has played a huge role in keeping the population healthy and sane during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among those who know the benefit of walking more than most are the members of The Tara Walking Club which celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The group's anniversary also coincides with the 20th year of the very popular looped Sli na Slainte walking route around the Hill of Tara.

Kay Carroll who founded the walking group and was instrumental in the development of the walking loop explains that because of the pandemic, anniversary celebrations have been put on hold.

“We had been planning to celebrate, but now the plan is to maybe arrange a gathering and a walk for the autumn,” she says.

Kay first developed her love of walking over 40 years ago and says she reaped the benefits all through her life.

“I started walking after my second daughter was born.

“I was a member of the ICA and attended a workshop in An Grianan in conjunction of the ICA and the Irish Heart Foundation, where we learned a whole lot about the benefits of walking and about the development of Sli na Slainte.

“I realised that the Hill of Tara would be wonderful to make into Sli na Slainte – it is such a lovely route.

“There was a lot of toing and froing and visits to Michael Maguires. The Irish Heart Foundation were on board from the start.

“I got in contact with county councillors at the time, Jimmy Mangan and Tommy Reilly,

“Meath Co Council funded the route and The Irish Heart Foundation funded the signs along with the literature and brochures with a map and history of the route, and Michael Maguire provided the venue for the launch in 2000.”

“Following that I called a meeting in Maguires on the Hill of Tara to form a walking club. We had a full house and the first walking club in Meath was formed!”

Pauline Donnelly is one of the group's members who says the benefits are immense.

“It is a social outing as well as exercise. We are so lucky, we have the Hill of Tara. It is a magical place and then there is the tea and coffee in Maguires.

“Walking is a wonderful activity for everyone – we have members of all ages - including the eldest member of the Group, Rita Lally from Bective,” says Pauline taking a moment to also remember all the members who have passed away over the last 20 years.

Kay explains that they used to meet for a walk every Sunday morning at 10am, but the group grew to such an extent that before the lockdown began, they had a group leave at 9am and another at 10am. “It is very much a social thing too. We have a cup of tea and a chat afterwards.

“Most of us do our own walking through the rest of the week, some on the Sli na Slainte. The route is also widely used by other walkers.”

Kay says her love of walking helped her through the lockdown and to cope with pressing family worries.”I was walking more than ever. I walked around the fields at home when the 2km rule was in place but when it widened to 5km, I was back walking at Tara.

“It really helps your well being. My granddaughter was very ill – she was diagnosed just before the lockdown and it helped me to cope with it. Thankfully she is doing very well now.”

The Sli na Slainte is also responsible for so many friendships. It is close to Lismullen school and many mothers dropped their children to school, went for a walk and then for a cuppa afterwards and many friendships were made.

The fitness and health benefits of walking are enormous.

“I had an accident and was brought to hospital. My blood pressure was high at the scene but by the time I got to the hospital it was back down to normal. They asked me if I was a walker and said they could see I was.

“I also had to have gall bladder surgery and the hospital were amazed at how quickly I was up and about again and they said it was the walking.”

As well as Kay's work in starting up the Tara Walking Group and developing the Sli na Slainte she has served on the committee which formed the Meath Local Sports Partnership. Following the formation of the partnership, she served on the committee representing walking.

“Walking is very good for both physical and mental health. It costs nothing and anyone can do it.

“It became really popular along with cycling during the lockdown and I'm sure there are a lot of fit people out there as a result of walking,” she said.

Main Photo: Leading the way... Kay Carroll with Patricia Smith, Mary O’Malley, Pat and Marie Cooney, Jane Donnelly and Pauline Donnelly heading out on their walk. PHOTOS: SEAMUS FARRELLY

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