Thankful Oldcastle native’s four-peak challenge for Children's Health Foundation
For most people climbing one of Ireland's highest mountains is an impressive feat, but a Virginia resident is going three steps further by attempting to climb the highest peak in each of Ireland's four provinces in 24 hours, all for a good cause.
On June 2-3 Colm Caffrey, who is a native of Oldcastle, will first tackle Mweelrea, Co Mayo; followed by Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry; before ascending Lugnaquilla, Co Wicklow and finishing with climbing Slieve Donard, Co Down. He's raising funds for Children's Health Foundation Temple Street, Enable Ireland the Cavan branch of the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI) and Friends of the Coombe.
His wife Valerie, who is playing a key role in supporting the effort by assisting with logistics and fundraising for the event, says they are organising the challenge as a thank you to the charities who assisted the couple with care for their daughter Indie, who was born 11 weeks early in November 2020, weighing just 2lb 2oz and with a number of complications.
Indie developed a condition called Hydrocephalus, which caused fluid on her brain and resulted in her needing four brain surgeries before her first birthday. Indie was also diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL) and Cerebral Palsy - Spastic Diplegia.
"The four charities have been amazing to us. We're indebted to the staff. We just want to give something back," explains Valerie.
She says that they had hoped to organise a fundraiser sooner but looking after Indie, as well as their two older children, Fiadh (7), and Elodie (3), was very time-consuming.
"As parents, we were on autopilot for the first year after she was born. It was over a year before the realisation of it all hit us. Indie had a shunt put on her brain and it can malfunction at any stage, which happened twice, so she needed emergency surgery twice to fix it. One of the symptoms for it is vomiting, and all babies vomit, so we had to rush her to the hospital immediately.
“We couldn't go to Cavan and had to go straight to Temple Street. There were a lot of false alarms, but we never knew what was a real emergency and what wasn't so we always went. It meant organising charity events was very difficult."
Valerie is happy to report that Indie (now two and a half years) hasn't needed surgery for over a year and they are managing her condition with the advice of different medical teams. "We're going for constant check-ups to see if symptoms show up. We also work with and pay close attention to a great team of physios, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists."
For the climbs, which will involve a total distance traveled of 1,194km and 7254m between ascents and descents, Colm has been training for almost a year, but had very little hiking experience before then. "I had very little climbing experience before I decided to do this. When Indie was born I wanted to do something and decided that this was the best way to raise funds. In July 2022, I was on holiday from work and took a notion to climb Slieve Donard. It was in the middle of a heatwave and it was very difficult but it gave me a great sense of achievement and it suited me so I decided to pursue it.
"I was looking for a new form of activity. I had played football for my club Oldcastle in Meath and won an intermediate title in 2009 but stopped playing a few years ago. Climbing has been great for my mental and physical health," explains Colm.
He says that living in Virginia means climbing is a difficult pastime to pursue and often involves long drives to mountain ranges. "Hiking can be a selfish pursuit. I have to drive to the Wicklow or Mourne Mountains to get any real practice in, they're a two-hour drive away. I have a makeshift gym at home, and I go out running a lot," he details of his training.
Colm is doing the climb with a team of support, including five friends who are accompanying him on all four climbs. "I'm doing the climb with Michéal O'Reilly (Virginia), Shane Maguire, Lorcan Fox, Rory McHugh (all Oldcastle), and Ellevyn Irwin (Donegal) who is a physio and will be able to treat any injuries if they happen. Valerie is coming along and will be helping out with logistics but will be doing at least two of the climbs herself as well.
"Some of my friends also have very kindly sponsored a bus and diesel and are also driving the bus. We hope to climb Mweelrea first, then go to Kerry, Wicklow and finish in Down. It starts from when begin the first mountain and finishes when we reach the summit of the last. Our aim is to do it in 24 hours but nobody else is timing us. If we get it done in 24 hours and 30 mins, it'll still be a savage achievement, but we're going to try to finish it within the time. It'll come down to the wire."