As surreal interviews go, chatting to a man on the road between Mullinavat and Waterford with a 70lb washing machine strapped to his back is going to take some beating for however long I remain in this gig.
For this was no ordinary interview, but then again, Enda O’Doherty was no ordinary interviewee.
“I’m not going to ask you too much more,” I said to Enda, as the conclusion of his epic trek from Belfast to Waterford beckoned, as I attempted to acknowledge his fatigue – and the large appliance he was carrying. But the De La Salle teacher was having none of it.
“No, no, work away,” Enda replied, his forehead beaded in sweat under a blazing sun. “I’m all into this. I didn’t sign up for this not to talk about the walk or not to talk about Pieta House. I knew what was coming. This is all part of it.” And on he admirably continued.
“Some of the video blogs we ran on the Facebook page on our first few days on the road, let’s just say it was heavily edited. We knew how important it was to deliver a positive message to everyone who had supported us, and that’s what we did.”
Enda added: “But on day one, towards the end, I went into hypoglycaemic shock. I had a mini-tremor or a seizure and I lost it; I ate too much sugar and then I stopped, and I ended up getting very, very ill.
“But this will tell you about the city I live in and the people living in it. Des O’Meara of O’Meara Brazil Physiotherapy drove every day (during the walk) from Waterford city to make sure we were looked after. We’d physio and ice every day at the hotels we stayed at thanks to him. He was there, he knew what to do and he looked after me, especially when I was in such difficulty right at the start of this walk.”
“Day two: it was 10 hours of total pain. I started hallucinating. Between pain, effort and heat, the main road beneath me turned into a snake, which was no fun, let me tell you.
“Day three? It’s a bit blurry by now, to be honest, but the skin on both heels had completely come away and most of my toenails were nearly gone, and just when you think life can’t throw anything else at you, my gastric system shut down and I got very bad diarrhoea.”
And things got even worse. “The lads insisted I try solid food. So we pulled into a shopping centre in Dundalk and Daire Grant, who’s a fire fighter in town, a paramedic and a great friend – he’s also a qualified psychotherapist so I was well looked after! – he told me straight that I was eating something solid. So we pulled into the shopping centre and, this sounds like a movie script, but the two of us exploded with laughter when we saw the name of the shopping centre: The Long Walk! You couldn’t make it up.
“So in we went, standing at the deli counter and,” Enda continued, hesitating slightly before continuing, “look, there’s no shame in it, I lost total control of my bowels in the shop, something which had never happened to me before, so I had to make a hasty retreat.”
But on he went, cognisant of Pieta House’s ‘Darkness Into Light’ theme which tens of thousands of people have so brilliantly supported in recent years. “I had to keep going, and I did,” Enda added.
“There was a small primary school somewhere outside of Dublin, and for me, that’s when my own darkness during this walk began to shift; that was when the light got back in. A lady drove passed us and got her entire primary school to come out and sing for us, and that was more powerful than any painkillers I’d taken up to that point.
“A couple of hours down the road, and I was in trouble again, and we were sitting down having a chicken sandwich and a lucozade and a marvellous band called Scoops Music turned up at the petrol station we were sat at and put on a concert; they played the drums on the washing machine and they walked with us after that. We ended up busking outside an off-licence in Malahide, and John O’Shea (whom Enda has known since the age of 12) turned up with a few of his Ireland team mates (they were training nearby ahead of the Scotland match) and ended up singing with us. Busking with the Irish soccer team. It was surreal!”
To cross Rice Bridge on June 14th, among the group behind Enda and his family as he completed his eight-day journey, with hundreds of well wishers awaiting at the Plaza, was one of the most joyous experiences in my time working for ‘The Munster’. It’s a day that will live long in the memory
“I’m looking forward to going back to being an ordinary Joe Soap, standing in a chipper,” Enda said.
“I’m looking forward to Paddy Power’s – I miss my gambling and I’m looking forward to going to France with my wife (Maeve) and my children (Oisín, Fionn and Clodagh), making sandcastles, relaxing and just getting back to normality. There’s a lot to be said for it. ”
The best of what we can be, Enda O’Doherty has lit a fuse that will not be extinguished until Pieta House is a physical reality in the city he loves.
Thanks to his herculean efforts, and the load he literally lifted, that reality has now drawn all the closer.