In 2016, Eamonn Keaveney walked more than 2000 km around Ireland – barefoot! His unique venture, undertaken to raise funds for Pieta House, Suicide and Self Harm Crisis Centre, broke the Guinness World Record. Last year he again hiked barefoot to climb the 10 highest peaks of Ireland in 10 days! We trekked thousands of virtual miles to catch up with the barefoot hiker:
Q: What motivated you to start your campaign? And why Pieta House in particular?
There was the inspiration for the journey itself and the inspiration for the cause. The idea for the journey came from a barefoot hike here in the west of Ireland. There’s a mountain here called Croagh Patrick that is traditionally climbed barefoot at the end of July. Myself and a friend went up, and I had the idea climb the highest mountain in each of Ireland’s provinces barefoot as a challenge. Then I actually forgot about the idea! It wasn’t until I walked the Camino in Spain later that year that I was struck by how cool a journey on foot between those mountains would be – which would mean walking all around the country. Later I found the Guinness World Record for the longest barefoot journey and it all clicked together, that this is what I would do.
Q: What’s been the greatest life lesson for you from this journey?
The greatest takeaway for me was that people are kinder and more hospitable than I had ever expected before. In three and a half months walking all around my country, I never once encountered someone who I regretted meeting. I attribute all of my success to the aid I received from others, from simple gestures like a wave and a beep from a passing car, to people stopping to talk about the fundraiser, to people putting a roof over my head. Before the walk I always thought that some people were kind and others selfish – now I feel like most people, when presented with a situation where the can help someone, will do so without even thinking about it. It really turned around my expectations about how good people can be, and also has given me a huge debt of kindness to pay back!
Q: How do you sustain yourself?
Largely with the help of others! I carried a tent with me, but only used it on three nights out of just over a hundred. Every other night I was put up in a stranger’s house or by a B&B or so on, free of charge. In the end my main costs were simply for food; I was paying for the journey myself, and had expected to spend a lot of time in a tent, but it ended up very different! I also often had people give me water and food, and more than once people even gave me ice cream while I was on the road!
Q: The minus side, if any, of a venture like this
Pain and discomfort, to be honest; depending on the terrain, walking barefoot can really suck sometimes, and after walking all day the soles of the feet tend to get quite sore. There were plenty of nasty things to step on, like thorns or glass or even just particularly pointy rocks. But in the end it was a price well worth paying to raise money for such a cause and for an incredible journey.
I chose Pieta House because I lost a friend of mine to suicide six years ago. It was the first time that someone close to me had died by suicide, and so I had never personally dealt before with what a horrible thing it is; you are left constantly asking yourself questions about how awful things must have been for them and whether or not there was anything you could do. Pieta House has centres all over Ireland where they help people deal with thoughts of suicide, self-harming, and bereavement from suicide; they offer a vital service, and it’s all free of charge – so they depend heavily on fundraising.
Q: How do you pamper your feet once you get back from the rocks?
I received a lot of advice on what to do – to soak them in hot water, or freezing cold water, or white spirits (one person even told me to soak them in urine, which I declined to try). But in the end I decided to let me feet take care of themselves – I washed them while showering, and that was it! I feel like they knew best what they needed, and they never let me down.
Q: What was your life like before your campaign for Pieta House?
Much the same as any life, I should think – working, eating, sleeping and trying to enjoy myself! And it’s much the same since, except people are constantly asking about my feet! But one thing which is different is the knowledge that essentially it is possible to do crazy, adventurous things (albeit usually with a lot of help).
Q: Your most difficult hike till now
Walking through Connemara in western Galway was particularly unpleasant – on the feet, that is, because I met lovely people. Not only were the road surfaces very rough and painful, but I developed tendonitis on my right foot and a swollen arch on my left one, making walking extremely sore. I thought it would never end – but, naturally, it did, and afterward I was stronger than ever.
Eamonn Keaveney spoke to Rachna Chandira from Travel secrets magazine