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Wednesday 7 December 2016

‘A resounding success’ – First-ever Sheep’s Head Challenge raises more than €3k for local charities

Published 18/09/2015 | 14:33

Darragh Wilson and Edward Sheehy cross the finish line at the 2015 Sheep's Head Challenge in Ahakista, West Cork
Darragh Wilson and Edward Sheehy cross the finish line at the 2015 Sheep's Head Challenge in Ahakista, West Cork
L-R - Cormac Byrne, Ger Gittens, Denise Calnan, Trich Murphy, Jason Kennedy, Frank Whelan, Mark McConville, Louise Kelly and Rebecca McConnell prior to the start of the 2015 Sheep's Head Challenge
L-R - The first three men to cross the line, Rob McEvoy, Edward Casey and Conor Murphy

What began as a mere idea last winter blossomed into a hugely successful and enjoyable day for all concerned at the Independent.ie sponsored Sheep’s Head Challenge recently.

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The 15km loop along the famous Sheep’s Head Way attracted 179 walkers and runners of all ages and abilities to Ahakista, West Cork on September 29. The participants availed of the rare summer sunshine and stunning scenery, while at the same time raising money for Friends of Bantry Hospital and the Ahakista Community Association.

In total, €3215 was raised between participants, donations, sponsorship as well as the post-race raffle and race organiser Declan Whooley said that it was a large team effort that made the day such a huge success.

“As it was the first event of its kind in the area, we had no idea on numbers and knew we would be at the mercy of the weather,” he admitted.

“Thankfully the sun was splitting the stones and the turnout was far greater than we could have imagined.

“It was a real example of community spirit and a testament to everyone involved that we raised so much money. From my fellow race organisers, to volunteers on the day, to the mothers who worked like Trojans to ensure everyone was fed, to all those who donated, it was great to see the day run so smoothly.”

L-R - Cormac Byrne, Ger Gittens, Denise Calnan, Trich Murphy, Jason Kennedy, Frank Whelan, Mark McConville, Louise Kelly and Rebecca McConnell prior to the start of the 2015 Sheep's Head Challenge
L-R - Cormac Byrne, Ger Gittens, Denise Calnan, Trich Murphy, Jason Kennedy, Frank Whelan, Mark McConville, Louise Kelly and Rebecca McConnell prior to the start of the 2015 Sheep's Head Challenge

Edward Casey was the first to cross the finish line, edging ahead in a titanic tussle with Conor Murphy, in a course record time of 1:22:56, while Loretto Duggan was the leading female entry, completing the course in 1:40:44, ensuring her visit from Clare was a successful one.

Local resident and TV comedian Graham Norton paid tribute to everyone involved, and revealed he may even dust off his shoes for next year.

“Raising money, no matter the cause, can be quite a challenge, so it’s great to see that such an incredible amount was raised and from what I gather everyone had a great day out. A lot of work goes into any successful event, yet again the community spirit was clear for all to see.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t in the area on the day, but perhaps next year I’ll be able to give it a go. Or maybe support the participants on the day. I’ll decide closer to the time!”

With no shortage of food and refreshments on offer after the finish line, many relaxed in the Ahakista Bar garden for the evening, soaking up the last of the summer rays, with some taking to the water to ease the sore limbs after the cross-country trek.

A barbeque and music in the bar followed post-race, while there was even more excitement later in the night. John Cronin, a key member of the organising committee, took the opportunity to announce his engagement to Anna Parkinson, much to the delight of those present, not least the Parkinson contingent who made the close on 300km distance for the inaugural event.

L-R - The first three men to cross the line, Rob McEvoy (3rd), Edward Casey (1st) and Conor Murphy (2nd)
L-R - The first three men to cross the line, Rob McEvoy (3rd), Edward Casey (1st) and Conor Murphy (2nd)

The main aim of the event was to raise badly needed funds for two very worthy causes, and both plan on putting the money to good use immediately.

"The Friends are proposing to purchase a number of rotational mattresses for the hospital," Friends of Bantry chairman Declan Hurley said. "These mattresses are designed and developed for patients who are at risk of circulation problems from immobility due to ageing, rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic brain injuries, stroke victims and comatose patients, which often leads to skin breakdown and bed sores.

“When an immobile patient is left in one position, infection to vital organs, pulmonary and respiratory systems can develop in a short period of time.

“We hope by providing some of these mattresses it will greatly improve patient care at Bantry General Hospital.

Ahakista Community Association PRO Jessica O'Sullivan said that the success of the event will have a positive impact on the funding application for a multi-purpose community centre in the area.

"Living on a peninsula is unique and the community know how important it is to take care of its residence and visitors to ensure we have a flourishing future. Every cent donated from the Trail will go into this building and we cannot thank the runners and walkers enough for their participation."

With such support and goodwill for the event, it is that the Sheep’s Head Challenge will be held again next year and raise more funds for local causes.

What they said:

Eddie Casey – Race winner

“The race was well organised, well-marked, with breath-taking views. I’ll definitely be back next year.”

Loretto Duggan – Leading female finisher

“There was great support from the walkers as I jogged along who had all set off an hour ahead of the runners… this was a really great part of the event as there was a lot of people on the course so a great atmosphere.”

Graham Norton – Presenter, actor, adopted Ahakista man

“A great local initiative – roll on next year.”

John Cronin – Race organiser, soon-to-be-husband

“With the work that went into the event, I felt it was the most fitting occasion to announce my engagement!”

Noreen O’Connor – A member of the diligent catering crew

“After keeping my son out of the kitchen, we were able to make sure there was enough food for everyone. No shortage of selection either.”

Cormac Byrne – Irish Independent, Murphy’s enthusiast

“As a Kildare man starved of success, I had no aspirations of victory, and the local stout on the Friday put paid to any faint hopes of a top 10 finish. Still, a great day out.”

Killian O'Connor - Race organiser, big appetite

“I have been to many racing events and never seen the quality and selection of food. I was full before the runners ever took off.”

Daniel Patrick McCarthy – Long-distance supporter, Boston inhabitant

“While my decision to seek my fortune Stateside means I couldn’t be present on the day, I’d be more than happy to contribute to such worthy causes. Well done to all involved.”

Dave McCarthy – Runner, faller, forgiver

“I was attempting to pass my friend Finbarr McCarthy, when his outstretched arm made contact and caught me off-guard and I ended up face first into the boggy terrain. I’m sure it was just one of those things that happens and thankfully I came out of it unscathed. Physically at least.”

Frank Whelan – Irish Independent, “lucky” man

“Couldn’t believe it when I won in the post-race raffle…twice!”

Barry Looney – Race organiser, generous sponsor, questionable time-keeper

“The West Cork was proud to get involved in the race. Incredible that an Irish Independent employee won the top prize for a two-night stay at the hotel, but just the luck of the draw I suppose.”

Ashling Brennan – Good runner, average navigator

“Aside from getting completely lost, thoroughly enjoyed the walk. Most certainly took the scenic route.”

Sarah Kelly – Future bride on the run

“A great day and enjoyable run, but happy it’s over. Men can’t multi-task so now Dec has to concentrate on organising his wedding.”

Edward Sheehy – Runner, teacher, sceptic

“I must be getting old, the last kilometre felt like the longest kilometre I have ever run.”

Louise Kelly - Irish Independent, race supporter

"To be honest, I was only there to see Graham Norton!"

Claire Looney – Walker, big-sister

“Considering my brother Barry was part of the organising committee, staggered that the route was so well marked. And that everyone arrived back.”

Local Sponsors: The West Cork Hotel, Carbery Sailing, Bantry Credit Union, Drinagh Co-Op, Quills bantry, Clifford's Shoe Shop Bantry, Supervalu Bantry, Dawn Meats, John Buckley Sports

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