One man, 32 counties and a very long walk
Colm Farrell is on a 3,200km trek in a bid to raise awareness about suicide, says Anita GuideraI always ask them what they would do if they broke their leg. They would get it fixed. Mental health issues can be fixed too
Colm Farrell will probably be spending Christmas with strangers somewhere in Co Armagh or Co Monaghan.
But the amiable barman, who is walking 3,200km solo through the 32 counties, is trying not to think too far ahead.
Although the separated dad is dreading being away from his 11-year-old daughter Saoirse during the festive season, his mission to raise awareness about suicide is what keeps him going.
This is the second epic walk for the Tuam man, who has lost several friends to suicide.
Last year, he spent 85 days walking through the 26 counties and raised several thousand euro for Pieta House, the Centre for Prevention of Self Harm and Suicide.
This time he is focusing on spreading information about professional, free services available to people feeling depressed or suicidal.
He learnt of the alarming rise in suicide in the North, so he decided to extend the walk to the 32 counties.
"People need to talk about suicide and depression more and to be aware that there are services out there and that they are not alone. If I could get just one person to decide not to take his own life that would be good enough for me," he said.
Armed with a tent, mobile phones, chargers and a laptop, the 46-year-old, known to his friends as 'Hazard', set off from Tuam on November 7. He hopes to have completed his walk by March 25, 2013.
"I'm averaging about 23km a day and I try to end up in a town and village every evening before dark," he said.
Then the search for a bed for the night begins in earnest. So far, the power of social networking hasn't let him down. Last year, he succeeded in securing a bed every night during his three-month hike.
He bases himself in a local cafe or bar where he puts out an appeal for accommodation on Facebook. The word spreads like wildfire.
Sometimes, strangers offer him a room when they hear what he is doing, like the barwoman in the Stables in Swanlinbar, Co Cavan, whose son lives in Tuam. The Landmark hotel, Carrick on-Shannon and the Fir Tree, Strabane, also put him up.
"I get to meet people who would have been down the road of depression or having suicidal tendencies. People have come up to tell me about people they were concerned about. I am no expert in the field and I don't claim to be but I tell people where to go to seek help.
'I always ask them what they would do if they broke their leg. They would get it fixed. Mental health issues can be fixed too," he said.
In Ballyhaunis a few weeks ago, a man approached Colm and told him about his concerns for a friend. Colm gave him the phone number of an organisation and has since learnt that the troubled man is seeking counselling.
In less than a month, he had encountered 12 instances of suicide that had occurred within days of his arrival in towns and villages along the way.
As the Irish Independent met up with him, he was with good pal Jim Harte and his brother, the singer Micky Joe, after spending the night in their family home.
"I think the biggest challenge is to bring it into the light so people can recognise that depression is part of the human condition and nothing to be ashamed of. That's what 'Hazard' is doing," said the Donegal singer.