Silverbacks roam around Killarney National Park

Killarney’s Silverbacks out walking on the Glan Ageenty Loop.
Killarney’s Silverbacks out walking on the Glan Ageenty Loop.

Cillian Walsh

THE SILVERBACK Gorilla is renowned as one of the alpha males of the animal kingdom. Although they are frequently portrayed as dangerous, aggressive animals, they are actually social and peaceful individuals - or so David Attenborough would tell us anyway.

However, there is now a different breed of silverback roaming Killarney National Park and these too are highly sociable, without a hint of aggression - unless you put them on a golf course.

This particular group, more properly known as 'The Silverbacks Walking Group' celebrated their 50th walk on Friday, November 8, over a year and a half after they first got together, when they took to the Glan Ageenty Loop, developed by legendary hill runner John Lenihan.

Set up under the Irish Heart Foundation 'Slí na Sláinte' scheme, the all-male community walking group was started by Ray Walsh as a social outlet for men who were retired or contemplating retirement and who felt that incorporating a little bit of health and fitness into their lives wouldn't be a bad idea.

"The group is made up of retired members of the Gardaí, Eircom and ESB workers, but we are open to everyone," said Ray, who is himself a retired member of the Gardaí.

The group takes a break over the summer due to members working in the tourism and hospitality sector around Kerry, "We walk every Friday throughout the winter from October to April and it's a great way to spend a Friday afternoon with no charge."

Following a visit to Dublin Zoo last year, Ray recognised the comparable sedentary existence of the great silverback gorilla.

He felt the need to honour the proud, dominant male silverback, kept in confinement in Dublin Zoo, by releasing him back into the wilds of Kerry through the naming of the group.

Silverbacks are known as quiet, intelligent animals, even being able to learn sign language, and their Kerry counterparts also look to further their knowledge on the walks, with Ray reciting poetry, giving the 'Thought for the Day' and lending advice on walking gear and nutrition tips.

A landmark for the group, meeting John Lenihan on their 50th walk was a real bonus, according to Ray.

"John is a true living legend, holding the record for the fastest run up Carrantuohill in one hour and 10 minutes.

"It was great to meet him on the walk," he said of John, who, among his 300 victories, was the 1991 World Mountain Running Champion.

If anyone is interested in joining the group, you can get more information on the Irish Heart Foundation website and look under 'Slí na Sláinte'.

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