'I celebrated finishing my Leaving Cert by diving at dawn near the Skelligs' - Three young Irish people embarking on adventures
Last month, when many leaving cert students were jetting off for a celebratory holiday after their exams had finished, one student was diving at dawn off the coast of Kerry.
Lorcan Tuohy Donnelly (18) from Moneygall, who is currently completing his gold Gaisce award, did a charity dive close to the Skelligs at 2am last month to celebrate the end of his school studies.
"It was a fabulous experience; we saw loads of life underwater. Surfacing after the dive, the sun was rising over the horizon and all the light was shining, it was fabulous.”
Next month, Lorcan will walk the Grand Canal way, an 80-kilometre journey which he’ll complete in four days, camping or staying in self-catering accommodation, and prepare at least one of his daily meals.
Once a victim of online bullying when he was younger, he now volunteers with Webwise, an awareness group for online safety, and he also became a safer internet trainer.
He is also working on a project by Dúchas.ie to transcribe a collection of folklore stories compiled by schoolchildren last century in Ireland.
“I’m trying to transcribe pieces of homework from children in primary school from years and years ago. I found my old primary school and found it very interesting.”
“There was one cure for the monks where they have a donkey saddle on their backs and they walk around the stable three times saying their Hail Marys. I got such joy out of it. Or there was one account of predicting the weather – if the cat has it’s back to the fire then it would rain in a number of hours.”
He added: “To be giving back to the community, the community involvement is a big part. It’s the spirit of volunteerism.”
“Gaisce helped me personally quite a lot to keep up with things that I enjoy. Study for a lot of students is quite overwhelming. The gold helped because it gave me distractions and time off from my study. It gave me confidence.”
Gaisce – The President’s Award is a self-development programme for young people between the ages of 15-25, which can enhance confidence and wellbeing through participation in personal, physical, community and team challenges. It is a direct challenge from the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, to all young people to dream big and realise their potential.
Last year was a record year for Gaisce – The President’s Award, with more than 15,000 young people achieving a bronze, silver or gold medal.
Emma McKinley (28), a PE and biology teacher at St Wolstan’s Community School in Celbridge received her gold Gaisce medal from President Michael D Higgins after she raised €30,000 by cycling from Mizen Head to Malin Head, a 720Km cycle, in aid of the RNLI.
Emma’s late uncle Bill, a fisherman, tragically drowned at sea in 2015, and she decided to dedicate her cycle to the RNLI and set up her own charity The Thumbs Up Cycle.
“The adventure journey was by far the biggest challenge I have ever undertaken - what started off as a cycle from Mizen Head to Malin Head quickly evolved into the setup of our own charity 'The Thumbs Up Cycle' and the organisation of a number of fundraising events throughout the year in the lead-up to the 720km cycle, eventually raising a total of €30,000 for charity.”
“Arriving into Port na Blagh pier on the second last day to be met by crowds of people, the fire service and the coast guards and then forcing the pedals round on the last few metres up the hill to the crowd waiting at Malin Head on a cold, wet, stormy day are two memories that I will never forget. It was by far the most fulfilling and memorable experience of my life,” she said.
As part of her gold project, Emma also volunteered at Barretstown, at a camp for children with haemophilia.
“It was a real eye opener into the difficulties faced by many families across Ireland. I met so many amazing individuals, both kids and volunteers, and although I was a volunteer, I felt I got just as much if not more from the experience than the kids attending the camp did.”
Emma’s toughest task, however, was signing herself up to learn German again.
“I did German for my leaving cert but I was useless at languages, and I wanted to learn conversational German. I can understand a lot more now. That was the toughest part of it, I couldn’t retain languages in school... It was the one [part of the gold award] that I had to kick myself to do.”
Meanwhile, Olivia Porter from Wexford trained herself to swim a mile, or 64 lengths of a 25-metre pool, by punching in the hours in the pool by herself and watching YouTube videos on technique. She eventually swam her mile in under 30 minutes.
And perhaps the most satisfying part of her Gaisce project, she says, was visiting an elderly neighbour and helping her with housekeeping tasks.
“I could see how much of an impact what I was doing had on her life - even things like cleaning her house, to her it made a big difference. I thought I could contribute a lot in terms of baking, cooking, shopping and gardening,”
“I’m definitely a more confident person, even as a result of the volunteering alone, I started volunteering in a local park run, and it definitely made me into a kind person.