Saturday 16 December 2017

Lost your mojo? Get Up and Go in Sligo

Eileen Forrestal and Brendan Sands are behind an inspiring event in Sligo next weekend, and they have both shown that change is possible

Eileen Forrestal and Brendan Sands met while trekking to Everest base camp. Photo: Mark Condren
Eileen Forrestal and Brendan Sands met while trekking to Everest base camp. Photo: Mark Condren
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

If you're stuck in a rut and looking for motivation and inspiration to move your life forward, Sligo is the place to be next weekend. Thirteen speakers from the US, Canada, Australia, UK and Ireland will share their wisdom at the Get Up and Go event at the Knocknarea Arena, and all have been hand-picked by organisers Eileen Forrestal and Brendan Sands.

"They're a collection of people who really inspire me, and I want more people to hear what they are saying," says Eileen. "One conversation can be all it takes to encourage you to go on and make big or small changes to your life."

Eileen, 57, and Brendan, 60, are the duo behind the event and they're also engaged to one another. They met in 2002 while taking part in a 12-day fundraising trek to Everest base camp for Child Aid. Brendan was very fit, and Eileen thought he was very kind and selfless as he was always willing to help anyone falling behind and carry their bag and give them encouragement.

As a trained doctor, she put her foot down when she saw him sunbathing with his shirt off without using suncream though, and wasn't moved by his protestations that he had never burned while working as a bricklayer. "I thought he had altitude sickness and had gone a bit insane, so I had to be assertive with him," Eileen says. "I wasn't really fit at all and was just trying to get one foot in front of the other, so I didn't really care about how I looked or sounded. I didn't think Brendan had his eye on me, and I was just coming out of a relationship myself. I thought he was pretty special though, and I told him it was a pleasure and privilege to be on the same trip as him."

As it happens, Brendan wasn't in a relationship and felt that Eileen was very easy to talk to and great fun. "I thought she was really pretty and very genuine," he says. "We had a reunion dinner in Sligo a few weeks later and I asked her out there. We have now been together 15 years."

After a long-distance relationship for five years, Eileen and Brendan are both now based in Sligo. They became engaged on a beach in Bali in 2013 - though Eileen says that when she saw Brendan go down on one knee, she feared he had slipped. They have been so busy, they haven't had time to plan the wedding yet...

Brendan is from Newry and comes ninth of the late George and Ita's 12 children. He worked as a bricklayer for 33 years. He has five children: Adrian, Lisa, Sandra, Ciaran and Claire from two relationships, and five grandchildren. His daughter Claire suffered from cystic fibrosis and passed away two years ago, aged 26, which was devastating for the family. His daughter Sandra, 36, also has the condition, although she and Claire have different mothers.

"Claire's passing was the hardest thing I've experienced," says Brendan. "Eileen was an incredible support for me and I would never have got out of it without her. Sandra is doing really well at the moment and has been on the lung transplant list for almost two years. Whenever I get back to Newry, I like to visit my brothers and sisters as well as my kids and grandkids, so we are one big, happy family and are really tight."

Eileen's background is quite different, as she grew up in Whitehall in Dublin, the middle of the late Bridie and Gary's three children. She studied medicine at UCD and trained at the Mater Hospital before going to England for work as there was a recession on here. She travelled around and lived and worked in Canada and Africa, working in various specialties including general practice, psychiatry, emergency and obstetrics. She was married for seven years, but that relationship ended and she returned to Ireland. She retired from the position of consultant anaesthetist at Sligo General Hospital in 2014.

Eileen used to buy a little diary called The Irish Survivor's Diary, and eventually went into partnership with its creator, Glenda Devlin, who has since retired.

Brendan came on board when the construction industry took a nosedive during the recession as he's an excellent salesman. They changed the name to the Get Up and Go Diary and developed several versions and journals, and have now branched out to include events.

The event this week runs over one-and-a-half days, and 13 inspirational speakers will share their stories and motivational advice.

It's aimed at encouraging anyone who wants to become inspired and engaged with life, and Eileen perfectly embodies the concept. "I used to have a really bad stammer so I kind of hid away in books," she says. "I attended a seminar and realised that it was more of a fear of speaking than a speech impediment. I had to bite the bullet and stand up and speak, and realised it wasn't that hard so then I was fine. I was trapped in myself for a long time, so now I've travelled and explored, and have done parachute jumping and water rafting.

"The way I look at it is that we only have one life, so we have to maximise it."

Get Up and Go runs at Knocknarea arena this Friday and Saturday. Cost ranges from €20 to €95 including lunch and refreshments.

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