Charity tractor run adds up to a spectacular success
West Kerry doesn't 'do' tractor runs - and that's at least part of the reason why last Sunday's tractor run around West Kerry was such a brilliant success. That and the 'yes we can' attitude of the committee drawn around John Patrick O'Sullivan and the Devane family of Ardamore, Lios Póil, who wanted to raise money for charities that are close to their hearts.
In John Patrick's case the charity was the Irish Lung Fibrosis Association (ILFA). John Patrick is alive because of a lung transplant he received in 2016 and he wanted to help fund the work of the ILFA and raise awareness of the importance of carrying donor cards. For the Devane family the worthy cause was Gairdín Mhuire day care centre in Dingle where Seamus Devane's wife, Noreen, had received great care prior to her death last April after a long illness. Between John Patrick and the Devanes the idea of a tractor run was conceived, mostly because "every stunt you could think of has already been tried in Dingle" but nobody could remember a tractor run being held in West Kerry.
"I had a bit of an idea and then it snowballed," is how John Patrick described the vague notion that turned into the mile-long column of 147 tractors that drove from near Lios Póil over Mám na Gaoithe to Riasc and back to Dingle, where they made an extraordinary sight parked up on the pier on Sunday.
The event took more than three months of planning and organisation but John Patrick was confident it would work - he reckoned his experience of organising events with Lios Póil GAA club would stand to him and besides that he had a lot of support.
John Patrick is especially grateful to the organising committee who worked with himself and Seamus Devane. "There was never a question of 'we can't do', they never took a backwards step; I couldn't praise them enough. Everybody wanted this to work and it was an absolute pleasure to work with them," he said.
Jackie and Marguerite Kavanagh of The Marina bar were another cornerstone of the crusade, giving every help and support, including serving 140 free meals after the tractor run and Dingle Gardaí did everything they could to help as well. "Sergeant Tom Burke really put me at ease… he couldn't have been more helpful," said John Patrick who also complimented the stewards from Lios Póil GAA, Richie Williams and John Sheehy in Dingle, and many others. "They were brilliant and everything ran without a problem."
The only time JP feared there might be a difficulty was when the tractor run was returning to Dingle. The tractors were to park in the marina car park but as word spread that the spectacle was a sight not to be missed people headed to Dingle for a look and JP got a call to say the car park was full of spectators' cars. However, the problem was solved when Dingle Harbour Master Nigel Collins lifted the barriers allowing the tractors to park in columns along the full length of the pier, making an 'incredible' sight.
"The whole experience was humbling, to be honest… the way so many people rowed in," said John Patrick.
On the Saturday night before the tractor run the Marina Inn hosted an auction of donated items, including a Geelong Australian football jersey from Mark O'Connor, sheep on the hoof and in a box, Dingle Crystal glassware, a Liam O'Neill print and a table made by the lads in the Dingle Men's Shed. Estate agent Peter Fenton from Ventry conducted the sale, "the craic was stone mad"… the Marina was absolutely rocking" and €3,200 was raised on the night.
The Men's Shed table alone made €1,000, even though John Patrick admits that he thought nobody would want to buy a table. After seeing the work he changed his view: "This was no ordinary table," he said. "The legs were made of bog deal that is about 4,000 years old and the top is elm. It's a real work of art."
Earlier on Saturday a heifer donated by Colm Murphy was sold at Dingle Mart for €1,780 to Martin Greaney from Baile na Saor who outbid his brother Tom to close the sale. "He and we know she wasn't worth that much but he was doing it for Gairdín Mhuire," said John Patrick.
There is no final figure yet for how much the weekend's activities raised, but by noon on Monday the count had passed €30,000 and the money was still "flying in".
"But just as important as the money is creating awareness of why we did it," says John Patrick. He wants to see a situation where people carry 'opt in, opt out' donor cards. The idea is that it is assumed a person's organs can be donated after they die unless they specifically state otherwise. It would mean many more donor organs would be available and many more lives would be saved.
"Organ donation worked for me and I'm alive because of it, but there are friends of mine who aren't around because no organ was available for them," said John Patrick.
Clearly, it's a cause that John Patrick won't walk away from, but as for future tractor runs, well that's an open question... "My daughters said to me on Monday morning, 'we don't ever want to hear of tractors again', but maybe after Christmas we might look at it again," said John Patrick.