The Celtic gods of Lugh and Danú may have been confused by Charlie’s carnival caravan as it wound its way up Croagh Patrick in resplendent sunshine on Saturday morning. This pyramidal peak overlooking Clew Bay is usually associated with penitents and the Reek Sunday pilgrimage on the last Sunday of July. It may be the season of Lent but it was more Mardi Gras in Mayo as benevolent weather gods stayed mainly in check for the 764 metre-high ascent for some 10,000 people who joined the Climb for Charlie.
As Chieftain Matt Molloy mused shortly after he landed in the carpark at the mountain’s base in Murrisk: “What a release after the last two years of confinement and everything we have been going through.”
An Air Corps helicopter had delivered all the instruments and technical equipment to the peak on Friday but Molloy was happy to carry his flute up himself.
Volunteer Maria O’Malley, who was helping direct traffic into the carparks, explained that there were over 50 people – one third of the population – from her native Clare Island waving from the top of the Big Hill across the bay.
Across the carpark, Tom Tiernan, from Ballinrobe, had a van full of hazel sticks , to aid walkers and a shoebox for donations.
“I lost a sister to motor neurone about ten years ago.She was a nurse and was sick for five years, it was an awful disease,” he said.
Meanwhile, Charlie’s family and friends gathered in the garden behind the adjacent Campbell’s pub.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Charlie’s wife Claire Mould, said: “This is a very spiritual day for us. We had climbed it six years ago and really the whole thing has happened because of a throwaway comment by Charlie after his diagnosis. We are just overwhelmed by the response and the benefits it will bring to the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta.”
Along the pathway, Joe Freeley from Ballyhaunis was ready and waiting with doves for Charlie to release, as he, and his entourage, set off on the odyssey shortly before 10.30am.
“I’ve climbed the mountain loads of times and I wanted to be here to support Charlie. We released doves in Ballyhaunis too recently for the Ukrainian people,” he explained.
Dublin native Ciarán Callaghan was climbing in memory of his father who died from motor neurone disease 14 years ago, aged just 58.
“I think Charlie has created a great awareness nationwide and after my Mam signed me up, we raised €2000. If I survive the climb, I’m meeting her and the kids in the Tavern bar down the road for a big lobster dinner,” he said.
Broadcaster Ryan Tubridy may have landed a little late but himself and former boxer Barry McGuigan were determined to catch up with Charlie and bounded up the lower slopes like two March – oops! – April hairs. McGuigan later likened Tubridy to “a gazelle”.
The sun may have become more tentative but the children from Brackloon NS were waiting for Charlie on the shoulder, about half way up.
Pupil JJ Kenny (9) said: “Charlie called to our school on Thursday and he gave every pupil an elbow. He’s brilliant.”
No better man than Donegal crooner, Daniel O’Donnell to act as MC as the hordes negotiated the final approach of slippery shale on the precipitous peak.
It didn’t matter about the cold mists – a magical micro-climate – sporadically enveloping the peak. Nature held its breath as Charlie’s message of hope – a recording made with special cloning technology – boomed across the skies.
Referring to his “mad idea” to climb the Reek, he said that “you never know what is around the corner” but that “for every moment he is around he will extend the hand of friendship to people”.
The poignancy continued when Daniel sang the Bruce Springsteen song, “Dream Baby Dream”, which had been played at Charlie and Claire’s wedding in 2016. But it was a song called “Irish Heroes” written by Des Cafferkey of the Clew Bay Pipe Band in the aftermath of the Rescue 116 helicopter crash off Blacksod that left Charlie Bird breaking down in tears.
He wasn’t the only one.