BY BRIAN MOORE
SOME might say that heading off on a 500km trek, on foot, from one end of Ireland to the other in January is a bit foolhardy.
However, for Breifne Earley there was no other time of the year that he would have preferred to make this journey from the Beara peninsula to the Kingdom of Breifne and his homeplace, Leitrim village.
Following in the footsteps of Donal Cam O’Sullivan, the last Prince of Beara and his 1,000 followers, who set off over 400 years ago in the middle of winter from their home on the Beara to Leitrim, with an English army hot on their heels, Breifne is determined to complete his own journey of discovery.
‘I’m from Leitrim village, and I remember back in 1987 when I was five-years-old, RTÉ’s Donncha O’Dulaing arrived in the village on his way to the ruins of the O’Rourke Castle where the O’Sullivans from Beara ended their trek,’ Breifne told The Southern Star.
‘I joined Donncha for his last few hundred yards in the snow up to the ruined walls of the castle. From then on, the story of the march from West Cork took hold of my imagination and I have always wanted to follow in the footsteps of the O’Sullivan Beara and his followers.’
Breifne, who not only completed the 30,000km World Cycle Race, but actually won it, is setting out to accomplish yet another goal that he has set for himself. ‘Back in 2010 I was overweight, I hated my job and I felt my life was going nowhere fast. In fact, I contemplated suicide.
‘It was then that I wrote myself a list of things I wanted to achieve, such as losing weight, getting a new job, saving more and having the life that I wanted to live,’ Breifne said. ‘I wanted to show people who may be facing the same problems that I’ve faced, that they can do anything they want, if they are positive and put their minds to the task.’
With half his journey now complete, Breifne is getting ready to face high winds, plummeting temperatures and snow, as he continues his way north towards Leitrim. ‘There were only 35 of the original 1,000 O’Sullivan followers left when they arrived in Leitrim. I’d say they experienced far worse conditions, I’ll just keep going,’ Breifne said.
Meanwhile, another group of O’Sullivans, who set off on their trek along the Beara to Breifne Way, have completed the journey. ‘Our journey began back in 2010,’ Patrick O’Sullivan from Dublin explained.
‘Having completed our initial odyssey across Ireland, from Dollymount to Dursey Island in 2010, my father and I wondered what we should do next.
‘We decided, as O’Sullivans, our new adventure was to consist of us walking the O Súilleabháin Beara Way from West Cork to Leitrim. One week per year. And so we set off in 2011.’
‘With each rising hill, with each bend in the road, we have learned a little bit more about ourselves and our place in this universe.
Unlike Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beara, this O’Sullivan party grew in number over the course of our journey. This time around, 414 years later, the pleasure has been all ours,’ Patrick said.