Belfast Telegraph

Teacher pays tribute to mother after completing 1,500-mile dementia charity walk

A teacher who walked from Austria to Northern Ireland in memory of his late mother's dementia battle has paid tribute to her own can-do spirit.

Eamonn Donnelly, 50, left home 86 days ago to cross the Alps from his ex-pat home to his Co Armagh birthplace.

He arrived in Keady on Monday after a 1,500-mile odyssey raising £10,000 for dementia research and creating a special legacy for his mother Margaret.

He said: "She was a solver rather than a problem-seeker.

"She was so modest and did not talk the talk.

"She just got on and walked the walk."

Mr Donnelly called on governments to boost research coffers.

"What I am doing is a drop in the ocean," he said.

He travelled with a friend from his home village near Graz and slept under porches in sports grounds in Germany amid thunder storms, at village mayoral houses in France and as a guest in English homes after meeting people in the local pub.

He said: "Human nature is all good.

"It is when it gets too big and impersonal that people start thinking in a way that they would not otherwise."

Ms Donnelly died in April 2014 aged 71 after developing a rare and aggressive form of the condition.

Her two-year decline and death helped kick-start a long-held ambition to walk home, to raise money for research.

Mr Donnelly said: "She began losing her words, possibly the saddest part of the whole illness, she loved to read and write and to no longer have the ability to do those things, that was a very sad aspect of the illness."

Nearly everyone he met on his walk knew someone affected.

He said: "It is amazing how widespread this thing is, a cross-section of Europe literally, it is unbelievable how many people I have spoken to - almost 100% - with some connection with Alzheimer's."

The deeply personal cause gave him the final push in a long-held ambition.

"The beauty of the idea is the suggestion of stepping out of the threshold of your home in Austria, walking under your own steam, other than the ferries using no mechanical means to get from A to B.

"If I had thought too much about the distance I would not have done it," he said.

French villages were deserted, shops and restaurants few and far between.

He recalled: "If you saw a person you would just latch onto them and grab hold of them and in your broken French explain your situation.

"Sometime people put us up in their homes, wined and dined us, breakfast in the morning, sent us on our way with a packed lunch.

"I tend to forget the low points, there were times when I thought what am I doing here.

"Those good times were the highlights, which were always to do with the kindness or generosity of people."

Few in rural France spoke English.

He said: "Once I hit England, linguistically, I was bursting."

The pub was the place to approach people over a pint of local ale.

"They are something we should treasure.

"Travelling, for someone on the road, it was an oasis.

"Not only for the beer but for the conversations you get into."

He empathised with refugees trekking across Europe from Syria to Germany and beyond.

He said: "They had it a lot tougher than we had. Migrants are really desperate."

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