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Big Lunch duo find plenty of inspiration on epic journey


Rory Mullan and Patricia Fleming

Rory Mullan and Patricia Fleming

Rory with Prince Charles

Rory with Prince Charles

Rory Mullan and Patricia Fleming

Two volunteers have completed a mammoth two-week walk across Northern Ireland, meeting some inspirational people and bringing communities together.

Since they set off on their epic journey from Belfast on May 17, Rory Mullan (38) and Patricia Fleming (53) visited various towns and villages ahead of this year's Big Lunch weekend.

Among their highlights was a Co Fermanagh meeting with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who is patron of the Big Lunch, during the royal couple's visit last month.

The pair visited Ballygalget GAA club in Portaferry which is doing cross-community work on dementia awareness and they got a lesson in lacemaking from a Newry community group that helps combat social isolation.

They also met 14-year-old Cara Monaghan, a pupil at Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, who is an activist with the charity Beyond Skin and uses her musical talents for peace projects in troubled regions like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

A final boat trip in Rory's home city of Londonderry introduced them to the dedicated volunteers of the Foyle Search and Rescue team.

After completing their walk at the weekend, they both enjoyed their own Big Lunches. Rory held his in Brooke Park in Derry, while Patricia hosted hers at Women's Tec, the north Belfast charity where she works.

Rory said his walking tour of Northern Ireland had been "an amazing few weeks".

"I'm from a GAA background and one highlight for me was going to the hurling club in Ballygalget to see how they've been able to come together with a 100% Protestant village in cross-community work," he said.

"The other was visiting Hands That Talk in Dungiven. There was nothing for the adult deaf community in Northern Ireland but the vision of one woman, Dorothy Hegarty, who set up a club that grew into an educational and training centre.

"To see it in practice is genuinely one of the most incredible things I've ever seen in my home country," he added.

For Patricia there was one particular highlight. "The visit with Foyle Search and Rescue was special. Meeting those people and hearing about the work that they do - all volunteers, they do it for nothing - and getting to know their humour and their camaraderie, and how they cope with the worst things you can imagine," she said.

"Bringing bodies out of the river, talking people down, and all the other things they see. It's unbelievable and I was in tears a couple of times, I really was.

"Overall, it was life-changing to see the inspiration people can have, and how someone can have an idea for their own community or street and it can grow and grow into something that helps so many people. The ripple effect that has is incredible."

Belfast Telegraph