Northern Ireland

From the Alps to Armagh - taking the long way home

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Media captionKeady man hikes from Austria to County Armagh

Eighty-six days ago, Eamonn Donnelly left his home in Austria and started walking towards the Alps.

More than 1,550 miles (2,500 km) later, he is about to arrive at his final destination - Keady, the County Armagh town where he was born and brought up.

Eamonn undertook the challenge to raise money for - and understanding of - dementia.

"I just liked the idea, the simplicity of it," he said. "Just walking home on your own steam seemed a cool thing to do.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The journey across the Alps and on to Keady took 86 days

"The main motivation was my mother - we've done it in her memory, I suppose.

"She passed away after suffering from a very aggressive form of dementia. I'd never done anything like this in my life.

"My mum was the kind of person who did things to help others outside of the family - who would do bigger things."

'Faith in humanity'

Eamonn was accompanied almost all the way by his friend, Sepp Tieber-Kessler.

The pair crossed the Alps in southern Germany before making their way across northern France and through England and Wales.

Image caption Eamonn Donnelly and his friend, Sepp Tieber-Kessler, on the long walk home to Keady

"The beautiful landscapes, etc., have been fantastic but, for me, the highlights have been the people," said Eamonn.

"All of them have been fantastic; such a positive reaction every time we arrived in a little village, be it in France or England or Germany or wherever.

Image copyright Eamonn Donnelly
Image caption Have boots; will travel - Eamonn Donnelly in Wexford

"People have even put us up in their homes. We were total strangers to them and they've taken us in.

"If you do something bigger like this, you just notice that people really get behind it.

"I wouldn't say it restored my faith in human nature as I had never lost it, but it reaffirmed my faith in humanity."

Image caption Eamonn celebrates as he reaches the border crossing with Germany

Eamonn's first grandchild, a girl, was born five weeks early in Austria while he was on the walk.

He has not been able to see her yet but it is particularly poignant, he said, that she was born while he was walking to remember his late mother.

"I've dubbed this adventure the long walk home and I'm going home to my birthplace, to my dad and to my family.

"That's where I became the person I am I suppose. I just feel now though it's time to go back to Austria. Having become a grandfather, it's just time."

Before that, however, he is guaranteed a warm welcome in Keady when he completes the mammoth walk later on Monday.

Image caption Heading for the misty mountains on the road to Murau

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