Dermot completes final leg of ‘unlikely pilgrimage’

Dermot Breen is welcomed back to Greenisland Primary at the conclusion of his 1000km fundraising walk in memory of his wife, Jacqui, a former teacher at the school.  INCT 36-720-CON
Dermot Breen is welcomed back to Greenisland Primary at the conclusion of his 1000km fundraising walk in memory of his wife, Jacqui, a former teacher at the school. INCT 36-720-CON

A Belfast man has paid the ultimate tribute to his late wife after completing a mammoth charity trek at Greenisland Primary School.

Earlier this year, Dermot Breen pledged to walk the 625 miles, around 1000km, of the Ulster Way in memory of his wife Jacqui.

It kept me going to think of Jacqui and the reasons why I was doing the walk

A P1 teacher at the school, she sadly passed away in January following a battle with ovarian cancer.

Known as ‘1000k4j’, the venture aimed to raise £10,000 for Cancer Research UK - a target Dermot has now surpassed after a surge of support from those following his progress.

The fundraising tribute began in June at the school where Jacqui taught for over 25 years, and finished there last Wednesday afternoon when staff and pupils lined up to welcome Mr Breen back.

The challenge was inspired by the book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, in which title character walks 627 miles to visit a terminally ill colleague.

Both he and Jacqui had been fans of the novel, said Dermot.

“I’m delighted that so much has been raised; I originally set the target at £5000, but after it passed that I upped it to £10,000,” he added.

The civil servant was joined by his daughter, Hannah and her boyfriend Jonny for the final leg of the walk on Wednesday morning, taking them from Ballynure to Greenisland.

He averaged around 18 miles per session during the two and a half month challenge, even travelling as far as 28 miles on one day.

“I had family and friends along with me for parts of it, but there were long stretches I did on my own. It could be quite lonely; there was bogland up over the Sperrins where you wouldn’t see anyone for miles,” Dermot said. “It was difficult at times but it was also nice to be alone with my thoughts; it kept me going to think of Jacqui and the reasons why I was doing the walk. Every step of the way I felt she was there with me.”

A few extra steps were taken to pass through the Ballycastle area, where Jacqui was originally from, and to finish the walk at Greenisland Primary.

“The original idea was to walk further than Harold Fry, and I’ve done an extra 23 miles or so,” Dermot added. “I’m very grateful to the school for accommodating me and for all their support.”

Donations can still be made to Dermot’s fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/1000K4J/