Meet the man that hiked from Cork to Belfast in honour of his fallen friends 8 months ago

Meet the man that hiked from Cork to Belfast in honour of his fallen friends

"When things happen and your friends die in such circumstances it makes you want to do the extraordinary in life"

Michael Quinn was standing at his friend Louise Furey's funeral in the Glenties when his world started to cave in.

Quinn, an employee of Lidl Westport, had lost two very good friends in the space of one year and their losses had forced him to confront lingering issues in his own life.

Furey (27) was tragically killed following a fall from a balcony at a resort in Thailand in January of this year while his friend Pearce died last year at age 32 after suffering a heart attack while visiting Berlin.

Pearce's death had shocked Quinn but the loss of Louise had completely rattled him.

"When things like that happen it kind of does two things; you continue with the fear or you decide that you don't want your life to be run by fear. You just have to do something.

"Pearce's death shocked me but Louise's death totally rattled me. I don't like comparing the two, and while I wasn't in the best place anyway when Pearce happened, when Louise died I started opening up.

"I had a defensive wall up when Pearce died but when Louise died it really hit home. It rocks you, it shakes you, two incredible people are gone and they're not coming back.

"It makes you want to live to the fullest."

Quinn ran into an old friend from college at Furey's funeral who had informed him that Lidl had teamed up with Jigsaw as their official charity while Furey's brother had told him about how the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, a charity that aims to alleviate the financial hardship of bereaved families repatriating the body (bodies) of loved ones who have died abroad in sudden or tragic circumstances, had helped his family to cope with the loss of Louise.

Quinn was a keen hiker and came up with the idea of hiking from Castletownbere in Cork to Ballycastle in Antrim, a 1000km journey that saw him trek through the Hungry Hill and the Sugar Loaf in Cork, the Ballyhoura Mountains in Limerick, the Galtymore in Tipperary and whatever pubs, hotels and Lidl stores that he came across along the way.

The hike is an individual journey, naturally, but it's the random acts of kindness from strangers and the memories of Louise and Pearce that have helped Quinn get through the grueling trek.

"There were a couple of times I thought of Louise and Pearce and doing it for them, there were other times I thought I've just got to do this and I've just got to keep going.

"Luckily enough a friend of mine had some time off work and she met me in Tipperary. She helped me along and I had a couple of blisters on my feet and I got an awful hit of fear there. I literally stared at my bag for 20 minutes and didn't do anything. I just stared at it.

"I don't really know what has got me through it but the help from people has been amazing. Like when I got to Ballingeary I got help from people. When I got to Tipperary I got some help from people.

"The help from people has been huge because without them I probably would have quit. I still needed that inner strength within me to push myself forward but every step I've been taking has been a personal battle. The help and support of people along this route, you couldn't do something like this without them.

"This whole thing humbles you. It gets rid of that ego so that you actually do go out and ask for help. I got to a pub in Ballingeary and just threw myself down and people could see that I looked an absolute shambles of a person. I got chatting to them and before I knew it I had accommodation sorted, I got a free pint, they couldn't do enough for me.

"Before I would have said 'no, no, no, you're grand' but it makes you accept people's help."

Quinn has sought the help of counselors and psychotherapists to work through his own issues in the past, some of which he knew were deep rooted, some of which he didn't even realise existed, and he encourages those who are hesitant about seeking support to just go do it.

He said that this journey has forced him to be honest with himself, his work and his family about his own mental health and that he hopes that others can take encouragement from his endeavour.

"Stigma is probably the single biggest factor that affects us today from dealing with our situations. Mental illness, mental problems, mental struggles are something that we don't talk about.

"If we are physically sick we have no problems in going to a doctor. If we are unfit we go and exercise but if we are mentally not well we won't go and see a psychotherapist, we won't try and help our minds, we just won't do that.

"If I can give anybody any advice it's just go and do it. Don't sit on the sidelines of your own life. Don't suffer in silence."

Quinn will be greeted by work colleagues, Lidl staff, Jigsaw workers and members of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust when his journey concludes at the Children of Lir monument in Ballycastle on the north Antrim coast.

He does not quite know what he will do after his trek is complete. Return to work is all he can think of at this stage of his journey but nevertheless he will have come a long way from where he started in Castlebere and will have travelled an even greater distance from where he was when he stood there at Furey's funeral earlier this year.

His world caved in that day and then he decided to open it back up. Village by village. Mountain by mountain. Step by step.

To find out more about Michael's challenge you can visit the ChallengeYour_Life Facebook page or alternatively you can donate directly to Jigsaw and the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust