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30 July 2010

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Get your boots on for… The Brian Keenan Mountain Challenge

Determination, courage and stamina in a good cause

BY ELLA O’DWYER

The south Armagh team take a well-earned break in the beautiful setting

IRA VOLUNTEER Brian Keenan is a republican legend. He was described by the British Establishment as “the single biggest threat to the British state”. To people who knew him, Brian Keenan’s name is associated with determination, courage and stamina and someone who thrived on a challenge - attributes that motivate participants in the Annual Brian Keenan Mountain Challenge.
The Brian Keenan Mountain Challenge is a tough but enjoyable 11-mile hike over the Cooley Mountains on Saturday, September 4th, paying tribute to the legendary IRA leader Brian Keenan and at the same time raising funds for the republican project which Brian gave his life to, the struggle for a united Ireland.
The hike starts 11am at The Flagstaff, outside Newry, Declan Murphy, one of the organisers, tells me and moves on to Anglesey Mountains, up to the Cooley Mountains and down to a place called The Long Woman’s Grave – the halfway point where weary footsoldiers can take a break.
After food and rest, they’ll carry on to a ridge of mountains that overlook Warrenpoint Harbour and Carlingford.
Eventually, participants should arrive at their destination, Carlingford.
As we’ve said, the route is 11 miles in total and, if you’re in fair to middling shape it should take around six hours.
The annual event is more than just a fund-raiser for Sinn Féin’s Organisational Development Unit, the party’s engine room on the ground across Ireland. The winners of the challenge – a good-natured but still a competitive events, in a comradely way, of course - will receive the honour of carrying off The Brian Keenan Memorial Shield, the theme being “Determination, Courage and Stamina” - characteristics associated with the late Brian Keenan.
And make sure you have the right gear, Declan advises. “No lycra or headbands - we’re in the 21st Century, not the 1970s!
“We’ll be sending out instruction packs to participants so contact us as soon as possible and start training now,” he advises.
Dublin’s Niall Binead, who took part in last year’s longer, 26-mile trek, confirms Murphy’s advice.
The county rivalry is fierce, says Dubliner Binead.
“The South Armagh crowd – led by Declan Murphy and yer man Seán Hughes – kept passing us out and then they’d sit down and wait for us before starting off and passing us out again. I think they were only stopping to hold meetings.”
Declan Murphy is nothing if not full of admiration for his fellow pilgrims, although he hides it well.
“Mick O’Brien of the South Leinster ODU looked about 90 by the time he finished,” Murphy grins from the comfort now of a comfy chair in Head Office.
I later meet the said Mick O’Brien walking up Parnell Square.
“Murphy says you looked like an auld fella on that mountain challenge last year,” I tease the 50-plus Fenian.
“Ninety? I felt about 190,” Mick splutters. “But as for the South Armagh crowd, sure Seán Hughes sent one man up to the wrong mountain altogether and himself and Declan Murphy must have thought they were on a pilgrimage. They kept stopping and starting, passing everyone out and then sitting like they were meditating or doing the Stations of the Cross.”
Enough said.
If you want to progress to higher plains than the couch potato position you should contact Declan Murphy, get in training – and be sure to check out the map in case you have to ask them South Armagh ones for directions.

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