“It’s a powerful story of how sadness and grief is turned in a positive and uplifting triumph.”


The last time I read a memoir was in mid 1980s and truth be told, I wasn’t overly fussed on them; too many I did this and I did that … A couple of weeks ago a copy of this one arrived here from our son Tom who lives in Portrush, Country Antrim. Tom has taken to surfing very well, Dermot Breen is one of his surfing buddies. OKAY, that’s the logistics taken care of …

Dermot Breen is in his fifties and he and his wife read Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a copy of which sits on my bookshelves right now. I bought it on its released after reading about it in one of the writing mags. Dermot and his wife Jacqui enjoyed it too. Then the sad bit hit, Jacqui died from cancer. Her passing hit Dermot and all their family and friends hard. At one point Dermot said he would walk Harold’s journey himself if he could save her.

He then became aware of the Ulster Way, a 1000k route around Ulster, which in English miles is 526 miles, two miles short of Harold’s walk. Why not, I’ll do the Ulster Way and raise cash for Cancer Research UK while I’m at it. The words of a Proclaimers song came into his head
I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

The unlikely pilgrimage began at the school where Jacqui worked and saw Dermot walk from there to Belfast to a point along the south side of Belfast Lough on June 12th. Before setting off he took a photo of his hand one the plaque installed in the pay area of the school dedicated to Jacqui. He finished the route on September 2nd with another photo of his hand on the plaque. Along the way Dermot was helped and encouraged by many family and friends and was given donations as he made his way that he was delighted to accept. The initial £5,000 was quickly reach, at the end it was over £20,000.

And yet this is not just a memoir in the true sense I think; no, it’s also like a travelogue too. In many of the place Dermot visited he learned the meaning behind their names as well as the myths and legends that surround them. Sadly, for me anyway, is that I am still no wiser as to why there are so many places named Bally…?

Is this memoire/travelogue worth reading? For me it was. It’s a powerful story of how sadness and grief is turned in a positive and uplifting triumph. Best of all, each sale raises more cash for Cancer Research UK, Dermot does not get any royalties on this one. So yes, my dear readers, give it go, it’s well worth it.


Reviewed by:

Ron Clark

Added 9th January 2018

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Ron Clark