It was 3am when people started to quietly appear out of the dark, the sounds of their car engines interrupting the cold silence of the night.
Some of us had gone to bed, sleeping fitfully, anxious not to oversleep. One woman had tackled the ironing basket, another had binged on Downton Abbey to stay awake and a few energetic souls had come directly from a 50th birthday party and were looking fabulous in their gúnas!
The chief steward had spent the wee small hours going anxiously over the route again and again, and now sat quietly in the corner of the room consulting his clipboard for the 100th time as he muttered names and locations like a rosary, the safety of thousands of walkers in his hands.
The ladies at the registration desk busied themselves as they donned their hi-vis jackets before switching on the Burco boiler and arranging the sign-in sheets and donation buckets; stopping occasionally to look at each other quizzically as they tried to remember how they had done it last year.
A mother and daughter knelt, heads together, gently placing candles to form the circle of hope they were creating in the centre of the meeting place. Others made their way into the village with boxes of tea lights and twinkling Christmas decorations that they had dragged down from the attic, hanging beautifully decorated jam-jars off trees and placing flickering candles on the ancient stone walls that edge the square that our village life revolves around.
With all the preparations underway there was nothing for it but to wait for people to arrive, and we wandered around the GAA hall, smiling nervously at each other, cupping our hands around mugs of coffee, peeking out the door every time we passed, and then, as if rising from the mist, they came and they kept coming, waves and waves of people like a yellow sea of hope.
Some walk to think, others run not to, and with selfies taken, stewards in place and Gardaí waiting to escort us, 4.15am came and the runners took off, with the walkers following them. All heading in the one direction at the same time, but on very different journeys.
As the sun came up and the last person quietly crossed the finish line, we took down the banners and the signs and collected the tea lights; our shoulders loosened, our stride lengthened and our hearts warmed by the reminder that, even if just for this one special night, we were not walking on our own.
More often heard on RTÉ Radio One “Getting A Word In Edgeways”, Kate is excited to be sharing her thoughts with readers of Irish Country Living. Editor of The Muskerry News and Kenmare News, Kate loves dogs, gardening and writing, in no particular order.