Fittingly I meet Matt Loughrey under the backdrop of Croagh Patrick; the 2507ft mountain, nestled close to Clew Bay, which draws thousands each year to climb it for spiritual and scenic reasons. For Matt, climbing the Reek has been his daily ritual for almost a year now — all in aid of a charitable cause, but the climb is also generating a message of positivity and goodwill, which is needed in society at the moment.
As he sits in Campbell’s pub, in Murrisk, the 32-year-old, father of two exudes enthusiasm as he speaks about the 365 Challenge which will come to end in 37 days.
Matt, who is originally from Gloucester, but who has resided in the Westport area for the past few years, outlines how this “wild idea” came about.
The catalyst for the challenge began last May as Matt sat in traffic between Westport and Castlebar. As he listened to a radio show, he heard people calling in about the state of the country. “The shock of the recession had worn off for most people but the reality had begun to set in.”
Families in the country were struggling financially and so Matt had an idea that he wanted to help, but he did not know how. However, like most good ideas — after a few pints in Campbell’s — it dawned on him to climb Croagh Patrick every day for a year for charity.
Matt scoured a lot of charities in order to find one which he would raise funds for and he chose The Society of St Vincent de Paul, a charity which has the lowest administration fees, and a charity which gives funds raised to the local region.
Being a fan of social networking, “as it’s a very powerful tool”, Matt decided to use Facebook as a platform to convey his message. He initially used his friends’ contact lists to get them to follow his 365 Facebook page. “I received a varied response, but I was adamant that I was going to do it.”
Now, Matt has some 3,400 followers on Facebook and his page averages 70,000 hits a day, with views from around the world — he even had the highest Facebook page views in Ireland on three occasions over Christmas. Google has also backed his fundraising idea, which it is now promoting, and Matt’s page was awarded a Google Adsense Campaign Award 2011.
‘I had forgotten the magic of it’
Matt set off on his challenge on Saturday June 5. Being a tour guide of Croagh Patrick in 2005, Matt knew the mountain, however, “I had forgotten the magic of it”. As Matt explains, “All of sudden I found myself on the summit once again and I was just in awe. Everything was perfect and I thought, I can do this.”
After his first day he began to document his journey through photos, which he puts on his Facebook page. Matt always had a passion for photography and it has allowed him to capture the Reek for the reasons that people climb — “I wanted to re-imagine it in a photographic sense.”
In fact, these amazing images now form part of another charitable project, this time a book soon to be launched by local woman Joanne Maloney. Titled Quoted Moments, the book combines photography, inspirational quotes, and heartfelt poetry for positivity, with all proceeds going towards the Irish Cancer Society.
‘Most positive place you can be’
For Matt, the Reek is “one of the most positive places that you can be”. He explains that “up there everyone is equal, happy and everyone is willing to converse.”
Matt says that the “mountain gives people a lot of help and I get a great boost to be in their company when this takes place — that is what it is about.”
Asked to divulge some stories he has heard he said, “I’m privy to a lot of stuff, I hear a lot and a lot of it I’ll never, ever, bring down with me.”
Matt doesn’t have a daily routine of what time he sets out on his trek, but it varies on whether he will climb with people who may contact him, or he might set off alone. Matt said that he has made great friends from this cause and particularly commends the fantastic local support he receives.
Endurance is key, and Matt said that physically and mentally he has been able to maintain pace and even climbed when sick.
A key person who assisted him in mental preparation was Joe Simpson, a mountaineer and motivational speaker, whom he met after their paths crossed, so to speak.
The cold snap did not hinder Matt in any way, in fact Matt said that the cold weather made it easier to climb. His personal best time of one hour 12 minutes (up and down ) was achieved during the cold weather.
Adventure coming to an end?
This 365 adventure is to draw to a close on June 4, with a well-deserved “celebration day” at Campbell’s; after a final climb with 365 people.
So far he has collected €29,000 through online donations, in person, or handed into Campbell’s. A quiz night will also be held on May 12 in Bar One, Castlebar, and Matt will also feature tonight on Nationwide (April 29 ); all of which will help boost support for the cause.
While chatting to him, a patron in the bar donates and regulars and well-wishers ask how his daily climb has gone; Matt has clearly achieved what he set out to do in raising awareness, but the past year has also led him on a personal journey. “I am a completely different person, I now see things differently.” Croagh Patrick “is the most spiritual place that you can possibly be and it offers great rewards for everyone”.
Matt has taken part in quite the adventure, but from the glint in his eye, it seems that the challenge has yet to really kick-off, with ambitious plans in the pipeline.
Follow Matt’s journey on www.facebook.com/croaghpatrick365