West Cork girls earn Guiding’s highest award

Posted on: 8th September, 2014

Category: News

Contributor: West Cork People

Above from left: Eimhear Smith from Ballydehob with Vera O’Riordan and Laura O’Sullivan from Macroom pictured after successfully completing Irish Girl Guides’ Chief Commissioner’s Award in the Burren

Five young Cork women, four of them from West Cork, have reached the pinnacle of Guiding after hiking 60km in the Burren while carrying all their camping and cooking equipment, clothes, food and water, and surviving on €3.50 a day.

The Irish Girl Guides members also completed eight projects and kept a logbook of their experiences during the five-day Chief Commissioner’s Award.

Seventeen-year-old Órla Reilly from Ballincollig, said the first two days were tough as it was lashing rain but that their spirits lifted later in the week when the sun came out.

The girls, who competed in teams of two or three, didn’t know the location of the event in advance so they couldn’t prepare for the projects. They were delighted to find themselves in the Burren, however, which Órla described as “stunning”.

“On August 3, we were given a six-figure grid reference, which led us from our homes in County Cork to Galway Bus Station,” said Vera O’Riordan (17) from Macroom. “Later that evening, the secret location of our treacherous five-day hike was revealed – amongst the spectacular landscape of the Burren.  After a debriefing with the Award staff and a good night’s sleep at the base camp, we were unceremoniously dumped at the side of a gravel path along the Cliffs of Moher. From there, armed with our map, compass, instructions and loaded rucksacks, we began our journey.”

The route took the young adventurers to the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin and Lisdoonvarna and even across on the ferry to Inis Óirr where the girls chose to speak as Gaeilge out of respect for the local people. Their projects included designing a brochure of the area, visiting Doolin Caves, learning about the effect of recent storms on the Burren, talking to a local food producer and writing a song about their experiences during the challenge.

“As part of the projects, we quizzed tourists on their opinions of Ireland and questioned locals on the importance of the Irish language,” said Eimhear Smith (20) of Ballydehob. “The opinions of all the people living in the Burren struck a chord with us on our journey. As part of our service project, we offered to help in the traditional Irish pub, Tigh Ruairí, on Inis Óirr where we cleaned tables during the lunch-time rush and spent time washing and drying dishes.”

The girls were thrilled to receive the Chief Commissioner’s pin – the highest award in Guiding. “It felt quite surreal,” says Órla, adding that her teammate, 20-year-old Lucy O’Donovan from Kinsale and herself felt “so fulfilled and humbled” that they had what it took to reach the pinnacle of Guiding. “The atmosphere was great after the award ceremony; everyone was in such high spirits!”

Vera and Eimhear’s teammate, Laura O’Sullivan (20) from Macroom, described the overall experience as “amazing”. “It was far, far better than we had expected,” she said. “We learnt that we had the strength and resources to keep going when things were tough, to interact with strangers, who very quickly became friends, to learn a lot more about the country in which we live and to live in close harmony as friends within the confines of very small tents, minimal clothing, keeping to a budget and cheering one another through aches, pains and a couple of blisters. The week was brilliant, exhilarating, a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an eye-opener for us as to the heights that we could achieve when we set our minds to doing something.  This is what Guiding has given us over the past number of years and who knows what our next challenge will be!”

Congratulating the five Cork girls, who were among 10 young women from around Ireland taking part, Gillian Finan, IGG Regional Development Officer and one of the event organisers, said: “The Chief Commissioner’s Award is one of the toughest challenges a young woman in our association can undertake — 60km in five days with challenges to be completed along the way. This has always been one of my favourite Guiding events and I believe it is a culmination of everything Guiding has been preparing these young women for. All the organisers are so proud of them: they overcame injury, illness, rain, hills and aching muscles. This challenge will only serve them positively in the future.”

Irish Girl Guides welcomes new members from age five, young leaders from age 15+ and adult leaders from age 18+. See www.irishgirlguides.ie for further information.

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