Thousands of people put on their walking boots for cancer research last weekend for the first Tipperary Relay for Life event at Toomevara GAA grounds.
The response to the charity fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society was overwhelming, with the organisers and those taking part amazed at the turnout.
While no final figure has been revealed yet, it is reckoned that the event may have raised close to €100,000 to help fight the disease that has devastated so many lives.
Relay for Life is a global organisation and involves cancer patients, survivors, carers and the community coming together to raise funds over a 24-hour period during which participants walk a designated track.
Toome GAA Club helped lay a special sand-based track for the event, which saw the pitch turned into a festival site with stage, tents and stalls.
The relay got underway on Saturday evening with former Tipperary manager Liam Sheehy welcoming everybody to the event and congratulating them on taking part before the first lap, consisting of cancer survivors, took to the track.
Over the next 24 hours, the 43 community teams taking part ensured that someone from their team was walking the track. Some walked in fancy dress as clowns, others took part in the novelty laps such as the three-legged lap or dressed in dressing gowns, with one pair dressed in a tuxedo and ball gown for the waltz lap. One participant attempted to walk without a break for the full 24 hours but had to limp off after 14 hours due to a sprain. However, he managed to cover an impressive 70kms in that time.
The most poignant part came at 10pm on Saturday when the Candle of Hope ceremony was begun as the daylight faded.
Over 3,000 lighted candles were placed around the track, each recalling the name of a loved one touched in some way by the disease.
The sight left many people emotional as they read the names on the paper shields around the candles. One person told the Tipperary Star that the sheer number of candles “really brought it home how prevalent cancer is in the community”.
Among the candles were two for the writer Nuala O Faolain. While the majority had names attached, others simply read: Dad; Mam; Gran; brother; sister.
The walkers were entertained by a host of musicians and acts, including Nenagh CBS Band, Madeleine Lovett, Shane Bracken and Raffiki as they made their way around, and then, in the small hours, music was put on the sound system to help the walkers get through the night.
On Sunday morning, the early risers were greeted with the sounds of the Borrisokane Gospel Choir.
There was a special welcome near the final lap for Nenagh’s Donnacha Ryan, who walked the track before heading away to join the rest of his Ireland rugby team mates as they headed to New Zealand on Tuesday for the Rugby World Cup.
Donnacha told the Star that he found the whole event “amazing. The atmosphere is fantastic. The spirit inside the ground is unbelievable. What an incredible community event.”
Before the final lap, Relay for Life chairman, Luke Murtagh, thanked everybody for taking part. He was followed by carers and survivors telling their stories and then, an estimated 3,000 were swept along on a tide of emotion for one last lap of the field.