UNDERTAKING a 326-mile charity walk around the outskirts of County Cork in one month may be no laughing matter — but Michael O’Connor will certainly be ensuring there are a few chuckles along the way.
Michael, a stand-up comedian from Enniskeane whose stage name is ‘Dakota Mick’, is carrying out the walk to raise money for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and is performing comedy gigs along the route.
Some people have labelled his trek ‘de Cork Camino’, but he refers to it as his ‘Roundabout Tour’.
“The idea had been in my head for a while,” said Michael, “and just before Christmas the job I was working finished up. So I thought I would try to do something positive before finding another job.
“I’ve been working for years and thought it would be nice to do something interesting before plunging back into the rat race.”
Michael’s choice of the beneficiary of the cause was a straightforward one.
“My eldest daughter, Ciara, is 15 years old and has been a patient at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin since she was six,” he explained.
“While by their standards she is one of the relatively easier cases, it still requires a visit roughly once a month. We have always been so grateful for the care she has received.
“Obviously, Crumlin is an old building and you see that when you are there, but the staff have always in my opinion been top class, in my eyes they perform miracles on a daily basis.
“It’s a vocation that I am not a good enough person to be able to do. I am so grateful and in awe of the staff there.”
Michael’s ‘Roundabout Tour’ started in Youghal on April 1 — “of all the days to start, April Fools Day!” chuckled the comedian — and he has relished it so far. It will last throughout the month of April, so if you see him out and about, give him a wave.
“People have been so supportive, even though I’d mentally prepared to be sleeping in a tent every night,” he said.
“People have been giving me accommodation — Greywood Arts in Killeagh hosted me the first night, for instance. It was only on the fourth night that I actually had to use the tent.”
It’s not just accommodation that Michael has received as support.
“Many people and local businesses have shown support by giving me lunches and dinners, as well as sharing what I’m up to on social media,” he said. “My other daughter Leas is also a huge support for me.
“But of course the main thing has been people donating directly to the cause, every contribution is very appreciated”.
While he is on the road, Michael’s main way of keeping people informed of his progress is via his Facebook page.
“People can follow my route and progress on that, but basically I am trying to walk the edges of Cork County,” he said. “I have a schedule that I will try to stay to, but the main goal is to finish, no matter how long it takes. I want to overall average about 12 miles a day.
“I’ll just keep moving and enjoy Cork at a walking pace, I’ve spent 17 years here and it has been always at the rat race pace.
“I have cheated a little bit already though, I did get a lift for part of the journey... the ferry from Cobh to Passage!”
Michael is an American ex-Marine and he explains how he came to live in Cork — and how he came to be nicknamed ‘Dakota Mick’.
“I met my wife when we were both in Hawaii, and she dragged me back to her home of Cork about 17 years ago.
“I was drinking in the local pub and the regulars asked what my name was, so I told them Michael O’Connor, and they started calling me Mick.
“I tried telling them I usually go by Mike, but they said ‘You are in Ireland now so it is Mick’. But of course I couldn’t be just Mick because Mick Murphy was Mick. And I couldn’t be ‘Mick the Yank’ because they already had one of those so I couldn’t be him. So finally they settled on ‘Dakota Mick’ when they found out I’m from South Dakota.”
His experiences as a US Marine before he moved to Ireland helped prepare him for this task of walking around the county.
“I have several changes of clothes, wet weather gear, a tent, sleeping bag, fruit and granola bars, a small radio, hat and gloves and what feels like a kitchen sink somewhere!” said Michael.
“I think the military training has already started kicking in.
“Obviously, I am not in the shape I used to be in in the 1990s when I was a young Marine, but on day three, when miles 8 through 11 were really hurting, I found I could get back into my head and shut it off and just keep the body moving like I used to be able to do. It’s kind of nice to find that again, I might be relying on that a lot!”
Michael is planning on using the time spent walking productively. “I think it will give me time to write comedy, but to be honest I have spent these first days thinking ‘What the hell was I thinking!’
“There have been a few comedy gigs already organised and hopefully more will come together.
“I will be joined by other local comedians such as Anthony Riordan, Denis Len, Anthony Galvin and Roger O’Sullivan, with more to be confirmed. They are all donating their talents, time and the cost of getting to the shows, so it’s very kind of them.
“Assuming I’m still alive, the last gig of the whole tour will be on Thursday, May 3, in The Briar Rose in Douglas.”
For details on how to contribute to Michael’s fund-raising effort, to get involved, follow his video updates or for further gig information, go to mickdakota.me which links to his facebook page.