Cervical cancer campaigner and patient advocate Vicky Phelan has revealed her mum and dad, along with her sister and two of her brothers, will be climbing Croagh Patrick on Saturday with former RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird instead of her.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on mountains and hills nationwide in almost 200 planned walks to raise awareness of people suffering from terminal illnesses such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and all those going through a difficult time.
Bird, the one-time RTÉ chief reporter, was diagnosed with MND late last year and committed to hiking Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo to highlight the disease.
Other big names who have committed to climbing with the 73-year-old are singer Daniel O’Donnell and The Late Late Show’s Ryan Tubridy. Ms Phelan, a Kilkenny native who now lives in Limerick, was due to participate but was forced to withdraw due to a deterioration in her health.
Taking to Instagram after a lengthy absence Ms Phelan said she wanted to mark a “very special weekend for a lot of people particularly Charlie Bird,” whom she said she will be “with in spirit”.
A smiling Ms Phelan, who could be seen with her hair growing back following chemotherapy a darker colour, said: “The big Climb with Charlie is going ahead on Saturday and I just wanted to wish everyone the very best of luck.
“I’m so disappointed that I can’t go, but a number of my family are heading up to Westport on [Friday] to do the climb, my parents, my sister, two of my brothers, and some of my nieces [and] nephews on my behalf. I would love to be there.”
'There in spirit'
The mum-of-two said that her ability to walk is still affected after her tough treatment regime but that she was improving.
She said: “I’m nearly there, but I’m not quite there yet. My walking is still quite limited and my back is still causing me a quite a bit of pain. I just couldn’t take the chance of heading to Westport this weekend sitting in a car for three hours and sleeping in a bed, that is not my own for three nights, I just couldn’t do it.
“So I will be with everybody in spirit. I just wanted to do a video update to wish everybody - Charlie Bird, my family, there’s a bunch of my friends going up to do the walk on behalf of Vicky’s Tribe as well.
“So hi to Laura, Madeline and Pamela and all the ladies and to everybody around the country who is doing a walk wherever you are doing it in your part of the world I wish you all the very best of luck where ever you are doing your climb.”
Ms Phelan, who lifted the lid on the Irish smear test scandal in 2018, when she was told in January of the same year to get her affairs in order because she had less than a year to live, urged the public not to take walking for granted.
“I’d love to be doing it. It’s something we all take for granted being able to go for a walk at the moment I can't, I’m literally walking very short distances probably from my kitchen to the front door, maybe a little bit further and that’s pretty much it, and then I have to sit down,” Ms Phelan explained.
“Don’t take it for granted if it’s something you can do because it is something a lot of us are unable to do and would only to be doing.
“Even if it’s only a short walk, or up or down your stairs or your local park or whatever. It’s a great way to get out and get some air it is a great cause raising funds for Motor Neurone Disease and Pieta House and other causes.
“I’m really disappointed I won't be there, but I’m looking forward too to tuning in over the weekend and to look at all the photos and waiting patiently for everybody to let me know to let me know if they finished their climb or made to the top of Croagh Patrick and made it back down obviously in one piece.”
'The hand of friendship'
Ms Phelan said she will be tuning in to The Late Late Show, "as they are doing a segment on the Climb with Charlie, and I’m looking forward to watching that as I can’t be there, but my family are going to be talking on my behalf. I wish everybody the very best of luck at the weekend.”
At the end of her video message she gave Mr Bird a special message saying; “Charlie the very best of luck. I’ll be thinking of you, I’ll be with you in spirit. Love you”.
More than €900,000 has been raised for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Pieta House.
Taking to Twitter in a video update, Mr Bird thanked everyone across the country, “and in many places around the world” for taking part.
“I think we are now going to go beyond our target of raising €1 million for our two great charities,” Mr Bird said.
Thanks to everyone across the country and in many places around the world I think we are now going to go beyond our target of raising one million euro for our two great charities.
Everyone who is supporting climb with charlie is extending the hand of friendship. Thanks. pic.twitter.com/devGZgVo5o
— Charlie Bird (@charliebird49) April 1, 2022
“Everyone who is supporting Climb with Charlie is extending the hand of friendship. Everyone will be able to donate while watching
“The Late Late Show and at the tills in every Dunne Stores across the country.”