Northern Ireland man explains why Darkness into Light walk gives him so much hope

Co Down man Raymond Flynn, who was diagnosed as bipolar six years ago, tells HELEN MCGURK why taking part in the sunrise walk to raise awareness of suicide and self-harm is so special to him

Anne Smyth, Electric Ireland, Raymond and Catherine Flynn, both of Bessbrook and Camlough DIL committee, and Tracy Mongan, Pieta.
Anne Smyth, Electric Ireland, Raymond and Catherine Flynn, both of Bessbrook and Camlough DIL committee, and Tracy Mongan, Pieta.

As the world continues to reopen, Darkness Into Light (DIL), the annual fundraising event organised by Pieta and supported by Electric Ireland, will return this year with its organised walks in over 17 countries across five continents, beginning in darkness at sunrise and continuing for 5km through to dawn to symbolise the journey from despair to hope.

Sixteen walks will take place across Northern Ireland as the sun rises on Saturday May 7, 2022 benefiting 14 local charities.

Raymond Flynn,61, Bessbrook & Camlough DIL committee member got involved with Darkness Into Light in 2018 in Rostrevor and then Crossmaglen.

He said: “This prompted me to get in touch with Pieta, the organisers of DIL, with a view to bringing a walk to our area and got approval for a new walk in Bessbrook and Camlough for 2020.

“Unfortunately, the 2020 and 2021 walks didn’t happen due to Covid restrictions. Instead the committee organised a small socially distanced walk in Derrymore.

“It was the work of our local schools, who all played a part, organising sponsored events to raise much needed funds. These were all a great success and plan to be repeated this year.”

Raymond added: “Darkness into light is so special and until you take part in a walk or participate in some form, it’s hard to understand or appreciate that.

“After I did the walk in Crossmaglen I had to make sure this event came to the Bessbrook and Camlough area. For me Darkness into Light is a feeling of hope. To see so many giving of their time, communities in action supporting those who have lost loved ones, creating awareness of suicide, and raising much needed funds to help people suffering with mental health issues.

“As you walk from Darkness into Light – this is a reminder that you are not alone and no matter how dark it becomes there is always hope and light after the dark.”

Raymond said the work of their charity partner, Pips Hope and Support, is vital within local communities.

“Pips Hope and Support is a public initiative for suicide and self-harm formed in 2003 by the family of Séamas McCabe, a 20-year-old student from Bessbrook, who ended his life by suicide on April 29, 2003.

“Based in Newry Pips Hope and Support works by delivering a comprehensive range of crisis services, including suicide prevention, crisis intervention, self-harm and trauma, bereavement support and offering accredited and health-approved training and education workshops. It is one or 14 mental health charities across NI that will benefit from DIL this year.”

Raymond said looking after his own mental health is a priority.

“I think that we aren’t taught enough about the importance of mental health and wellbeing and we concentrate too much on the physical health side. I found this out the hard way when I suffered a breakdown in 2016 leading me to be diagnosed as bipolar.

“At the time I thought I was bulletproof, sadly I realised I wasn’t. Now I have to concentrate just as much on my mental health as my physical health. A key thing I have found that works for me is “Remember to remember”, find a good time in your life, a happy experience, a trip, and go there often. There is always hope.”

He also likes to keep physically fit.

“I always played football both soccer and Gaelic locally especially when I was younger. When I stopped playing competitively, I continued to play five aside twice a week. This is great for the physical and mental health. The craic before and after the football is as good as the game.

“A few of us have formed a Men’s Shed in our area and we try and get out twice a week for a walk and a chat. I am a member of Peak Health and Mind a community group which organises hiking in our locality and have experienced some great hikes in the Mourne and Cooley mountains.”

In terms of the upcoming DIL walk, Raymond said he’s been doing plenty of walking to keep fit.

“It isn’t a race, of course, so people of any fitness level can take part.”

Any advice for those setting their alarms for the 4.15am on the May 7?

“My first bit of advice is be sure to sign up for a walk in your area. You can do this by visiting www.darknessintolight.com. I’d also point out that as an alterative to the walk, you can run, bike or hike or even undertake your own special challenge. I would also advise you check the weather and wear appropriate clothing and footwear – there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Most importantly enjoy the walk from Darkness into Light. Think of those beside you and if you haven’t been touched by suicide, there most certainly will be someone close to you who has and remember there is always hope.”