9 July 2020
By Elaine Murphy
A local Girl Guide successfully completed a virtual summit of Carrauntoohil – Ireland’s highest mountain – during lockdown
Laura McSweeney (25) from Bandon, a graduate of University College Cork who is currently studying forensic science, had been considering climbing Carrauntoohil the past few years. She hadn’t got around to it but, when she saw a virtual climb of the mountain was one of the challenges during Irish Girl Guides (IGG)’s recent virtual camp, Camp Echo, she didn’t think twice about signing up to the challenge.
Laura, who is a member of Bandon Senior Branch (Senior Branch is IGG’s branch for 14-30 year olds), reckoned the best place to undertake the virtual climb would be the steps of St Patrick’s Church in Bandon. She worked out that she would need to run up and down the steps (there’s 95 in total) 371 times in order to summit Carrauntoohil, which stands at 1,038 metres.
“I set out at 8am on Saturday morning to try and complete it before the heat of the day,” said Laura. “I’d set little goals for myself. I knew if I could get to 100 flights, I’d be able to keep going. Carrauntoohill is about eight pitches vertically so it’s a long day.
“The most challenging part I found was that sometimes I’d walk up but my Fitbit would either not count it correctly, or not count it at all, which got really frustrating! The distance to climb to the summit and back is 12 kilometres. I ended up walking about 18 in total up and down the flights of steps.”
It took Laura seven hours to complete the challenge. “Celebrating sub goals along the way kept me committed to completing the challenge,” she said. “Once completed, I was naturally exhausted. There wasn’t much celebrating as it was straight into completing other challenges for the virtual camp.”
Around 130 Senior Branchers from around Ireland took part in Camp Echo – one of several Camps At Home that IGG ran during lockdown. There was a range of activities and challenges, most of which had a sustainability theme. Participants undertook litter picks, tie-dyed T-shirts, turned old T-shirts into tote bags and devised ways to cut down on the use of energy and single-use plastics.
Everyone made party hats out of recycled materials before taking part in an online birthday bash on the final evening to mark the 100th birthday of Senior Branch.
“Most importantly, Camp Echo got us out exploring the environment around us,” said Laura. “The entire weekend was packed with different types of challenges so everyone got an opportunity to take part. The use of zoom meant we are all able to come together and take part while staying at home and having fun.”
Laura, who first joined IGG as a Ladybird when she was five, said she enjoyed the fact that, as a Senior Brancher, she could take ownership of her Guiding experiences – what she wanted to achieve and what footprints she would like to leave behind. “It has given me the opportunity to try new things and meet new people along the way,” she said.
“Throughout my time in IGG I have learnt to be who I am. I have learnt leadership skills, community responsibility, teamwork, diversity and inclusion. One of the most important things I’ve learned from working with girls through IGG is that being a leader doesn’t always mean being that person at the front of the room, or even the loudest, but, more importantly, it’s about being a friend, which we all can be – celebrating each other’s accomplishments, no matter how small, and realising that everything’s better when we all shine in our own individual ways together.”
Laura said IGG was the most influential organisation she had been involved in. “After many camps and adventures, Guiding has taught me many skills,” she said. “Not only traditional camping skills, but social skills too. As a 10-year-old Guide, if you’d have asked me to stand up and give a speech in front of a couple of people, I’d have panicked and hid in the corner. Yet 15 years on, Guiding has given me confidence to be able to undertake things I’d never thought I’d do while becoming more independent and more trusting in myself.”
She has no hesitation recommending IGG to other girls and women. “IGG gives a safe place for girls to learn self-development at their own pace without pressures that they otherwise may face in society,” she said. “Everyone is encouraged to become the individual they want to become while also becoming a strong and independent woman.”
Irish Girl Guides welcomes youth members from age five-plus and adult volunteers from age 18+. No previous Guiding experience is necessary to be a volunteer and ongoing training and support is provided. For further information, see www.irishgirlguides.ie or tel: 01 6683898.