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Markethill mountaineer helps Mourne Mountain Rescue Team climb their way to £400K needed for new base

'It's all for a great charity that we all pray we don’t need but we can hike in the hills in confidence knowing they will help us if in need'

An experienced hiker and Mourne Mountain enthusiast is organising a number of open hikes and skill-building days to help create a base for a vital mountain rescue service that she herself has previously had to call upon.

Together with a friend, Carolyn McKinney, from Markethill has organised a ‘Seven Sevens’ hike on Saturday, June 29 and a ‘Navigation for Beginners’ day on Sunday, June 30 as part of an ongoing fundraising effort on behalf of the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team (MMRT).

The avid rambler – whose son Oscar was recognised as the youngest child to scale the high points of each of the 32 counties of Ireland in 2023 – has taken on the challenge with first hand knowledge of the important role that the rescue team play.

Speaking to Armagh I as she returned home from a hike in Wicklow, Carolyn explained: “I have used the rescue before when my mother had to be airlifted from Donard. I think that was about 13 years ago and me and my son raised money at the time for Mountain Rescue. They are always there when somebody needs it.

“They have even been down to Wicklow and everything at one point when the Wicklow Mountain Rescue needed help to find a missing person.

“We go up the mountains all the time so Mountain Rescue are a big part of it.”

Carolyn hopes the events will help make a sizeable dent in the £400k needed for MMRT develop their new “future-proof” facility at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle, County Down.

After seven years of planning, delays, consultation and design work the scheme is now set to proceed with assistance from Lidl, who will be building a new state-of-the-art store adjacent to the rescue base site.

With the end in sight and a “real opportunity to get on-site in the not-too-distant future” the voluntary rescue team launched their own fundraising appeal just one week ago on May 28.

MMRT cited the following benefits to the move: “It will provide the team with a permanent base, which will provide greater certainty in making strategic planning and investment decisions.

“Unlike our existing building, it will be a purpose-built structure with a layout and facilities that will improve the efficiency of the Team.

“It is well located to the Mourne Mountains thereby allowing callouts to be dealt with quickly. It is well located to the open space at Donard Park where rescue helicopters land; It will facilitate open days for educating the public on safety issues in mountainous environments.

“It will allow emergency vehicles to be stored indoors and will reduce maintenance costs.”

Eager to help make their dream a reality, Carolyn and her team have opened both events to everyone from total beginners and novices to the intermediate hikers and adrenaline seekers.

However, Carolyn does stipulate that the ‘Seven Sevens’ will be a “faster, more experienced hike”.

“It’s 2,000 meters, climbing the seven highest mountains and 20k so it’s not a gentle, little walk. It’s a big walk but the one we are doing on the Sunday I’m bringing the children too it’s for anyone. We aren’t even exactly going to go over a mountain. We are just going to go over maps and compasses and teach a little bit of navigation,” she added.

Carolyn and crew hope to continue with a number of additional events over the coming weeks and months. Details of all upcoming events can be found on the Hiking Buddies NI Facebook page.

A JustGiving page with a £1000 target has been created and a suggested £10 donation per person is politely requested for each event.

As Carolyn says: “It’s all for a great charity that we all pray we don’t need but we can hike in the hills in confidence knowing they will help us if in need.”

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