Bryan joined the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland in 1990 and it was there that he became aware of the Camino de Santiago. Members of his organization travelled on the camino with the intention of collecting funds and so in 1993 Bryan, who was studying Spanish and interested in Spain, decided to do it himself.
The itinerary that was organized by the association was not the conventional one. It started from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port but they only walked ten days, they made ten stages, jumping some sections. They walked as a group and at the end of each stage they were picked up and taken to a hotel. The experience was very good and he loved it. Now, having worked for the association for 25 years, he has repeated the experience many times, maybe as many as 14 or 15 times.
Now there are many organizations that have similar programs. But it should not be forgotten that the people of Bryan’s organization were the first to start the project of travelling the Way, after having read a book by Bert Slader that was published in the 80s. Here the author talked about his experience on the Camino and the people of the organization were very interested – They even talked to him in person about his experience.
In the year 2000, Bryan did the French Way on his own, it was a strange experience because he knew some sections very well, but others were completely new. At last he was able to fill the “gaps”, he had missed before. He walked 33 days and he really enjoyed the experience, of being on his own, of meeting people, of sleeping in shelters…
He continued working with his organization and participating in his project “Road of the Year 2012”. He walked again only this time, he followed the Vía de la Plata from Seville, and the experience was very enriching. When he walked like this, alone, independently, he believes that the effect was good for his mind. There was the peace that he has always found on the Camino, but there was also the satisfaction of having met a challenge. Then there was the photography, Bryan likes taking pictures.
Later, in 2014, he travelled on his own again, following the Camino del Norte from Irún, the San Salvador Way and the Primitivo to Oviedo. He has travelled the Camino Primitivo 4 times, now he has just arrived from his fourth Primitivo, with María. Bryan has yet to travel the Portuguese Way.
Bryan thinks he will continue to walk, it is always a good challenge to walk, it allows him to be in contact with many things that he likes, such as nature, but it has been a part of his life since 1993. Certainly, the experience changes with the years and Bryan also realizes that the Way is good for self-esteem. There is also a spiritual aspect. He remembers that at the beginning when he arrived in the Obradoiro, he was thrilled, there was all that emotion. It’s an aspect that is not religious but certainly spiritual, something that he has already felt and sometimes feels again in Santiago; because for Bryan the Camino ends in Santiago, he does not continue on until Fisterra. He also likes to pick up his Compostela, he always goes to get it and has quite a collection. It also nourishes his interest in history.
When he returns home after his caminos, he feels that the people around him either cannot or do not want to understand his experience. But enough said about them, he knows that he will return to the Camino and the experience will be possible again. He believes that he will always walk, every year, maybe for his whole life.
Bryan and Mary have some criticisms to make about the comfort in which some people travel…taking taxis etc. The experience loses its value -walking the Way as a pilgrim is not the same as taking walking holiday. In fact, the two of them have just been through a fairly long experience where, despite it being spring, the weather was bad and there were even snowfalls on the Camino Primitivo!
Mary met Bryan and the Camino through the project of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland. She read an article in the newspaper about the work they did and their project on the Camino. she wanted to collaborate and begin walking with them. Her first camino with this organization was in 2004. For her the experience marked vital change, and it was such an important one that it meant a change in her life. During the two weeks she left her daily world, to live something completely different: she was in an environment in which she was anonymous, without her family at the wheel, without anyone who knew her, passing through very small towns and villages … She loved everything, everything she found.
Mary’s world is music, she is a singer and she also plays instruments and in that Way she met a group of fantastic Irish people who also sang and played until very late every night … But, at the same time, the experience was a humbling one because they walked for a serious cause and could not forget it. Many of those who walked did so because they lived with the problem on a daily basis- with partners, children, friends who lived or had lived with multiple sclerosis and, therefore, they were not there to complain about anything, such as having blisters! … That’s why there was also a very emotional element. Actually, the real difficulty was getting the money, not walking.
Mary has repeated the experience with the organization several times, on some occasion her own sister also participated. It was always a very positive experience, she made good friends in the organization, they could feel the support of many people in Ireland, they were followed and supported by them on the social networks … Now, in 2019, this has been their first Way without the organization, her first time sleeping in shelters … and nothing less than the Primitive Way.
She wanted to live an experience like that, without a group. She knew Bryan well and she knew that they could walk together in ways that he decided to do. The experiences were wonderful, she liked the peace, the calm and also the experience of the hostels. It was fortunate that her friend could speak Spanish, this allowed them to be able to communicate with everyone, be with everyone, and she also guided by him, he was like an encyclopedia.
Last year Mary lost her mother, she died after a long time in which she devoted herself to taking care of her. This meant two or three years taking care of her mother, and without time for anything else. This time was the right time for doing the Camino and if she is asked how it feels now, after the Camino, the answer that comes to mind is: planning the next one. Of course, she admits that she feels tired, she has walked about ten hours a day, but a lot of that time was passed while having deep, very personal conversations, and so the experience was very positive.
Mary also collects the Compostela at the end of her ways, for her it is the culmination of her experience. And when she returns home she recommends doing the Camino to all her friends. Tomorrow some of them will begin walking from Sarria. She feels linked to the Camino for many reasons, she is from Galway and her land has an important historical relationship with Spain and Galicia, there is an important connection, a sort of bridge … Many Spaniards, after the Invincible Armada was sunk, remained in those lands and in some ways there is a link between its inhabitants and Spain. She also believes that the pilgrimage is very connected to Ireland, it is part of its history, and the Irish are country folk and walkers.