Camino diary: St John’s GAA Belfast

st-johns-belfast-camino-group-caminowaysCamino diary: St John’s GAA Belfast

Not even the rain could dampen the spirits of the cheerful team from St John’s GAA club in Belfast, who walked the English Way from Ferrol recently. Along the way, they even managed to hitch a lift from a Galician farmer…

Mary Gough from St John’s GAA team shares her entertaining Camino diary:


….started off in a Spanish bar with, guess who, Micky Gannon leading the singing. American Pie, The Green Glens of Antrim and Grace all getting a rattle to tune up the vocals for the week ahead.

Joe McGuinness opted for Sloop John B with wonderful harmonies from his fellow travelers! Andy McCallin won The Grand National Sweep with Rule the World most apt as Andy certainly ruled the world with his hurl in his hay day!

Joe McGuinness (God loves a trier) did his best to host the first quiz of the tour and fair play he did manage a picture round with photos of Paddy McBride, Roly Daniels and a host of black and white film stars added to the mix.

Great craic, with a a tie-breaker needed to declare Team McFerran the winner – His & Her European chargers the prize for guessing the length of some big boat that sank in 1912!

Gerry McCann being the exemplary leader he is, led the big sleep while the 12 apostles found a local, where they flew the Naomh Flag with gusto. No prizes for guessing who led that mission…Suffice to say that we really hope that we don’t need first-aid tomorrow from Dr Martin, who won the prize for the best Spanish and Irish dancer of the troop closely followed by ‘Mr Cha Cha Cha’, the one and only Kevin Gough.

Before we left the Spanish bar, they had to be treated to a Mr Mick-less ‘Where is the man’? I just hope that those brave men are ready for 8am breakfast , 9am Mass and in the town square in Ferrol for our first 14 km hike in the morning.


Now we all know what rain is like and why Ireland is 40 shades of green but I have never seen rain like this! Like the good Catholics we are we all headed out to 9am Mass in the local church only to find it locked up! Huddled in a porch like drowned rats, those without wet gear struggled to get it on as the rain poured down.

The 3 Camino kids went awol and the day was only starting! Joe, Martin and Paddy had reached the church but we were in the square. A quick phone call to Martin and the boys headed towards us. Of course the story of the summons gathered legs as it was told round the table at dinner tonight – too many school teachers in the group!!!

Then it was off to find ‘the square that we had to put our backs to’ in order to come out of the starting blocks in the right direction! This proved more difficult than we thought but thanks to Frank’s sat nav type app we eventually saw our first Camino Shell and we were off with the water running off us!

24 pairs of legs wound their way through roads, paths, muck and water with Kevin and Andy in their shorts and ponchos seeking out the sunshine. ‘Sure it’s better to let the water hit your legs than wet your trousers’ – seemed like a good idea until the water had filled the walking boots. Andy being the wise man changed socks and shoes en route!!

The best quip of the day must be, ‘I say Joe that’s a fierce big cow in thon field’. ‘Sufferin’ Mick Martin that’s not a cow, that’s a horse’. They have now introduced mandatory drug testing of the Tyrone contingent after that exchange…

We have laughed til tears ran down our faces nearly as bad as the water running down every hill on the 18 km which we covered to Neda today. However the lovely meal washed down by local wine with good craic has lifted our spirits to face the thunderstorms predicted for tomorrow!


Some serious walking today with a few challenging hills but oh we were so lucky with the weather. It was a beautiful day for walking after all the rain yesterday. We covered 16 km with a few stops reaching our destination another port Pontedeume about 2pm giving us time to explore this little town.

The scenery today was wonderful as we walked from the urban setting we had experienced from the start of our journey to the vast unspoiled countryside with orange and lemon trees in abundance. One special moment came when Joe left a miniature owl on one of the Camino walls in remembrance of Geraldine RIP. The tranquility of the countryside was a great place for reflection. The day finished with another of Joe’s quizzes – the all male team of Martin, Kevin, Mickey and Paddy sneaking home by a point.

An even earlier start tomorrow as the mileage increases and the treat of thunderstorms still looms for the afternoon.


Today was tough!! Not one of the 24 walkers will dispute this statement I can confidently state. Within 5 minutes of starting out this morning at 8. 30am we were climbing up, up, up and this ascent took at least 30 minutes before we had any levelling off for a short period and then it was up up again.

The views were spectacular as you can imagine. However, tough as it was going up, coming down steep gradients was even more painful on the toes, balls of the feet and knees. But the rain stayed off til we reached Betanzos between 2pm and 4pm – depending which group you fell into- the fast, the faster or the snails (who do get there)!

The luckiest pair today has to be The Gannons! The roads are narrow tracks and meeting traffic is a hazard. One such lorry came towards our group and we all stepped in to let it through. Moving on, an unmerciful bang was heard which made The Gannons jump as two huge trees rolled off the lorry landing feet from them. A terrifying experience but thankfully neither were injured…

On we trudged as the legs began to feel the impact of the uneven surfaces but the chat was great and the miles clocked up. Anne McCann bought up the stock of salt in the local shop when we reached our destination to pamper tired feet and aching limbs.

Tomorrow sees an extra 10 km on today’s total so the starting time has to be 8am!!!!


The quote from Andy MC Callin totally sums up this day. “In my entire football and hurling life I have never done anything harder than this”. Rain, wind, thunder, lightening muck, clabber, anything that you could imagine was thrown at us as we tried to beat our way for 30-long kilometres. It was horrendous. When we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did! We covered miles and miles of what were referred to as dirt tracks in the notes but were trenches full of muck and thick clabber with the pelting rain.

As Pat McKeraghan so rightly said, “we now know what it was like for soldiers in the trenches during the wars”. Poor Josephine she ended up suspended mid air as Maria grabbed her back pack as she slid into one such trench. Patricia fell awarkardly on her shoulder while Martin finished it off landing on his back! Our feet were now a ton weight but the smell was worse as we carried it for miles when that dirt track was left behind.

However, one story to be told and retold is the story of the lost sheep. One pilgrim was travelling alone in total tranquility away from the invoices, insurance requests, pay-pal and membership fees when nearing the 29km he discovered he was off piste!!! With no notes to guide him he did the only thing he could do….. Ring Maria! “I’m totally lost. Can you get a map and find Buscar as that’s on a sign post here”. Mind you this was in torrential rain with me in the trenches!

Maps were of no value. He was completely lost! But all those prayers to Padre Pio were answered as there on that lonely road appeared two angels in the shape of Clare and Maura who also had missed the turn and headed 3km in the wrong direction. Together they high jacked a Galician farmer who drove them to their hotel where Gerry and Anne were arriving on foot totally exhausted wet and shaking with cold.
It was a day none of us will ever forget but we are thankful to be back to face another gruelling 29 km tomorrow


After our gruelling day yesterday, we were slightly apprehensive as we gathered in the foyer at 8am, but like the stalwarts that The Johnnies are,we knew that we would meet the opposition with our usual gusto! Paddy, our weather correspondent had the forecast as usual and as he hasn’t been wrong as yet or so he tells us!!! Scattered showers and cloudy skies we could manage. Good old Irish weather!

The 29km ahead certainly was daunting but taking off without rain in our faces was bliss.This was probably the first time we got straight onto the way without any ambiguity! However the walking notes did their job until we came to Sigueiro very tired, expecting our destination to be close but almost an hour later we were still trying to find Hotel San Vicente. We walked mile after mile of straight road today which went on and on and on and the feet felt the impact of the hard ground. Personally though give me black roads to the trenches any day, monotony or no monotony! When the notes said ‘dirt track’ hearts fell, as we knew we were into the forest and the muck and the clabber round every bend.

Everyone agreed the way was tough but manageable, as the gradients were nothing compared to yesterday but legs were weary, faces wind swept and blisters of all sizes yearned for a hot bath as in 4s or 6s we trudged forward to the final destination.

Stories were exchanged over the pilgrims dinner…… many ways can you serve cabbage soup????? Joe finished this evening with another quiz and 20 pilgrims pitted their wits together with The Hares the winners tonight. Wee Pat, Cate, Bro and Peter…….always out in front both on the field of play and off.

Tomorrow is the final stretch as we finally reach Santiago de Compostela our journey’s end. Guess what? Paddy has forecasted rain all morning!!!


And the Lord rested on Day 7 but not us!!! Today was the final leg of our journey. Our hopes, dreams, planning and anticipation would come to fruition as we were now 11km from our final destination. The psychology was clear ‘Sure it’s like our Tuesday walks with Rambling Retirees Lambeg to Titanic quarter’ said Gerry McCann’. We all laughed as we will never ever think that any length of the tow-path will be difficult in the future!!

True to form the rain was pelting off the ground as we gathered together decked out in wet gear from head to toe but at least we were warm as this had to be the coldest place we ever stayed. This hotel certainly wasn’t a Phoenix Gas customer and their oil tank obviously had dried up as there was no hot water, freezing rooms and the only chattering over dinner came from 24 sets of teeth. Thankfully no one got pneumonia but sure Doc Martin would have been on hand ……that is if we could find him!

The Camino 3 always took off behind everyone as they had to track down their comrade but they always ended in a group ahead of The Snails or The Rear Guard if you are still in the trenches!
The path winded between tarmac roads and the forest trail with a few lengths of muck to remind us of the harder times which were now a memory for socialising. In less than 3 hours all the groups The Hares, The Hounds, The Tortoises, The Snails (2nd to arrive) and The Camino Kids (1st!!!!).

I will always remember Paddy standing in the square before the cathedral with the biggest smile waving us to the final shell. What an emotional feeling.

Mary’s Camino diary was originally published on the St John’s GAA Belfast website:

For more information about the Camino de Santiago routes or Camino group tours, contact our travel specialists

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