Whether you were a walker, a sponsor, or just an onlooker, it was impossible to avoid the charity walk fad of the early 1970s. The walks raised money and awareness for local, national, and international causes while promoting a sense of community. They were fun, non-competitive, and inclusive, but, in hindsight, probably unsafe. Routes were often on busy roads with no footpaths, while today’s crowd safety measures simply didn’t exist then.
Hindsight too throws a different light on the then darling of the charity walk scene, Jimmy Savile. The now known predatory sex offender was a celebrity DJ and TV star, famous for his fundraising activities. In early 1968, Lady Valerie Goulding, chair of the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) met Savile in London, and together they set up the annual CRC walk to raise funds for the CRC clinic in Clontarf. Savile became the flag bearer for the walk and from 1968 to 1981, he travelled to Dublin each year to lead the thousands of walkers from Middle Abbey Street to Baldoyle.
The success of the inaugural 1968 CRC walk inspired others to do the same. The CBSI Boy Scouts, for example, launched their annual Big Big Charity Walk in the same year, while Gorta got in on the act with their Freedom From Hunger Walk. But soon, there were too many walks. The scene reached saturation point, and the public lost interest. The CRC walk was the exception. It continued to attract crowds of over 10,000 through its fourteen-year run. However, it eventually ended in 1982 when it became the ‘Celebrity Jogathon’.
The photo above, taken by Michael O’Reilly on Sunday, 3rd May,1970, shows the CRC walk at the James Larkin Road about two miles from the finish in Baldoyle, where a free Dickie Rock concert awaited the tired walkers. (To clarify, Dickie wasn’t in prison; the gig had no admission charge.) The following day, the Evening Herald (lifetime sponsor of the CRC walk) reported that 25,000 people took part in the walk, including special guests James Mason, Ulick O’Connor, and Ronnie Delany.
I’ve studied the photo but, alas, I can’t spot the famous English actor or the other VIPs in the crowd. However, if you look through the Dublin Bay mist, you can make out the newly constructed Poolbeg chimney. Just the one, all by itself. It would take eight more walks to Baldoyle before the second chimney (1978) came into view.
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro