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The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims from kevin-ohara.com

Several years ago I read a delightful memoir that took 25 years to write. Last of the Donkey Pilgrims, by Kevin O’Hara, tells the story of the author’s mad decision, as a young man, to trek around the entire coastline of Ireland, traveling on foot with his donkey named Missy, pulling a cart. Poor Kevin was on foot, in part, because he is a softhearted man who couldn’t bring himself to force this very stubborn, temperamental creature to carry him along with all his gear but also, because he wanted to make the trip in the span of a year and Missy would have none of it unless he walked beside her!

In 1979, Kevin O’Hara was a restless man, dealing with the emotional impact of the horrors he had witnessed during his time spent serving in Vietnam and looking for a way to move forward in his life.  An Irish-American who had a life-long loving relationship with the West of Ireland, his Irish granny and other relatives and friends there, he had a yearning to connect with the land of his roots in a way he felt he could only accomplish by traveling slowly, in the old style of donkey and cart, which by that time was a rarely seen spectacle. He knew the old ways of Ireland would soon be a thing of the past and wanted to experience the country and its people fully before the changes already taking place, were complete. Through Mr. O’Hara’s recollections of his adventure, we get a glimpse of a time now past in a land where doors would still open for a stranger with a story to tell.

The first few chapters describe the decision making process, preparation for the long, demanding trip – which included purchasing and learning how to care for Missy – and the bemused reaction of the locals to the idea of this American traveling with a donkey and cart around their country! However, for me the book really took off after Kevin bid Granny farewell and began the yearlong excursion with Missy along the highways and winding boreens, bóithríní, of Ireland. Once the trek begins, we are treated to the characters and scenery of an adventure, which was physically challenging, sometimes quite dangerous, very often hilarious and contained moments of spiritual insight. For the author, it became a life changing, character-building journey that brought joy back into his life. Readers are provided soulful and vivid descriptions of the passing countryside and its inhabitants from the viewpoint of a person enthralled with the land of his ancestry. A master storyteller, Mr. O’Hara’s often self-deprecating sense of humor, dry wit and vast appreciation of detail, provides wonderful anecdotes about the landscape, characters and the sometimes-awkward incidents, which occur along the way.

A favorite anecdote for me came from Kevin’s unusual opportunity to spend some time along the route with a group of Travelers, or Tinkers. This experience, along with the author’s interpretation, gives readers a rare glimpse into an often misunderstood and disparaged culture. Another gem in the book occurred during a late night hike ‘home’ from a pub through a rural field, were he stumbled (almost literally) upon an elderly woman laying in the grass, gazing up at the night sky and praying the rosary by using the stars as rosary beads, the way she was taught by her parents as a small child many years past. That chance meeting, followed by her send off of, “Slán abhaile agus oíche mhaith”, safe home and good night, was haunting and magical. Along with these incidents and many others, an important and poignant thread throughout Kevin’s journey was his evolving relationship with Missy, his donkey, which begins a bit shaky, but grows much deeper as they develop a mutual bond of coexistence and reliance upon each other. All in all, Kevin O’Hara comes across, as a very sensitive, spiritual man who brings these events, and characters to life in a way that stayed with me long after the book was finished.

A Lucky Irish Lad

I am very happy to learn that Kevin O’Hara’s second book, A Lucky Irish Lad, is due to be released this month and can now be ordered through Amazon. To experience a bit of Mr. O’Hara’s wonderful storytelling talents go to his website at,  http://www.kevin-ohara.com/ If you click on “Events” you will be provided with audio of the author telling four wonderful stories from his childhood.

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