Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, T.D., at the launch of Marianne Du Toit's book Crying with Cockroaches : Argentina to New York with two Horses on Thursday, 16 November, 2006 at 7:15 p.m. in 15 St Stephen's Green.
It is a pleasure for me to be with you all tonight to launch Marianne Du Toit's book Crying with Cockroaches. The book illustrates the highs and lows, the adventure and colour of a journey of a lifetime.
John Amatt once said, "Adventure isn't hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life - facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown and in the process, discovering our own unique potential." These sentiments echo clearly throughout Marianne's fantastic account of her adventure, which she aptly called the 'Travel Across the Americas Challenge'. This book tells that extraordinary story, beautifully, simply and honestly.
For Marianne, her decision to travel to South America to fulfil a cherished dream was inspired by the writer, Aimé Tschiffely, who undertook the most famous equestrian journey of the 20th Century.
And so Marianne set about the daunting task of travelling alone on horseback from Argentina to New York.
Both Tschiffely and Marianne's travels were motivated by their love of horses and adventure. In many ways, they experienced the same emotions, endured the same hardships and were exposed to the same dangers. They both enjoyed new cultures and sights along their respective paths. But, ultimately, their destinations and their missions were poles apart.
This book charts Marianne's unique adventure beginning in May 2002 and ending in the pomp and ceremony of the New York St. Patrick's Day parade two years on. She shares with us her many experiences through pictures, dialogue and insightful accounts from her travel diary.
Marianne did not expect her journey would occupy almost two years of her life. In many ways, it was a journey into the unknown - with all of the expectation that rare adventures bring. Starting out with 5,000 miles before her, she did not anticipate that her journey would have an impact beyond its scale or that it would bring forward such a positive message.
Tschiffely may have inspired a future generation to explore and follow in his footsteps. But figuratively speaking, Marianne had gone that extra mile. In one sense, her adventure is not even yet at an end. Her love for animals and her time spent in the sole company of her loyal equine companions motivated her to an even higher calling.
What some might find astonishing is the fact that Marianne set out with limited riding ability. She knew only one person in the whole of South America. She did not speak Spanish. She only brought one change of riding clothes. Add to this an isolated track across a land of many extremes where food and basic necessities were often at a premium - and what do you get? The travel and fiction writer, Paul Theroux summed up such adventures eloquently when he said, "Travel is glamorous only in retrospect." And I think that the book's title itself and the imagery it evokes attest to this sentiment.
But that is at first glance. For a start, this backdrop of struggle proves that Marianne got enormous support for her adventure, both corporate and personal, whether it was by way of encouragement or by physically providing for her needs. And I know she is ever grateful for the kindness and generosity shown to her on every turn. Look even more closely and the photos tell a story of excitement, diversity and immersion in new cultures with all of the colour, warmth and hospitality that Marianne was fortunate to experience.
An optimist by nature, Marianne was filled with an undying confidence in the future. Her journey was all about what can be done and how we can tap into hidden potential within ourselves. In that way, it focuses on ability rather than disability. She has more than proved that with courage, conviction and hope, barriers to the impossible can be broken down and our dreams truly can become reality. This is one of Marianne's principal messages in the book. Already, throughout her journey she has touched the lives of many people inspiring them with a positive message of hope.
It is remarkable that she, like so many, set out with nothing other than adventure on her mind. Over time, the adventure was clearly transformed into something much nobler. Since her journey, Marianne's energies have been channelled into the Pegasus Project in Sligo and into realising a new premises and indoor arena for Equestrian therapeutic riding there. The many physical, emotional and psychological benefits that can result from contact with animals are already widely known. Though a fairly new concept to Ireland, equestrian therapy has grown in popularity in many countries across the globe.
Pegasus is an excellent voluntary organisation. It has committed itself to providing therapeutic horse riding for people with a disability. It has given children and adults the opportunity to build confidence, improve balance, co-ordination, spatial organisation and communication skills in an environment of fun, relaxation and connection with the animals. I know that the HSE provided some funding towards the centre already but it relies heavily also on the generosity of volunteers.
Pegasus has already gained significant recognition for its services. And just as she realised her own dream of successfully completing her journey across a continent, Marianne wants to see this dream come true for the users of the Pegasus Centre. I hope that in time, Marianne's mission will open up new horizons for people with special needs or disabilities and shine a spotlight on the value of Equestrian Therapy going forward.
In her book, she talks with great affection of all her horses whose loyal support saw her through to the finish. And this brings us to the second powerful message in her book - our duty of care to the animal kingdom and of the loyalty and love, which they offer us in return.
When she first came to Ireland eleven years ago to see Funghi the dolphin, I am sure Marianne never imagined that her strong love for animals would yield such sterling results. But life takes many unseen paths, in her case, from the remotest regions of South America and ultimately into the lives and futures of children and adults with a disability. Her commitment to such a worthy cause as equestrian therapy in this country makes her participation in the St. Patrick's Day Parade a most fitting finale to her extraordinary journey.
I would like to wish Marianne every success with this book.
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