When they circle the track as part of the 24 hour Relay for Life initiative next month, the Ray Walking Group will be in familiar step but will be without a familiar presence.

At Christmas time, they mourned the passing of stalwart member, Julie Casey, who passed away from the disease that forms the very theme of the annual event staged in Letterkenny.

And having decided to enter a team for this year’s Relay the group they were inevitably going to walk under the banner of ‘In Memory of Julie’ in tribute to the popular Milford woman.

The late Julie Casey

The Ray Walking group has been in existence for the past eight years. “At first we would walk along some of the country roads in the Rathmullan area and then head to the Community Centre for a cuppa afterwards.

“But then the group got bigger and we branched out to other areas. And we do, and did, walks in Fanad, took the ferry over to Buncrana, have walked in Ramelton, Milford, Dunfanaghy, Creeslough, Ards, Letterkenny, Churchill and Glenveagh,” says Joan Cowan.

They have even travelled overseas – Arranmore, Gola, and Inishbofin islands forming part of the walking routes!

Anywhere in fact there is a walk – and in Donegal there are a lot of options – you might find the Ray Walking Group on a good day and some not so good days.

Ray Walking Group

It was another member, Mary Durning, who invited Julie Casey (nee Hannigan) to join the group. “We taught together in the same school in Milford, Scoil Mhuire, for twenty-seven years.

“And then when she retired, I mentioned that I was going to join the walking group and asked her would she be interested and she said she would.

“Julie was a very sociable person. She loved people, loved company and was very open and generous with her time and gave of her time to the community. She was a member of the St Vincent de Paul in Milford and did so much for the local area. You couldn’t fall out with her, she was just a lovely person.”

But life was to hand Julie and her family and friends the cruellest of hands. In the summer of 2023, she was diagnosed with cancer and two days after Christmas, she passed away at the age of seventy-five.

“Julie was the first person from our group we lost to cancer and so we thought it fitting that we should name our team in Relay for Life in memory of her.”

As part of the fund-raising efforts for the Relay initiative, the Ray Walking Group has organised coffee mornings and have lined up another one at the ‘Sip and Slice’ outlet on the Shore Road in Ramelton on Friday May 10th.

“Nicky Hanlon has offered us his premises for it and we’re very grateful to him.”

The coffee morning will run from 11.a.m. to 2.p.m. on the day and all are welcome.

Meanwhile, preparations continue for the 24 hour Relay for Life event that takes place on Saturday and Sunday, May 25th and 26th at the A.T.U. campus in Letterkenny.

“Milford Athletic Club are very kindly providing us with a gazebo for the weekend and we are in the process of making up hampers to give away as prizes in a raffle draw. They can be anything from beauty products to food hampers and we’ll be selling tickets on the day.”

The Ray Walking Group is also fortunate in having a few seamstresses in their midst who are currently busy putting together a banner for the occasion featuring the team name.

The Relay for Life initiative is one the group aspire to. “It brings a lot of hope to people and while it remembers those who have passed on, it’s also a celebration of life,” says Joan.

“It will give us the chance to meet other groups and listen to people tell their stories. We are truly looking forward to it.”

And keenly anticipating the entertainment aspect of the event. “We know there are a great variety of singers and musicians lined up for it and then there’s the Survivors Choir under Donal Kavanagh who are really inspirational.”

Just as the Ray Walking Group is – and the woman they will honour over Relay weekend.

Relay For Life Donegal are holding a series of information nights about the fundraiser, for Cancer Survivors, for those living with cancer, for all currently going through treatment, together with their family and friends.