Dan completes Northern Ireland leg of coastal walk

28 September 2023

Former gunner Dan McNeil – on a fundraising walk around the entire UK coastline for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity – is back in England mainland having walked the coastline of Northern Ireland.

The Dumfries local set off on his personal journey of healing and fundraising more than two years ago.

Now 27, Dan joined the British Army at 16 and entered the Royal Artillery, but a combination of factors, including the diagnosis of debilitating autoimmune disease – Ankylosing Spondylitis – saw him leave the Army after five years, and led him to substance abuse and the brink of suicide.

Dan reached out for help, and SSAFA heard his call.

As Dan says: “I battled suicide, depression, and anxiety when I left the military back in 2017, and looking back, it’s amazing to see where I’ve came from and what I’ve achieved so far.

“I hope that whoever reads my story and are in a similar position to know that they can achieve anything if they put their mind to it and to seek help. One of the biggest realisations for me was realising that people want to help, and asking for help is a sign of strength, and not a sign of weakness.

And Dan, when stronger physically and spiritually, decided to repay SSAFA – and pay it forward for other servicemen and women – by embarking on his fundraiser in March 2021.

Of Northern Ireland, he comments: “From the vibrant city of Londonderry to the historic neighbourhoods of Falls and Shankill, and the breathtaking landscapes around Giants Causeway and The Gobbins coastal path, Northern Ireland’s geography is as diverse as its history.

“This region, nestled on the northeastern edge of the island of Ireland, is steeped in a rich cultural and archaeological legacy that spans thousands of years.

Dan notes, however, that this history has also left a deep-seated division among its people.

The legacy of religious and political tensions, most notably during the Troubles, has left a lasting mark on Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains a place where the past and the present are inextricably intertwined, with its scenic beauty contrasting the historical scars that linger beneath the surface.

Dan passed on his thanks to SSAFA volunteers and other he met during his time in Northern Ireland for their support, adding: “I look forward to seeing them again one day!.

A SSAFA Northern Ireland spokesperson said: “Dan is a great wee lad and waxing poetically over Northern Ireland is heartwarming, and we who met him were delighted by his persona and fortitude.

Dan will end his mammoth journey on November 18 on Sandyhills Beach, Dalbeattie, but before then, he has the remainder of the coastline of north-west England, the Isle of Man, and south-west Scotland to complete.

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