The Head of IT Sligo’s School of Science has completed a poignant and gruelling outdoor expedition, climbing the three highest mountains in Britain, in memory of a family member who died while attempting the same challenge fifty years ago.
Dr Jeremy (Jerry) Bird and his 17-year-old son Paddy climbed Mount Snowdon in Wales on June 13th, Scafell Pike in Cumbria the following day and Ben Nevis in Scotland on June 15th.
Jerry set himself the gruelling task, which involved 11,000 feet of climbing, in honour of his brother Paddy, who died while attempting the very same challenge on the same dates in 1966.
Both Jerry and Paddy were born and raised in Finchley, north London, to parents from Loughrea in Co. Galway and Suffolk in England.
Paddy Bird died climbing Scafell Pike in 1966.
A straight A student who went to the University of Birmingham in 1965 to study chemistry, Paddy decided to take the three peaks challenge at the end of his first year. He set about the daunting climbs with a friend, Kevin Prendergast, to raise money for charities as part of RAG week.
“When Paddy took on the challenge my mother feared all the driving involved,” Jerry recalls. “But we never thought that they could get in trouble on the mountains in the summer.
“We were so wrong. They completed Snowdon on June 13, 1966 and drove straight to Scafell that late afternoon. Paddy and Kevin went up Scafell at 4pm in runners and t-shirts and were never seen alive again.”
The students’ bodies were found by the mountain rescue team the following morning, on June 14th.
“Both had twisted ankles and were incorrectly dressed for the bitter conditions they encountered on the mountain,” Jeremy explains.
“They must have sat down with exhaustion after the weather closed in and they’d became lost and drifted off to sleep, finally dying from hypothermia,” he added.
50 years later, Jerry completed the climb in memory of his brother, with the help of his son Paddy, who will also did the climb, and the support of wife Dorothy and their two other children Kitty and Charlie back home in Sligo.
“My son Paddy and decided to repeat the entire three peaks climb and finish it – provided my dodgy knee held up,” Jeremy said.
Jerry still has the compass and maps that Paddy and Kevin used on the day they died in 1966.
Father and son prepared well for their three peaks climb and ensured they had the proper equipment, food supplies and navigational aids, but there were challenging moments.
“Even though we were well wrapped up, it was bitterly cold on Ben Nevis and a lot of people were turning around.”
However, Jerry and Paddy kept going, and completed their challenge.
“It was a poignant way to remember my brother. My son is obviously named after him and it was emotional to think that a little bit of his genetics made it to the top.”
Dr Jerry Bird, Head of the School of Science at IT Sligo, with his son Paddy, after reaching the top of Scafell Pike in Cumbria, England’s highest mountain.