On December 30, 2002, to mark the 400th anniversary of the exodus of the O’Sullivan Beare clan from West Cork to Leitrim, a group of 40 people begin walking the entire 260-mile route which takes them through eleven counties over a two week period. Over the course of 15 days, the route takes them through Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Offaly, Galway, Roscommon and Sligo.
The group, including O’Sullivan Beare descendants from the United States, set out from the ruins of Dunboy Castle, Castletownbere, which was the seat of the chieftain Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare and was destroyed after the defeat of the Irish and Spanish forces in the Battle of Kinsale in 1602. Author Deirdre Purcell launches the march at 9:00 AM. The group meets up with others from Tuosist and Kenmare in the oak woods near Glengarriff in the evening to commemorate the gathering of the clan from the peninsula before setting off for Leitrim on their winter march exactly four hundred years earlier.
The group averages 15 miles per day, with the longest leg being 30 miles and the shortest just 6.5 miles. Many join the walk for local legs.
Among the walkers setting out for the entire route is Dara O’Sullivan, age 21, the first O’Sullivan in 400 years to walk the historic route, according to Jim O’Sullivan, the co-ordinator of the project. The chieftain of the O’Sullivan clan, Michael O’Sullivan, also participates in the march.
The walkers carry two wooden staffs upon which brass rings from each town and village along the route are placed. The clan staffs of each area are also collected. Of the 1,000 people who originally set out 400 years earlier, only 35, among them only one woman, arrive at their destination.
In the summer of 2002 a series of festivals and events supported by national tourism, heritage and cultural as well as community organisations are organised in recognition of the O’Sullivan Beare march.