John Burke on the top of Mount Everest with the Clare flag. John Burke

Everest mountaineer John Burke returned to a rousing welcome at Shannon Airport today, this after flying in a plane that flew at an altitude that he was standing at just last week.

The Clare climber reached the summit of Mount Everest on Tuesday, May 16 and there unfurled a Banner County flag.

Burke’s triumph came just a few days before tragedy struck the world’s highest peak with the death of three climbers and a fourth reported missing.

 Arriving back at sea level at Shannon, Burke dedicated his climb to his wife Aoibhín and the cause the couple have championed – encouraging young people through personal challenges.

Just six days after he became the first County Clare man to reach the summit, the 38 year-old said that he would never have achieved his goal without his wife Aoibhín’s encouragement and support.

The couple’s motivation for John taking on the challenge was the hope that it would act an example to young people to chase their dreams.

John, the proprietor of one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s best known hotels, the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point, and Aoibhín, have established a charity called “Elevate.”

John Burke arriving at Shannon with his wife, Aoibhín, who had boarded the aircraft to greet him. Photo by Arthur Ellis Photography.

John Burke arriving at Shannon with his wife, Aoibhín, who had boarded the aircraft to greet him. Photo by Arthur Ellis Photography.

It promotes wellbeing among young people and provides encouragement to them to reach their potential and follow their dreams in life.

Burke said that the mental health of young people, and the challenges posed by blunt end of social media, were amongst the greatest issues facing Ireland today.

“I owe everything to my wife Aoibhín for supporting me on this as it was a huge sacrifice for her to make and suffice to say that her gift of golf clubs is a hint that’s not lost on me,” Burke said.

“I clearly wanted to prove something personally in making it to the top but the big reason for this, and it’s not unrelated, is that I wanted to send a message to young people that they all have the potential to achieve in life.  There will be hills to climb along the way, but they just have to hang in there and their day will come for sure.”

And John continued: “Growing up I didn’t achieve in GAA like others did and GAA was the only real thing back then for us in West Clare. But I have proved in doing this that here’s something for everyone.

“Young people, in particular, really need to believe in that because right now they are probably more challenged than ever. 

“Research has shown that one in five young Irish adults between the ages of 19 and 24 and one in six young people between 11 and 13 have mental health issues.

“There’s a variety of reasons for that but certainly social media is one of them.  Social media is a magnificent platform for getting positive news out but it can destroy young people in an instant, especially those going through a difficult stage.  We really need to tackle that and it’s a big question but something has to be done. 

“As a family we had our own tragedy with a mental health issue and that has spurred Aoibhín and I to establish ‘Elevate.’  We’re not going to change the world with it, but it’s our contribution and climbing Everest has given us a platform to raise awareness in Clare about this issue.”

With the charity, the couple hopes to raise funds for different wellbeing promotional initiatives, including workshops in Clare secondary schools – the first one starting in September - that will target raising self-esteem of young people through different medium, including song and dance.

John was greeted on arrival at Shannon by over two hundred supporters from across Clare.

He flew back to Shannon from Kathmandu in Nepal via Abu Dhabi and London, landing in Shannon on an Aer Lingus flight from Heathrow. 

In addition to family members, Irish government Minister of State at the Department of Jobs Innovation and Enterprise, Pat Breen, family friend Deputy Timmy Dooley, and Shannon Group CEO Matthew Thomas were among the official welcoming party.

Said John in reference to the Everest tragedy: “It took everything I had to get there and it’s bitter sweet also as just this weekend three people lost their lives trying to do the same thing. I know how lucky I am to be here today and my heart goes out to their families, not least now I’m back here on solid ground in Shannon and Clare with mine.”

Looking ahead, he said:  “I was asked what I was really looking forward to eating when I got back home and the bacon and cabbage is in the pot for tonight, along with a lot of rest.

“There’s a party arranged for the Armada on Friday night and the local GAA club in Milltown Malbay, which we sponsor, are putting on a reception before that. But in the meantime it’s spending time with Aoibhín and the family.”

Said Shannon Group CEO Matthew Thomas:  “It’s an incredible achievement and duly acknowledged by the large crowd here today. He put the County Clare flag on top of the world’s tallest mountain, that’s no mean achievement.

“But to do so to help raise awareness of the issues facing young people today is even more inspirational.  It’s such a pressing cause and we are very fortunate here to have someone willing to take it on in a way that John and, indeed, Aoibhín have.”

Said an Aer Lingus spokesperson:  “Aer Lingus would like to congratulate John Burke on being the first Clare man to successfully reach the summit of Mount Everest. We hope his flight at 30,000 feet from London to Shannon was a little easier than scaling the near 30,000 feet of Everest. Welcome home John.”

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This article first appeared in the Irish Echo. For more, visit their website