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Terry Prone: How the Walk of Dreams has inspired us to find a path back to better times

We're in the worst of times but not everybody is getting that depressing message.

In one town after another, the length and breadth of this country, people got out in the sunshine yesterday to march for something of no direct benefit to them, but of enormous benefit to the nation.

The Walk of Dreams was John Giles's idea. He wanted to "harness the great energy of the Irish football family" and by golly, he did it. In 14 different locations around the country, they hauled on their T-shirts, or in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's case, his hoodie.

Solidarity

In Dublin, 12,000 got together in Fitzwilliam Square and set off for the Aviva Stadium. They walked and talked and laughed and made money -- half of it for the John Giles Foundation and the other half going to their clubs. Famous celebs and people who may never see their picture in the paper walked.

New Irish and old Irish walked. Young fellows and old women walked side by side, underlining the sense of solidarity sport can bring.

The contrast between the 'good' times of the boom, and the 'bad' times of the recession couldn't have been clearer.

During those supposedly good years, people were cast loose and isolated. They were time-poor, fighting to get the next bonus or dividend.

It wasn't just Joe Duffy who attracted the complainers: every radio programme was awash in whingers who knew what they were entitled to (even if they weren't entitled to it at all) and were going to moan in high decibels if they didn't get it.

In theory, now that we're in the bad years, now that so many people have lost their jobs and even those lucky enough to be still employed are taking home much less money, that should have got worse. It hasn't.

Back then, the weather didn't matter much, because so many parents could take the kids for trips to the sun mid-term or stick a computer game in front of them. But there is no evidence that they were happier.

Now, a sunny day is like a celebration, and we talk about it with delight. Lovely, the warmth on the shoulders, isn't it? Meet you down by the canal at lunchtime? Families pack sandwiches, get on a bus, go to the seaside. Even in spring, beaches which used to be deserted are filled with fun and laughter.

It's not that Ireland has turned into a race of Pollyannas. The times are too harsh for easy optimism. One march yesterday wasn't about sport.

In the village of Ballyhea in north Cork, a small number of local people walked with signs demanding that there be no bailout for bondholders. They've been doing it for five weeks now. Quietly. Good-humouredly. Determinedly. It's not a whinge, made by one person in their own interest to a bored radio host. It's collective.

Community

Pensioners and kids walking together, rediscovering their sense of community. The marchers stress that it's not political. But of course, it IS political, in the best sense of the word: it's about people taking back the initiative from politicians.

Pulling huge numbers of individuals together to achieve a common goal demonstrates precisely the kind of leadership we thought we had lost.

Fair dues to John Giles, and to whoever got the Ballyhea marches started. It could be the beginning of a huge change.

For the past few years, the Irish people felt they lived in an economy, rather than a nation.

That they had been rendered helpless by the actions of developers and bankers.

Now, they've shaken that off. Joined together to reclaim power and potential. The sun's coming out again.