By Mark Walsh, Tuam Herald
BAWNMORE National School teacher Jonathan Beirne is delighted that he and his family can now fully celebrate being crowned Ireland’s Fittest Family for 2017, because the Co Leitrim native had to keep their victory under wraps for four months, which proved the hardest part of the whole process. The final of the fifth series of the hit RTÉ show aired on the Sunday evening of December 17. Only then did it become public knowledge that the Beirne family, from Mohill, had defeated the O’Connors from Wexford and the Smyths of Kildare to officially become Ireland’s Fittest Family and win the cash prize of €15,000.
However, that final actually took place on August 27. The first episode wasn’t released until October 29, meaning that Jonathan, who was part of the team that won the competition along with his father Michael, brother Keith and sister Dearbhaile, has had to keep his lips sealed in the months since.
“Yeah, that was hard because you’re only dying inside to tell people. We had to sign a confidentiality agreement, so we were basically the only ones who knew,” said Jonathan, a special education support teacher in Bawnmore NS, located a mile outside Claregalway.
“The first round was on June 24 and we competed in eight rounds in total. We were gone most weekends during the summer, usually either on a Saturday or a Sunday.
“You’d be on set filming from about 7 in the morning until about 8 or 9 at night, so you’d bond and develop a god camaraderie with the other families as well.”
When the competition started at the end of June, 12 families each comprising four team members entered hopeful of winning. One of the main concepts of the show is that a family is assigned a coach, all Irish sports stars who have enjoyed great success in their careers on both the national and international stage.
Davy Fitzgerald helped come up with the idea for Ireland’s Fittest Family, and has been a coach on each of the five series. The other coaches this year are all from Cork – Anna Geary, Derval O’Rourke and personal mentor for the Beirne Family Donnacha O’Callaghan, a former Munster and Ireland rugby legend who is in his final season as a professional playing with Worcestor Warriors in England.
The Beirnes had been on series three but were eliminated back then by the Davern family from Tullamore in Co Offaly, and then they entered again this time around, the first location they travelled to was Camden Fort Meagher in Crosshaven in Cork Harbourr.
By the time they got to the final, the Beirnes had to make their way to Killruddery in Co, Wicklow, The Smyth family, also mentored by Donnache O’Callaghan, were knocked out first, leaving the Beirnes and Davy Fitzgerald’s team, the O’Connors, to go head–to-head.
The deciding event forced the families to overcome 13 rigorous obstacles before reaching the finish line. An uphill course of 380 metres in length, the Beirnes had to scae three ten-foot walls before being declared Ireland’s Fittest Family for 2017.
“Donnache was a very positive guy to be around during the competition,” explained 23-year old Jonathan. “We got on great with him, and he did anything he could possibly do to help us. He’s been up to visit my parents’s pub in Mohill, and met up with all the family and friends.”
“The local community here and all the parents in the school were all very supportive of me when the show was on.” Jonathan Beirne started his post in Bawnmore NS this school year. He has been teaching county for two years, and is now enjoying life in Cregboy.