Harpist begins mission to break Guinness World Record on Mount Kilimanjaro

Siobhan Brady hopes to break a record she set in 2018 for the highest altitude harp performance.

Danielle Desouza
Thursday 20 July 2023 00:01 BST
Siobhan Brady is attempting to break a Guinness World Record title on Mount Kilimanjaro (Pat Falvey/Stephen Lappin)
Siobhan Brady is attempting to break a Guinness World Record title on Mount Kilimanjaro (Pat Falvey/Stephen Lappin)

A harpist has landed in Tanzania to begin a bid to beat her own Guinness World Record (GWR) – this time on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Siobhan Brady is to take on the hike on Thursday, having previously achieved the GWR for the highest altitude harp performance in 2018 at Singla Pass, India, at more than 16,000ft.

To beat her previous feat, she needs to play the harp for 18 minutes, with a Tanzanian jig which translates as Thank You Tanzania from Swahili on the set list, which was requested by composer Anne-Marie O’Farrell.

“When I got this message from her, I was like, I have to learn it,” the 24-year-old, who lives in Limerick, Ireland, told the PA news agency.

“I also need to figure out how to pronounce it because that would be very embarrassing if I butchered the pronunciation of it, but it is a very nice tune.”

Another song Ms Brady hopes to play is Ed Sheeran’s Little Bird, which has a special connection to Caroline Heffernan, a patient advocate at Cystic Fibrosis Ireland – the charity which funds raised from the hike will go to.

Ms Heffernan, who will be accompanying Ms Brady, has cystic fibrosis (CF).

Little Bird pays homage to Triona Priestley, a woman who died from CF in 2014, whose mother Ms Heffernan met.

“When (Triona) was sick in hospital and before she passed away, she used to write letters to Ed Sheeran, not necessarily expecting replies, but she got a few,” the 52-year-old, who lives in Galway, told PA.

“Triona’s friends were all texting and trying to get the attention of Ed Sheeran when she was in hospital and the phone rang and Colm (Triona’s brother) answered it.

“It was Ed and he sang Little Bird, which was her favourite song, and after the song was finished, the doctor put the stethoscope to her chest and said she’s passed.”

Ms Heffernan said it was important for Ms Priestley’s memory to also be honoured as part of the climb as she always wanted CF to stand for “cure found”.

The duo have been practising for the challenge by taking on monthly hikes, which have been organised by their fitness trainer and photographer Stephen Lappin over the course of 18 months, alongside fellow members of the “Kili crew”, who will take on the summit with them.

If those accompanying Ms Brady reach the top, they will receive participation GWRs.

Ms Heffernan said: “Training has been good – the legs are in good shape, the lungs are in good shape.

“And I’m just hoping that altitude won’t affect us – that’s the one thing at the back of my mind.”

The group has visited the Altipeak – a high altitude training gym in Dublin, Ireland – to prepare them for the conditions they will face on Kilimanjaro, which Ms Heffernan has been unable to attend due to the “sauna type environment” which is not advisable for people with CF.

Ms Brady has said that staff at the gym have been “lovely”.

“They brought the whole team up for a private group session and I’ve been given an altitude simulator machine, so I can experience altitude.

“I hook it up to this giant tent and I sleep at altitude now, which is very odd, but I’m getting really good at it.

“I’m down to about 12%, which is pretty comfy now and the altitude at the summit is about 10%.”

She added that the monthly training sessions the group takes on together have been “very fun”.

“We went to Tenerife, which was delightful, and climbed Mount Teide,” Ms Brady said.

Ms Heffernan said that one of her favourite moments from training has been reaching the top of Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland, in the snow.

“That was the big standout for me… we were huddling together on our knees, but the friendships made have been a real highlight – we’ve had giggles all the way through.”

The ladies added that they will be stocked up with snacks for the climb, which include jelly babies, lots of cereal bars and, “without a doubt”, chocolate.

Ms Heffernan will also be bringing some more sentimental items with her, including a bandana with Ed Sheeran’s Little Bird lyrics on it.

“I’ll be wearing that, and for me that’s a way of bringing all of my friends with me,” she said.

“I do have a little love heart that I’m going to pin to my bag that we got in the hospital when my mother-in-law died (in December 2022) because she was very proud of the fact that we were doing this.”

With the days before the group hopefully reaches the summit on July 25 looming, the pair are confident that the 10kg harp and spare harp will make it to the top in one piece.

“We have a fake harp which some team members bring up a lot of the time and have tried numerous methods to hike with it,” Ms Brady said.

“We’ve given all that information to the team in Africa who are using that information to figure out the best method.”

Pascale Harvie, president and general manager of JustGiving, said: “We at JustGiving are in awe of the Highest Harps team and the extreme lengths they’re going to in order to raise vital funds for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.”

The fundraising link can be accessed here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Highest-Harp

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