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Mongol Rally diaries: Paddy Thunder’s charitable thrill ride

Some fundraisers shake buckets, others travel 7,000 kilometres to Mongolia in a Nissan Micra.

Written by Ciarán D'Arcy and posted in opinion

This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for please contact

"As we were going along people were sidling up beside us in their cars, leaning out the windows and giving us gifts going at 120 km/ph."

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Fundraising for a charity can be a hugely fulfilling experience. Whether it’s shaking a bucket with mates, going on sponsored walks or runs, or organising table quizzes, it’s a great feeling knowing that you’re raising funds for a worthy cause while having the craic with your mates at the same time.

Having been involved in fundraising since his secondary school days, Paddy Thunder decided to take his charitable efforts one step (or 7,000 kilometres) further when he and a couple of pals embarked on an epic four week journey to far-off Mongolia in a clapped-out 1999 Nissan Micra.

The rollercoaster experience saw them meet a helpful family of Austrian rally car enthusiasts, some death-defyingly friendly Iranians, and even an Irish-speaking native of Outer Mongolia. And best of all, it was all in aid of the Fr Peter McVerry trust, a foundation which helps homeless people who are looking to get their lives back on track.

“Through doing the annual Christmas time Sleepout on the streets of Dublin with Belvedere College and the McVerry Trust, we found that the homeless people themselves had such a high opinion of Fr Peter McVerry,” says Paddy, who managed to recruit flatmate Lorcan Smith and fellow DCU head Diarmaid Keane to join him on his three-man Micra Management team that set off from the London starting point on July 20 last.

“Talking about him they were saying how they know Fr Peter personally, and how he’s always on the streets interacting with them. That’s the reason why we went on to raise money for the trust by doing the Mongol Rally,” adds Paddy.

It was a gargantuan task that faced the lads right from the very off, and their efforts weren’t helped by a complete engine failure in a remote region of the Austrian Alps within the first three days. The car had been spluttering for a while already, but when the intrepid trio heard a massive bang, they knew they were in real trouble.

“We knew it was dead then. We went to a truckstop nearby; he checked it and found a massive hole in the engine and we were told that it was completely gone,” says 26 year-old Paddy, a communications graduate who now works as an art director with an advertising agency.

“We had to try and find an identical ‘99 Nissan Micra engine, and we were in the middle of nowhere so we really thought that we didn’t have a hope. Then we found these guys who spoke German; they checked the equivalent of DoneDeal over there, and they found the exact same engine within 50 kilometres which we just couldn’t believe.”

Once they heard what the guys were up to, the Austrian family who owned the engine stayed up all night and used their expertise on rally car repair to fix Paddy’s Micra, and gave him and his crew a hefty discount at the end of it all.

From there, team Micra Management set off on their journey through the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey before they were afflicted with another major headache in the middle of a Turkmenistan desert. The entire axel and wheel had become detached from their plucky but road-weary Micra, leaving the lads with a 12 hour wait in 40 degree heat before their Turkmen tow truck driver kindly agreed to let them stay overnight in his house, and got his mate to fix their car for free.

Then it was on through Uzbekistan, before a memorable trip through Iran left the Micra Management crew with fond memories of the country’s inhabitants.

“Hands down, my favourite country was Iran. The people there are by far the friendliest people around. As we were going along people were sidling up beside us in their cars, leaning out the windows and giving us gifts going at 120 km/ph . Once they saw that we were foreign, they were giving us chocolate, biscuits, coffee etc. so at the end of every journey we had a car full of gifts!” says Paddy, who reserved special praise for one particularly dedicated admirer.

“This guy had spotted us on the road with the Irish flag miles back, and he then went home to pick up his son who spoke English, and they literally chased us to say hello. They offered for us to come back to theirs, so we went back- two hours in the wrong direction- and we spent the evening with this Iranian family who cooked us an amazing dinner and we watched telly with them after.”

To top it all off, Paddy and his mates were treated to the most random of encounters as they conversed as Gaeilge with a Mongolian man clad in a Chelsea shirt while on the finishing strait.

With some donations still to come in, they expect that the amount raised from their odyssey could top a whopping €3,000. According to Paddy, it’s all well and good having the banter of a lifetime on a road trip, but it’s also a great feeling knowing all that effort went to a good cause.

“Volunteering for charity is something that can be totally life-changing. To get all the experiences and meet so many new people, it’s an amazing thing to do. You can go on all sorts of holidays and they’re fun, but some of the experiences you get on these types of trips are so much more meaningful and fulfilling than what you’d get elsewhere.

“You’re having such an amazing time, but you’re also benefitting other people at the same time, so it’s a win-win situation for all involved.”

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Published October 22nd, 2014
Last updated March 14th, 2018
Tags travel volunteering fundraising charity
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