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Sunday 21 September 2014

Orla Tinsley: The friends and family of Triona Priestly who helped make her Ed Sheeran dream come true

Orla Tinsley

Published 06/04/2014 | 08:59

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Ed Sheeran sang to Triona Priestley over the phone
Ed Sheeran sang to Triona Priestley over the phone
Triona Priestley
Ed Sheeran

Last Sunday Killian Zambra was at a football match when he got a call from one of his best friends Lucy Hanlon.

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She was calling to say their beloved friend, Triona Priestley, was not doing well.

The 15-year-old from Clonsilla in Dublin was fighting end stage cystic fibrosis in the ICU of Temple Street Children's Hospital and her condition had deteriorated.

The two 16-year-olds met up and walked to Lucy's house where some of their classmates were already hanging out wondering what to do.

"As we sat there more and more people just kept turning up. After about an hour and a half of tears we realised that crying wouldn't help her, tears wouldn't make it better," said Killian. "The most important thing was to lift her spirits. Healthy spirits would keep her fighting."

The group of now 25 teenagers talked it through.

They knew Ed Sheeran was Triona's favorite singer and decided they would try and get him to sing a song for her. Twitter would be the most direct way.

At 6pm, the teenagers started tweeting #SongForTri to Sheeran's account.

"People didn't know how much they could really do until someone remembered they had a relative in Poland and they contacted her," said Killian.

Within a few minutes the students reached out to relatives and friends in Cyprus, the UK and in the US asking them to help spread the word on twitter.

By now they were sprawled across Lucy's living room. Some huddled together on couches while others stood leaning against walls towering above those curled up on the floor. All eyes remained downward, glued to their mobile phones. Parents filtered in and out with pizza and supplies, keeping an eye on the hard working and heartbroken teenagers.

"It helped them cope with the situation because they were together," said Killian's mother Aine. "I am so proud of all of them."

Four-and-a-half hours later the students reckon they had amassed some 40,000 tweets. At 11.30pm parents ushered the reluctant teenagers home to rest.

They awoke the next morning to news of success.

Early on Monday morning Sheeran replied to the hashtag asking what it was his fans needed. Impressively he tweeted Lucy that he would get it sorted. He just needed to know what they wanted. He tweeted @Trionaaa 'Get Well Soon dude, I'll see you when I'm over in October xxx'. But the importance of time weighed heavily upon her friends.

"Lucy DM'd Ed's manager Stuart on twitter who was trying to help. We knew October was too far away, that she might not be around," said Killian

The turned to the power of social media again and kept tweeting #SongForTri

The inspiring group of friends wanted to do more. They asked their school principal if they could sing a song in school for Triona. The principal held an emergency assembly announcing anyone who wanted to sing could meet at lunch time in the Music room. So many people turned up they had to move to the much larger canteen after the rehearsal.

Students poured in to the bustling post lunch area with guitars, ukuleles and whatever else they could find.

"Suddenly there were so many people. It took those with instruments about half an hour to learn the tune and then we sang Little Bird in her honour," said Killian.

At this point #SongForTri had been attracting attention across the internet and I contacted Triona's brother Colm.

Her brother and I spent time in hospital together as children and I remember Triona when she was only a few months old being cradled  in Temple Street Hospital.

She contacted me some years ago after watching me talk about campaigning for Cystic Fibrosis on television.

In her email she said she wanted to be a writer too and raise awareness about CF. She described the difficulties she was going through with humour and grace. It was one of the most heartfelt emails I had ever received.

With her family's permission I wrote about her final wish here on @independent.ie and contacted anyone I thought could help. But it was these 25 teenagers from Dublin who were relentless in pursuit of what Triona's friend Lucy calls 'Triona's mission' that got Sheeran's attention and they kept it.

On Tuesday morning her classmates arrived into school wearing purple - the colour associated with CF awareness in Ireland. Four of the group had done an interview on a local radio station the night before and it went out that morning. "Just before the pre-record we had heard she was doing a little better so were feeling positive," said Killian.

At lunch time the students went home but soon arrived back to school with the heaviest hearts. "One of the girls got a text to say what happened. That Ed had sang her to sleep."

Triona had passed away shortly after the popstar sang to her.

On that day Sheeran's album filled her room in ICU non stop. The only time they stopped the music was when the call came through.

It was shortly after 12.

Colm, Triona's brother, turned the phone on loudspeaker and held it up to her ear.

Her hero, Ed Sheeran, sang Little Bird down the phone to her as she slipped away.

She was surrounded by all of those that loved her dearly. Unquestionably it is love itself that is the greatest gift anyone can be given.

Lucy, Killian and the students of Castleknock Community College are irrefutable evidence of the power of such unstoppable love once it takes flight. And Sheeran the wind upon which a dream of such magnitude can be trusted. He cannot be thanked enough for his kindness.

Triona's incredible classmates now plan to raise awareness of Cystic Fibrosis in her honour. T

hey say their main aim is to continue 'Triona's mission'. The young women are hoping to run the mini- marathon in June and the young men are hoping to have a marathon football match. But there are many other ideas floating around the school too.

The Friday before her death, Triona's friends held a Ball in aid of CF and raised €5,000.

"I think it would be great if it was something we could do every year," said Killian. "We know it wasn't just us that made her wish come true but we will keep going for her." They continued wearing purple to school all week in her honour.

Triona's story and that of her hero and her exceptional friends took flight around the world this past week. It has already raised so much of the awareness that her family and friends have committed to do in her name.

For a group of 25 students from Castleknock in Dublin, it is an astounding achievement and an important reminder of the good that young people do when working together.

On the day Triona died Lucy tweeted "We have brought positive where there is negative and that is something amazing #songfortri #breatheeasy fly free my little bird xx"

Irish Independent

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