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Monday 26 September 2016

Benhaffaf twins pay visit to 'pen pal' Oonagh (85)

Published 04/05/2015 | 02:30

Twins Hassan (left) and Hussein Benhaffaf (5), with their mum Angie, meet Oonagh O’Neill from Dalkey at the Dalkey Lodge Nursing Home for the first time. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Twins Hassan (left) and Hussein Benhaffaf (5), with their mum Angie, meet Oonagh O’Neill from Dalkey at the Dalkey Lodge Nursing Home for the first time. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The best friendships are the ones that effortlessly span the generations.

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Little Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf, who were born conjoined, made a special trip to visit a dear friend for the very first time.

When they were born, the now five-year-old twins captured the heart of Oonagh O'Neill (85), a retired dental receptionist from Dalkey, Co Dublin.

She began to write to the twins' mother, Angie, and it was a 'pen pal' friendship that lasted right up until last year, when Oonagh suddenly fell silent and the letters stopped coming.

Desperately worried about what had happened to her and with no other way of getting in contact other than by post, Angie did not know what to do.

Phonecall

Then two weeks ago, while at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin, where Hassan was undergoing spinal surgery, Angie received a phonecall out of the blue.

It was from a woman, Anita O'Connor from Sligo, who identified herself as Oonagh's cousin.

She quickly explained that Oonagh - who up until then was extremely active, a keen golfer who swam every day; had suffered a bout of ill-health and a fall that had left her in a wheelchair and with limited use of her arms.

At Christmas, she had to move out of the house where she had lived all her life and into a nearby nursing home.

Already emotional because of Hassan's surgery, Angie told the Irish Independent that she suddenly "dissolved in tears". Asked by Anita to send photos, she said she would "go one better" and bring the boys in person to visit Oonagh, as well as her daughters Iman (8) and Malika (11). And yesterday, as Oonagh saw the identical twins for the first time, she was instantly able to tell them apart.

"You're Hussein," she said, explaining she knew by his expression.

The two boys proceeded to greatly entertain Oonagh by scampering to investigate the place, opening cupboards in the room.

"I think they're wonderful," beamed Oonagh, explaining that the children had captured her imagination when they were first born and she had hoped very much they would survive the surgery to separate them.

"And look at them now - they're as quick as lightning," she added.

Angie revealed that she will shortly be taking Hassan over to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London for further treatment.

Because of his recent spinal surgery, the little boy would have been unable to make the round-trip to Cork yesterday and so the family were kindly put up by the Radisson Blu St Helen's Hotel, Angie explained.

As the conversation flowed, Malika treated Oonagh to a beautiful rendition of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' that brought back many happy memories for Oonagh.

Irish Independent

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