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Sunday 21 April 2019

Students driving home vital hospice work

Cormac Porter Marie Flanagan and Alex Burns get ready for the St Brigid's College, Loughrea Tranistion Year Tractor Run PHOTO: KEVIN BYRNE
Cormac Porter Marie Flanagan and Alex Burns get ready for the St Brigid's College, Loughrea Tranistion Year Tractor Run PHOTO: KEVIN BYRNE
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

When a friend rings and asks if you have a minute to talk, you know it is serious. Your head goes into overdrive and, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, you find yourself mentally rummaging through the basket of deplorable possibilities that make life difficult.

I got such a call last week. A very dear friend phoned one afternoon. It was unusual to hear from her at that time of the day as she works a job that affords little time for personal calls.

When she asked if I had a minute, I knew instinctively I had to find a space away from my desk, but even before I had myself relocated, she told me what was up - she had breast cancer. It was one of the things that certainly featured in my quick mental rummage through the aforementioned basket of deplorables.

I listened as she matter-of-factly took me through the story from the first noticing, to the visit to the GP and on to Breast-Check where her fears were realised. She calmly outlined the next few steps she has to take in a series of prognoses, diagnoses and procedures that would daunt the most lion-hearted.

She spoke about how her husband reacted and how she had yet to tell her teenage children. While the prognosis is still uncertain, what is certain is that she is in for a difficult few months.

After the phone call, I sat back in the chair and looked out at the lovely spring afternoon, at the greens and yellows that had suddenly burst forth after all the grey days and the rain.

While I wanted to scream at the incongruity of it, there was also hope and strength in the sight of a stubborn daffodil waving defiantly at a dappled sky.

In a strange coincidence, the call came as I sat down to write a piece about a visit I had just made to St Brigid's School in Loughrea, Co Galway, where two Transition Year (TY) students are organising a tractor run in aid of the Galway Hospice. Cormac Porter and Alex Burns are both familiar with the hospice - Cormac lost his granddad to cancer in 2016 and Alex, his mother a number of years ago. She passed away when he was just four years old, leaving a husband and five children aged between nine and two years.

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"We have been friends since first year," Alex said, explaining that both of them, having been touched by cancer, have a real appreciation for the work done by the Galway Hospice. On a lighter note, they also share a great interest in farming and farm machinery. Cormac lives on the family dairy farm in Killimor, while Alex is a 'townie' from Loughrea, but loves life on the land and has just finished a TY placement on a dairy farm.

"We wanted to do something that would make a difference and contribute to the great work of the hospice," Cormac said, "so we are putting our interest in farm machinery and tractors to good use."

There is a strong with everything agricultural in the school, where a high proportion of students opt to take agricultural science as a Leaving Cert subject, according to teacher Martin Raftery.

"Many are going on to pursue farm studies in university or in the agricultural colleges," he said.

Alex, even though he is not from a farming background, hopes to do the Green Cert when he finishes the Leaving.

Transition Year Co-ordinator Marie Flanagan explains that, over the years, TY students from St Brigid's have raised substantial amounts of money for a range of charities, including Crumlin Children's Hospital, Pieta House, the St Vincent de Paul Society and Habitat for Humanity. Indeed, some students are volunteering with Habitat in Africa.

According to their teachers, both Cormac and Alex have been 'flat out' preparing for the tractor run and have left nothing to chance. The pair are full of enthusiasm and bursting with life.

And this is what it takes to shed light on the dark bits - an enthusiasm for life and a celebration of life.

Sometimes this can mean doing daft things like driving balloon-festooned tractors around the country, with streamers and flags waving in the wind, like stubborn daffodils waving at an uncertain spring sky.

If you have a tractor, a ¤20 note, a few balloons and an hour or two to spare, you could do worse than make your way to St Brigid's, Loughrea, on Sunday, April 7.

'Roll up' starts at 10.30am, with 'roll out' happening at 12 noon. If you don't have a tractor, don't worry, the organisers have other ways of extracting money from you, including a raffle with a plethora of prizes and buckets that will gobble up small change or big notes.

All proceeds go to the Galway Hospice, Renmore.

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