Monday 20 November 2017

'He'll be cheering on Mayo in spirit' - Wife of Irish firefighter who recently died from 9/11-related cancer

Michael O'Hanlon at the 2016 All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo
Michael O'Hanlon at the 2016 All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

The wife of an Irish firefighter who died last month following a battle with cancer - 16 years after the 9/11 terror attacks - has said her husband's spirit will be in Croke Park on Sunday, cheering on the green and red of Mayo.

Michael O'Hanlon (59) passed away on August 28 from stomach and esophageal cancer, which the Uniformed Firefighters Association said was caused by the weeks he spent working on Ground Zero.

His wife, Margaret Loftus O'Hanlon, is travelling to the All-Ireland football final on Sunday and hopes her husband will be "the force behind his beloved Mayo".

Margaret, who is a first cousin of the mother of Mayo's Conor Loftus, said they watched the Mayo and Kerry game together on the Saturday before he died.

Margaret and Michael outside Croke Park last year
Margaret and Michael outside Croke Park last year

"It won't be the same without him this year, but I am bringing his jersey with me," she told Independent.ie.

"We travelled to Ireland on multiple occasions with our children, Katherine, Michael Jnr and Martin, to the Loftus clan in Mayo. He became a staunch Mayo supporter, was at last years' All-Ireland and will be at this years' All-Ireland in spirit, rooting the green and red on."

Born in the Bronx, New York, Mr O’Hanlon's mother hailed from Galway and his father from Cork. Friends and family said he considered himself "very much" Irish.

"I know he was smiling down when his other county won the hurling, he always played Galway Girl for his mother," Margaret said.

"He was an accomplished All-Ireland accordion player and played with ceili bands. He was a great husband and he faced this illness with courage and never complained. He lived life to the fullest. He was always and always will be our hero."

The couple were married for 35 years, and while she knows it will be an emotional experience, she hopes that Mayo can finally end their quest for All-Ireland glory.

The late Michael O'Hanlon pictured with his wife Margaret
The late Michael O'Hanlon pictured with his wife Margaret

"He will be looking down on them," she said.

O’Hanlon was part of the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center. He retired in 2013, after 30 years of service.

Family friend Dan Dennehy also paid tribute to his "great pal".

"Our community buried a lovely man, our great friend, a few days ago. The sad but magnificent duty of his colleagues for his funeral as an FDNY member, did his service his memory and his family proud," Mr Dennehy told Independent.ie.

"I've known Mike since we were young, went to same schools, though he was older, and he was a member of the same Peekskill Hibernian Division as I and helped found the trad tent at our Hudson Valley Irish Fest which I am chair. We will commemorate Mike at the Fest on Saturday, September 30. He will be missed by friends, family and neighbours."

This week marked the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The total death toll of the attacks currently stands at 2,996. Over 6,000 people sustained injuries and many have died from lingering illnesses related to their exposure to debris that spread from the wreckage.

It remains the worst terrorist attack in history, in terms of death toll, and the most lethal foreign attack since the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II in 1941.

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