Patrick O'Donovan launching Tommy O'Donnell launching CRY Monagea 2017 Picture: Marie Keating
IT began in sorrow and as a way for two devastated families and their community to keep alive the memory of two young people lost too soon to sudden death.
But now, five years on from that first CRY Monagea, the event has become one of the flagship fundraisers for the Cardiac Risk in the Young organisation.
More importantly, however, it has contributed hugely to raising awareness of the risks of sudden death syndrome throughout West Limerick. And it has given the Herlihy and Scanlon families and their community a sense of achievement and of grace at being able to remember with love.
In 2011, Monagea was devastated when Niamh Herlihy and Darra O’Donovan both died, suddenly, within eight months of each other. Niamh was just 21 while Darra was just a lad of 15.
The response of both families was to organise the first CRY Monagea fund-raising event, with walking, running and cycling options. And their neighbours, friends and surrounding parishes moved might and main to help them.
“We will probably never top that first year,” Darra’s mother, Clare Scanlan said when CRY Monagea 2017 was launched this Monday. “But it is amazing to think it started off as a little idea in our heads and it has grown to what it is today. It has gone from strength to strength.”
“For us it is about Niamh and Darra. But it is also about other people who are gone too soon,” she continued. “It is a wonderful day for all the wrong reasons. I do think wherever they are they are looking down on us. They must be so proud that every year people come out to remember them in the way they do. It is unbelievable.”
“Back in 2011 nobody knew what CRY stood for,” said Niamh’s dad, Liam Herlihy. “Today I would say 90% of people in West Limerick would instantly register the Monagea charity and sudden death.”
“The fact that we do this charity event, it is therapeutic for us in a way. It helps other people who might be in a similar situation,” he revealed. “The pain subsides. But the memory lives on.”
So far CRY Monagea has raised about €170,000 for the CRY organisation which was started a little over 20 years ago by the Green family when their son Peter died suddenly and seemingly without explanation.
But as Clare explained: “They went looking for answers and there was nothing there.”
Instead, a new organisation was born from a single telephone line in a corner of a bedroom. CRY is now located in Tallaght Hospital and as Clare explained: “It is a centre for families like ours. We can go there for testing. You get a full MOT of the heart. You get 24-hour results. It is absolutely wonderful. It is saving lives.”
CRY also undertakes research into the syndrome in a bid to identify those at risk in advance.
Patrick O’Donovan, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, who attended the launch on Monday night, revealed that since becoming a minister, he had raised the issue with Sport Ireland boss, John Treacy. He wanted, he explained, to have his department work in tandem with the HSE and Sport Ireland to explore ways of raising awareness, identifying young people at risk and ensuring parents knew about risks. “If it is something we need to kick the table about, we will do that,” he pledged.
But he paid special tribute to the local community saying: “This is a very special community that has really rallied around in times of difficulty.” And he spoke of the devastation “when Niamh and Darra were taken before their time.”
“Their memory has lived on, has lived on in this event which has captured the imagination of people across West Limerick and beyond,” he said.
Munster and Ireland rugby player Tommy O’Donnell also attended Monday’s launch and entertained the large gathering by outlining his working week. Monday mornings, he explained very much depended on the outcome of the match on Friday or Saturday and determined “whether you are in a good mood or heading for a bit of constructive criticism.”
“You wouldn’t get the hair-dryer treatment but you would definitely get told where you went wrong.”
“I am just a normal guy who puts gear in a gear bag,” he concluded to laughs. “I think I am just a normal guy who plays rugby. It just happens to be for a living.”
He was aware of sudden death syndrome, he told the Limerick Leader, although he had never personally witnessed any incidence of it. “There have been a number of high profile incidents in rugby and GAA and I would be aware of them,” he said.
When Liam asked him to attend the launch, he said: “I jumped at the chance to do this.”
From the beginning, both Clare and Liam are in agreement, the involvement of Desmond Sportive Cycling Club and the Newcastle West Athletic Club have been critical to the success of the event which involves walking, running and cycling.
“The first year, we were very very naive,” explained Clare. “We just wanted to get out and do something, put our name on something to express our grief or shock. The Desmond Sportive CC helped and our cycle wouldn’t be what it is without them.”
“It is a honour to be involved,” Alan Dee of Desmond Sportiv said. “It is not a question any more of who is going to do what. Everybody in the club decides to get stuck in.”
When he and other club members meet up with other clubs around the country, CRY Monagea is a talking point, he revealed.
“They always give out about the climbs and they always talk about the food at the end. When we go to other clubs they always say ‘We had a great feed in Monagea.’”
And he was delighted that the 25km cycle introduced last year, was such a success. It will be run again this year, he explained, along with three other cycle routes.
“There is the leisure cycle of 70km…It sounds a lot but you have all day to do it. You can stop off and sit on top of a ditch and chew a blade of grass,” he explained. There is a 100km cycle which involves some climbing for those who have gone beyond “leisure” and the 125kmWest Limerick Endurance is back this year. This, Alan joked, is for would-be athletes, the guys who think they should be in the Tour de France.
“They challenge themselves against the Mass Rock, Farrihy and Rooska,” he explained, adding that this year there would be stiff competition from a new cycling group calling themselves The Mass Rockers. “Guess where they are from?” he laughed.
But for those less fit or less inclined to take to two wheels, there is a 5km or 10km walk and run. A huge amount of planning and organising goes into this yearly event but more volunteers than ever are needed this year, especially for the cycle, Liam said, appealing to people to come forward and get involved as stewards but also as tea-makers and bakers and registrars.
“In four years we have had only one serious injury and that is down to proper stewarding,” he pointed out, although he felt Alan Dee’s warning words at the start probably also played a part.
This year’s event takes place on Saturday, April 29 and registration can be done online or in Monagea on the day. Queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook