Neighbouring County Limerick farming families join forces for two good causes

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

Fergus Stokes and Deirdre Hogan, of the hunt, Willie Fitzpatrick, on behalf of IMNDA, and John O'Keeffe

Fergus Stokes and Deirdre Hogan, of the hunt, Willie Fitzpatrick, on behalf of IMNDA, and John O'Keeffe

JOHN O’Keeffe and Gerardine Hayes (née Fitzpatrick) have a lot in common.

They grew up separated by fields in Ballingarry, they are not letting their respective diagnoses affect their indomitable spirit and they have raised thousands for charity.

Gerardine Hayes was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in November, 2017. While cancer patient John remembers the date of his first bowel operation as it was 11/12/13. A second operation on his bowel followed, then one on his liver. The cancer spread to his lungs and he underwent chemotherapy.  Thankfully a scan last week came back clear. John has another one in eight weeks but he says, “things are looking good”.

John, who is a member of the County Limerick Foxhounds, organised a charity hunt before Christmas to give something back. The Liam MacCarthy Cup and even Santa Claus made an appearance, along with over 80 riders and hundreds on foot.

Due to the “incredible care” John says he has received in University Hospital Limerick he decided to donate money to the Mid-Western Cancer Centre.

“They go out of their way to help. I couldn’t say a bad word about them. There’s a number there and you can ring them at three or four in the morning for a bit of advice,” said John.

And due to his neighbour, Gerardine, he decided to split it with the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA). 

"It’s amazing how many people have come up to me telling me about someone they know with motor neurone disease and you wouldn't hear much about it,” said John.

The 64-year-old said it was an honour to have the Liam MacCarthy Cup on his lawn, fellow County Limerick Foxhound members and other hunts.

“Everyone was so generous. We raised €7,000 on the day and gave out the cheques in Condron’s bar in Ballingarry,” said John. Since then he has received a further €1,115 from men and women he has met out and about. He has given that to Blood Bike Mid West.

John has a simple motto about battling cancer, “When I'm good I have to keep going and when I'm not good I have to sit myself down".

The two Ballingarry farming families have raised over €30,000 between them. In February 2018, Gerardine’s daughter, Meadhbh, together with family and close friends began organising a series of fundraising events for the IMNDA. The first one was a traditional music concert in the Radison Blu Hotel, Cork in September. The MC was RTE’s Tommie Gorman.A total of €11,000 was raised on the night. This figure was doubled by contributions from those who could not attend. In November 2018, €300 was collected from a soccer tournament in the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty where Meadhbh was a student. A coffee morning organised by Rowex Pharmaceuticals – a former employer of Gerardine – raised €200. This was topped up the €3,500 from the charity hunt day.

Gerardine, her husband, Francis, daughter Meadhbh and extended family would like to express their “heartfelt gratitude to everyone who gave so generously of their time in organising and attending events, and to all who contributed to this worthy cause”.  Due to the generosity of people both locally and nationally the final sum transferred to the IMNDA was €27,183.01. Down to the very last cent.