Corkman's pledge: I’ll run a marathon for my miracle man dad

While their husband and father Jim O’Connell was suffering health problems, the family were well cared for by Brú Columbanus. Now, son Cathail is giving something back to the organisation, writes Chris Dunne
Corkman's pledge: I’ll run a marathon for my miracle man dad

STRONG BOND: The O’Connell family, Jim and Margaret with their four children, from left, Diarmuid, Naomi, Cathail and Gearóid. Cathail is running a virtual Sydney marathon to raise funds for Brú Columbanus

IN good times, in bad times and in testing times, you’ll always remember a person or a place that came up trumps for you.

So it is with the O’Connell family, from Rosscarbery.

“Brú Columbanus proved invaluable support to us when Jim underwent emergency bowel surgery back in 2014, resulting in him spending 17 weeks in hospital,” says Margaret O’Connell of her husband.

Margaret and their sons, Cathail, Gearóid, and Diarmuid, along with their sister, Naomi, have never forgotten Brú Columbanus, the Wilton facility that provided a safe haven for them when their loved one was facing a tough time.

“Jim spent three long periods in hospital,” says Margaret.

“The lads came home from Germany and the UK to be with him.

“We were so fortunate as a family to be able to avail of the wonderful accommodation provided by Brú Columbanus, which is so near to CUH.”

The family were helped out in their time of need when they were in a grave situation.

At the time, Naomi was training to be a nurse in the UK. Gearóid was in Germany, Diarmuid was in the UK while Cathail was in Cork.

“I was told to get them all home and to prepare for the worst,” says Margaret.

TESTING TIMES: Jim and Margaret O’Connell. At one stage of his health battle, she was told he may only have hours left to live.
TESTING TIMES: Jim and Margaret O’Connell. At one stage of his health battle, she was told he may only have hours left to live.

Margaret remembers at one point she was told Jim might have only hours to live.

“It was a huge blessing for all of us to have our own quarters and our own kitchen in Brú Columbanus, which is like five-star accommodation.”

Because the grateful family have never forgotten the safe haven that Brú Columbanus provided in their time of need, Cathail, despite now being 17,000 miles away from home, is taking part in a virtual Sydney Marathon to raise funds for the organisation.

“Cathail made up his own mind to do the Sydney marathon without any prompting,” says Margaret. “He is a very determined young fellow.”

And he has a long memory for remembering good deeds.

“We’ll always remember Brú Columbanus which helped us during the worst time of our lives.”

Cathail has lived in Sydney for the past three years working as an electrician. Although no stranger to running, this is his first marathon that he is running with a weighted vest.

“When I first decided to do it, the Sydney marathon was still going ahead,” says Cathail.

“But it has since been cancelled due to Covid. Luckily, my friend, Mark Coomey, who is from Timoleague, and who was training for the Sydney marathon, is going to run the marathon with me on the day.”

Cathail, like his mother and his siblings, is very grateful to Brú Columbanus for housing the family when Jim was fighting for his life.

“It means a lot to me to give something back.”

Jim is back on his feet now, thankful for a second chance at life.

“He was only 56 when he underwent emergency bowel surgery,” says Margaret.

“He was in hospital for 17 weeks. Three years later a second surgery left him in a coma for three-and-a-half weeks in intensive care, and needing a total of nine weeks’ critical care. He has to be minded!”

Jim is self-sufficient now.

“He is well able to look after himself!” says Margaret, laughing.

HAVEN: A bedroom at Bru Columbanus in Wilton, Cork
HAVEN: A bedroom at Bru Columbanus in Wilton, Cork

“We call him the miracle man! We feel very blessed Jim has a second chance at life.”

The O’Connell family were well minded at Brú Columbanus, Wilton, which was opened in September, 2005, under the auspices of the Knights of Columbanus with the objective of providing welcoming accommodation in a caring environment for families at a stressful time.

The €5.5 million project opened with the support of the Department of Health, the HSE and Cork City Council, along with voluntary contributions.

The facility can cater for 26 families, with en suite bedrooms with supporting kitchens and lounges.

“CUH was an hour-long trip each way door to door,” says Margaret. “It was an 80 mile round trip.”

Brú Columbanus was a home away from home.

“We had our own bedrooms, our own kitchen, and our own kitchen presses to store food,” says Margaret.

“There were even food containers there for us to use.”

How did she find out about the organisation?

“The hospital told me about Brú Columbanus,” says Margaret. “I hadn’t heard about it before and I knew nothing about it.”

She was consoled there was such a safe welcoming place when the family found themselves in a bad place.

“I was really distraught and not capable of driving all the way home to Rosscarbery at night, or dealing with the traffic” Margaret recalls.

“Brú Columbanus proved invaluable. It is a fantastic facility. The convenience to CUH gave us independence to go to the hospital at any time.”

Cathail, far from home, making a wonderful gesture for Brú Columbanus this month, knows just how valuable the facility was to his family when Jim was so ill in hospital.

“It was very important for my mother and Naomi to be close to my dad every day without the dangerous commute home every night,” says Cathail, who used to work for Ballincollig company IFES Electrical Services, who do a lot of work in Brú Columbanus. “It took some pressure off an already stressful time. It was one less thing for me to worry about.”

Jim made a great recovery and the family have never forgotten what Brú Columbanus did for them and how much it meant to them.

Gestures like Cathail’s mean a lot to Brú Columbanus, which, like so many other Irish charities has seen its income suffer due to the pandemic.

“All our regular events have had to be cancelled in 2020,” says Anne-Maria O’Connor, who is fund-raising manager of Brú Columbanus.

The facility requires €300,000 a year to maintain its services.

“We have experienced a reduction of 49% of our income so far this year,” says Anne Maria. “The funds raised by the O’Connell family are vital and we are delighted that Cathail is taking part in the Sydney marathon, (virtually).”

The bond the family shared with others who were in a stressful situation is still alive and well.

“We made great friends at Brú Columbanus who were in a similar situation as us,” says Margaret. “I’m still in touch with a lot of them.”

Caring support was given and taken.

“Those people, like us, had their up days and their down days. We could lift each other up.”

To donate, go to Cathail’s Gofundme page and search Brú Columbanus.

Brú Columbanus, Cardinal Way Wilton, Cork. Phone: 021-434 5754.

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