EVERY Christmas Day, hundreds of swimmers take the plunge into the icy waters off Myrtleville, in memory of a much-loved Cork boy.
The Danny Crowley Memorial Swim in aid of the Mercy Hospital Kids & Teens Appeal, which is now in its 8th year, will still go ahead this year — despite Covid... albeit virtually.
“Daniel was very sporty, playing soccer, hurling football and tennis and he loved the water,” recalls Katie Crowley, Daniel’s older sister, who is organising the virtual event this year.
“Whenever we were at the beach, dad always said Daniel was the last out of the water. He had to keep telling him, ‘we’re going, get out!’”
Daniel was your typical younger brother.
“We were all mad about him,” says Katie. “Of course he could drive us mad like all brothers do!”
“Daniel was very outgoing and he was very funny,” Katie added.
“He described himself in a religion copy that we got after his death,” says Daniel’s mum, Majella. “He said he was sporty, funny and annoying! He loved the banter. Daniel was funny and honest.”
When he passed away after a long battle with Leukaemia in 2013, aged just 12, his friends and family set up the Danny Crowley Christmas Swim as a way to remember him, and at the same time raise funds for the Mercy hospital. To date they have raised a phenomenal €100,000 since 2013 to support the youngest patients at the Cork hospital.
This year, although things will be different, the Crowley family know the event will still attract the hundreds of enthusiasts that it has done over the past few years.
“This Christmas we’ll miss people not here for the swim at Myrtleville,” says Katie.
“But we are still excited the swim will happen.
“The buzz and the atmosphere surrounding the event is always fantastic.
“In recent years the swim has really taken off which is amazing for us, it’s in aid of such a good cause.
“A lot of my pals up the country who live in different counties can take part in their own county.
“We are calling on people to take a dip in the water anytime, anywhere in December.
“Fundraising pages can be set up online at: www.justgiving.com/campaign/DanielCrowleyXmas Swim for family and friends to support.”
Katie, like her late younger brother, is an outdoor enthusiast.
“I’ve taken part in the swim every year except for one year when I was sick,” says Katie.
“I’ll probably swim this year multiple times over seven days.”
Can people take part if they don’t swim or live near the sea?
“Of course!” says Katie. “They can get into an ice-bath!”
The annual Daniel Crowley swim has grown from strength to strength each year.
“In 2013, it started with about 40 swimmers and it has grown into hundreds.”
Daniel would be delighted with the turn-out.
“He was a big Arsenal fan and of course a big Cork GAA fan. It is great to see the friends, neighbours, teachers and their families from his Gaelscoil class get involved,” says Majella.
“To see his friends and families from the GAA, the soccer and basketball clubs where he enjoyed the best times of his life is brilliant.
“School pals from the Christian Brothers College arrive and others who never knew Danny come along too. The power of community is incredible.”
The Crowleys found the support of the team at the Mercy Hospital Children’s Leukaemia Unit incredible.
“The team, led by Dr Clodagh Ryan, go to enormous effort to make the unit as child-friendly as possible,” says Majella.
“Going to the Mercy was like being at home and that is testament to their level of care.”
Daniel felt like he was at home with his mum and dad, Donal, brother, Sean, and sisters, Katie and Alannah.
“He even had the Sky Sports channel,” says Majella.
“That was very important being a teenager. He was a month off his 13th birthday when he died.”
The unit at the Mercy provided a very important service.
“The Mercy provides a nursing outreach oncology service, POONS, where nurses will come to your home to check bloods and give lighter chemo treatment for example. That was a godsend when Daniel was particularly low and feeling weak,” says Majella.
“We could avail of the treatment without the hassle of moving him, travelling to the hospital and looking for parking.
“The support and advice from the nurses to Danny and to us was invaluable. He could relax. The service kept him out of hospital. Daniel got to know the nurses, Olga and Peg.”
The boy lived life to the full before he got ill.
“Daniel played basketball, soccer and GAA football and hurling,” says Majella.
“There was training every night and a multitude of matches every weekend. His week was jam-packed.
“He had just started secondary school which meant longer days and more travel. He was a very busy lad.”
The family were devastated when Daniel was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
“It was a year when he was diagnosed until he died,” says Majella.
“Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) meant intensive chemotherapy treatment for six months and then a bone-marrow transplant to survive.”
The family went on a journey together.
“This began our journey to St Anne’s ward at the Mercy Hospital and to the Ronald McDonald House when we had to go to Crumlin Children’s Hospital.”
Daniel underwent a bone marrow transplant that promised an 80% success. He was young fit and healthy. But, despite displaying the true grit of a mighty sportsman, things did not go well.
“He fought a really tough battle. The doctors left no stone unturned. Things just didn’t go our way,” says Majella.
“We brought Daniel home and he passed away a few days later on November 9, 2013, with his family and close friends beside him.”
Life after losing a child life can never be the same again. It changes immeasurably forever.
“The worst fear has actually happened,” says Majella.
“Nothing is ever, or will be the same. Your old life is gone. However, the problem is life does go on.”
Daniel’s memory lives on where the positive vibe is palpable every Christmas on Myrtleville beach. This year that positive vibe will reverberate around the country.
“It just shows what people can do when they come together.”
Daniel, always the last out of the water, would be first in. What would he make of it all?
“Those people who knew Danny would know he would have been the first in to the swim if he were around,” says Majella.
“We are extremely proud of how much the swim has raised since 2013. The Mercy Paediatric Outreach Oncology Nursing Service, (POONS), and the entire team in the Children’s Leukaemia Unit provided invaluable support to Daniel and our family when Daniel was undergoing his treatment.
“They went the extra mile and we all appreciate the huge difference it made. We want to ensure other families can get this service.”
Majella knows that Daniel, full of fun, would have made a splash at the memorial swim every year: “It would have been very probable he would have worn a green mankini. He was a Borat fan in his day!”
MORE ABOUT THE SWIM
All funds raised will go towards the Mercy Kids & Teens Appeal, which supports the youngest patients at the Mercy Hospital by providing the services such as POONS.
The service allows children with cancer to receive their treatment in the comfort of their own home.
The service is even more important during the Covid-19 pandemic and is helping to keep young patients safe. To show your support and get involved visit: www.justgiving.com/campaign/DanielCrowleyXmas Swim.
Check out more on the swim on Instagram and send in any pictures or videos of you taking part. For more information on the Mercy Kids & Teens Appeal visit: www.mercyfundraising.ie