THIS year marks the 30th anniversary of Billie O’Riordan’s death and his brother Tom, who grew up in Togher, wanted to commemorate it.
“I thought ‘I’ve got legs, I’ve got air in my lungs’. I wanted to do something to push myself and to bring Billie’s name back a bit. Everyone is asking me about him this year, who is he, how did he die, what happened.”
Tom decided to complete 40 marathons in his brother’s memory and raise funds for Cork Simon community in the process.
He completed that feat at the weekend, by running around the Lough 32 times, a place where he and his late brother used to hang out as young teens.
Billie died aged 15 from solvent abuse.
Tom explained: “I have no shame at all in talking about it. My mother, Mary, was on the Today Tonight show in the ’80s talking about it.
“Togher then was a rough place. The fact is I did all the same stuff Billie did but he was the unlucky one. I was 13 when he died and I have never touched a drug since. It helped me. None of my brothers and sisters touch drugs. Did he have to go for us to live? Who knows.
“It was a very tough year in Togher, a lot of people died from car crashes and other things.”
O’Riordan who has so far raised over €4,000 for the Cork Simon Community describes his late brother.
“Billie was a really lovely fella. He was very artistic. He would have done something with his hands for work, had he lived, but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every day you would always think of him. His birthday, his anniversary, you never forget.
“Even running around the Lough for the last marathon brought back a lot of memories. We would go there when we were kids and we shouldn’t have but we might have had a couple of drinks. When I was running on my own I had time to think about all those old memories. He has been with me for the whole year and that makes it emotional for it to end. It has been a great experience.”
Tom says the 40 marathons have taken a toll.
“Because of why I was doing this, it was different to just running 40 marathons. I ran the last ten with my mind and my body doesn’t appreciate it. It is in pieces now.
“I am fitter than the average but I will need to take a bit of time off, get a bit of rest and then get back into it again. Running is my hobby. It is what keeps me grounded, it is one of the best things in the world for me. I like the headspace.”
Growing up in a house of nine children meant that space wasn’t something Tom had much of as a child.
“You got to the food as quickly as you could, if you weren’t grabbing it you weren’t getting it! I live on my own now in Cobh and I love the silence and not having the madness of 11 people in the house.
“I think at one stage, back in the real early days before we got bunk beds, six of us shared a bed. It was three up and three down. Obviously, we had the fights, everyone does and probably when there are so many you have a bit more but, aside from Billie’s death, it was a happy childhood.”
Tom’s sister Margaret echoes the sentiment. She says: “A few of my friends ask why do you all talk so fast and loud? But it’s because in our house if you didn’t talk fast you didn’t get heard! We fall out and we fall back in and we are all really proud of Tom. He was the closest in age to Billie and the closest to him.
“We have been talking about Billie a lot the last couple of months. On the day of his anniversary, April 19, all of us were at the grave at the same time, it was the first time in years we were all together for it.”
Mary O’Riordan, 71, mother to Tom and Margaret and their six siblings, is now a great-grandmother.
“I had ten babies in ten years, one was a stillborn baby. They grew up together and always had someone to play with. All together there are 16 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one overdue since Monday. The eldest grandchild is 28 and has three kids. The youngest grandchild is four months old. There is always someone calling.”
Donations can be made through gofundme.com at Tom And Billys Marathon Madness For Simon.