THE death of their school friend five years ago at the age of 12 continues to have a profound effect on a group of young people in Carrigaline.
Danny Crowley, sadly passed away in November, 2013, at the age of 12, after a battle with leukaemia. But his memory lives on and is now enshrined in an annual swim which takes place every Christmas morning.
A cheque for €18,000 from the sixth Danny Crowley Memorial Christmas swim was handed over just last week in aid of the Mercy Kids and Teen Appeal. It brings the total raised from the event to €73,000, which goes towards facilities in the Mercy hospital and POONS — the Paediatric Oncology Outreach Nursing Service — which allows children with cancer to receive treatment from the comfort of their own home. Danny was a user of that service.
A few of his friends recently met up to reflect on the success of the recent swim and what it means to them, and to remember their dear friend, who they lost so young.
Eoghan Riordan recalls one of the first times that he saw Danny unwell.
“A few of the lads in our class in primary school were over in my house. A big gang of us just having a laugh, and I remember Danny stepping out. We didn’t take much notice of it, we just thought it happens every now and then to everyone. I suppose it went from there and that was the first time we saw Danny kind of wilt almost.”
After Danny was diagnosed with leukaemia, Eoghan said that he found the experience shocking, and that it was a very difficult time for his friend.
“Especially for someone who was so active and energetic the whole time,” says Eoghan. “You’re using enough energy just to fight leukaemia alone so it was just very strange, but he could tell it was serious.”
Eoghan said that much of Danny’s care took place in his home thanks to the mobile cancer nurse service for kids, provided by the Mercy hospital. He said Danny’s mother Majella found the service an excellent support to the family.
Another close friend of Danny’s, Brian Kelleher, describes what it was like visiting him at his home after his diagnosis.
“We never really spoke about leukaemia itself because we were only 13, we were in first year.
“And Danny was a year younger than us again, so we didn’t really speak about that because we didn’t really understand it at the same time.
“I remember we were watching the darts and he fell asleep, we were just sitting there, and he fell asleep after an hour. That’s all the energy he had... so that was pretty difficult as well.”
Eanna Desmond recalled how Danny was after his diagnosis, and said that no matter what, he was always the same and his personality never changed.
“His physical appearance was changing of course with the chemotherapy, but like, he was still the same bubbly himself.
“Even throughout his treatment he was still cracking jokes left, right and centre and just you’d bounce off him no matter what. That’s how I felt with him anyway, he was making jokes.”
When Danny passed away in November, 2013 — how did his friends feel?
Eoghan Riordan said: “That was rough. I remember my mom said to me the Wednesday that he would be released from hospital and I thought that’s grand. The next thing she said was that they can’t do anymore for him and it kind of hit me then.
“We had written letters to him, and we said we’ll do this and do that the next time we see him, but I never saw him after I wrote that letter. That was playing heavy enough on my mind.”
Brian Kelleher added: “My mom told me in the house and the lads were just outside because they knew just before me and it hit me hard.
“I went out to them then after a few minutes and the second I went out we just started talking about stories about him... he was hilarious and all the stuff we did.
“Obviously, we were sad, but we weren’t down and out. We were talking about the good stuff.”
Shane Moran also recalled how he found out, and how it seemed to have an impact on the town.
“I found out at the end of school on a Friday, but no-one had actually told me. I just saw people distraught in the area and I just knew then that he had passed.
“It just shows the effect he had on people as well, to bring people to such an emotional state.”
A short period after Danny passed away, one of the young men in their GAA group suggested starting a Christmas swim in memory of him, and everyone got on board.
Eoghan said that he never could have pictured the swim snowballing in the way that it has, getting bigger and bigger every year.
What started out as a kind gesture by their Carrigaline GAA team for a lost friend, soon turned into a massive annual memorial fund-raiser and a Christmas tradition for many. Since the memorial charity’s inception in 2013, the swim has gone from about 40 swimmers, to almost 300 in 2018.
The young men all agreed that their Christmas would now not be the same without the swim, and that the day is a special occasion to remember their friend.
“If Danny was doing the swim, he’d be the first one into the water, the longest inside the water and hold his breath the longest,” Eanna said.
The young men shared a laugh as they talked about Danny’s competitive nature.
Brian said the memorial Christmas swim has kept Danny’s memory alive and that he doesn’t see it stopping any time soon.
He said everyone involved has tried to channel something positive out of such a terrible situation.
“Obviously, it was awful for the family, for us and Carrigaline itself, but something unbelievable came out of it to help hundreds of children with the services.
“It was awful, but we turned it into a huge positive for loads of people and it’s brilliant that it turned out that way.”