HOW are you planning to spend your Christmas Day morning? Tucking into a fry? Trying to get the kids’ toys to work? Maybe under a duvet before the festivities that lie ahead? Of perhaps you’ll be plunging headlong into the freezing Atlantic?
That is what 250 people will be doing in Myrtleville Beach, near Crosshaven, next Monday, as they take part in the annual Daniel Crowley Christmas Swim, roared on by another 250 people who will be looking on.
It has become a popular annual event, raising €40,000 to date for the Mercy Hospital Children’s leukaemia Unit, and all in the memory of a remarkable boy.
Daniel Crowley, a popular 12-year-old from Carrigaline, passed away at home in November, 2013, from a rare form of leukaemia.
““He was one of those children who enjoyed life to the fullest,” says his mother, Majella. “To him life was for fun and he made the most of life. Danny loved sports.”
The youngster had everything going for him.
“He was good-looking, charismatic and engaging. People were drawn to him,” Majella adds. He was a typical boy too.
“He described himself in a religion copy that we got after his death,” says his mum. “He said he was sporty, funny and annoying! He loved the banter. Daniel was funny and honest.
“He had great friends too, and they came up with the idea of starting up the annual Daniel Crowley Christmas Day swim and it has grown from strength to strength each year.
“In 2013, it started with about 40 swimmers and it had grown to approximately 250 by last Christmas morning, when 50 red and white ballons were released in Daniel’s memory.
“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.
Their Mercy t-shirts will be ready for action against for this year’s swim.
“To see friends and families from the GAA, the soccer and basketball clubs where Danny enjoyed the best times of his life is brilliant,” adds Majella. “School pals from the Presentation Brothers College arrived last year and others who never knew Danny came too. The power of community is incredible.”
The Crowleys found the support of the team at the Mercy Hospital Children’s Leukaemia Unit incredible in their hours of need.
“The team, led by Dr Clodagh Ryan, go to enormous effort to make this 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.”
When Daniel was sick, he felt like he was at home with his mum and dad, Donal, his 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 in the Mercy provides a very important service.
“It has a nursing outreach oncology service, POONS, where nurses will come to your home to check bloods and give lighter chemo’ treatment, for example,” says Majella.
“This was a godsend when Daniel was particularly low and feeling weak. We could avail of 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. So this is where the fantastic funds raised by all the swimmers will go.”
Daniel’s 12 years of life were action-packed.
“He travelled a lot,” says Majella. “He saw his beloved Arsenal play a few times. He went to Disney and he enjoyed the usual summer holidays and summers in West Cork.”
The youngster was sports mad.
“He was really good at sport,” says Majella. “Daniel and Donal loved going to matches together.
“Daniel played basketball, soccer and GAA, football and hurling. There was training every night and a multitude of matches every week-end. His week was jam-packed. He had just started secondary school which meant longer days and more travel. He was a very busy lad.”
Being tired was par for the course.
“We saw that Daniel felt more tired, but we didn’t take much notice,” says Majella. “Then, one Sunday night at the end of November, he lay flat out on the couch, which was very unusual for him. He never did that.”
The family were devastated when he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia.
“It was a year from when he was diagnosed until he died,” says Majella. “ALL, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, meant intensive chemo-therapy treatment for six months and then a bone marrow transplant to survive.
“This began our journey to St Anne’s ward at the Mercy Hospital and to Ronald McDonald House when we had to travel to Crumlin Children’s Hospital.”
Her son underwent a bone marrow transplant. None of his siblings were a match.
“All we know is that the donor was a 21-year- old female from the USA,” says Majella.”
The transplant promised 80% success. Danny was young, fit and healthy. Throughout his ordeal, he displayed the great traits of a true trooper and a mighty sportsman.
“Despite his great bravery and resilience and enormous strength of character, the transplant at Crumlin Hospital did not go our way,” says Majella. “The doctors in the Mercy Hospital and in Crumlin, left no stone unturned. They fought the fight. Things just didn’t go our way.
“After 20 weeks in isolation in the transplant unit, or in intensive care where he fought a really tough battle, we brought Daniel home.
“He passed away a few days later, November 29, 2013, with family and close friends beside him.”
Even though, the Crowleys had their friends, families and the whole community supporting them, the loss of their beloved son left them bereft.
“There are no words to describe to you the stark reality of burying our boy,” says Majella.
“There are no words to describe to you the depth of our devastation, the loss of such a character in our home, and his immense loss in our lives. It is indescribable. I cannot convey to you the magnitude of Daniel’s loss in our lives.
“The devastation takes over your life and it takes an enormous effort to function at any level. Your worst fear has actually happened. Nothing is ever, or will be the same. Your old life is gone. However the problem is; life does go on.”
The Crowleys found solace from other bereaved parents.
“Life has not ended,” says Majella. “It changes. There is nothing as powerful as sitting with another bereaved parent who has buried a child. Anam Cara helped us to survive this.”
Daniel’s popularity did not die with him.
“Everyone rallied round,” says Majella. “Neighbours offered us lifts everywhere. Dinners were left on the doorstep.”
Others were beavering away in the back-ground to organise the Christmas Swim in Daniel’s memory and to raise funds for those who went to the nth degree to help him survive his illness.
“Events like this take many hours of hard work and it would not happen without Jennifer and Deborah Lonergan,” says Majella
“They have led this event for the last four years and are the back-bone of the organising of the swim.
“Paul, Deborah’s husband, of Mano Mano, is part to the organising committee. He is in the Crosshaven coast guard too. His son, Scott, and Daniel were great pals. Paul gives the swimmers sound advice. He is the Master of Ceremonies.”
There are many, many, more friends and loved ones who get involved.
“My sister, Calie Coholan, is a regular helper every year,” says Majella. “Calie visited Daniel when he was in isolation in Crumlin.
“We are in supporting roles, providing the refreshments after the swim. Others get on board bringing flasks of hot drinks which are much appreciated after braving the cold water in the sea.”
The goodwill of the festive season comes from far and wide.
“Brother Martin Kennelly is wonderful support in his fundraising efforts and his link to the Presentation family. KWP Printers supply sponsor cards and posters free for the past four years.
“Timmy Healy of PJ Hegarty and Co. supplied all the refreshments. The Cork Balloon Company supply the red and white balloons. Howard Crowdy is our official photographer. And there are many more people involved too numerous to mention. They know who they are and a big shout out to all of them,” says Majella.
The positive vibe on Myrtleville beach on Christmas morning will be palpable.
The extent of goodwill in the community of Carrigaline and beyond, is astounding,” says Majella. “It just shows what people can do when they come together.”
What would Daniel make of it all?
“Those people who knew Danny would know that he would have been the first in to the swim if he were around,” says Majella.
“In fact, it would have been very probable that he would have worn a green mankini. He was a Borat fan in his day!”
HOW TO HELP
To get a sponsor card for the Daniel Crowley Christmas Swim in aid of the Mercy Hospital Children’s Leukaemia Unit, call to Mano Mano barber shop in Main Street Carrigaline, or call Deborah Lonergan, 086-3739135.
Mercy Hospital Paediatric Outreach Oncology Nursing Service Is a vital service that supports two nurses who travel to the homes of children with cancer in order to administer their treatment.