GER and Connie Cotter know what it’s like to lose a child. They know the grief journey after they suffered the ultimate tragedy of losing their precious daughter, Megan, at 16 months.
Now, Ger is taking on a love journey for his friends, Gillian and Donagh Guinevan, who lost their beloved son, Darragh, earlier this year, in a bid to alleviate their grief journey.
Ger is cycling from Malin to Mizen on June 19 in memory of Darragh and to raise funds for the Puffin ward in CUH, where Darragh was cared for and where he passed away.
His motivation is simple.
“I know what it’s like to lose a child,” says Ger, “so part of me wants to do this journey for a cause so close to my heart.”
His daughter Megan was close to his own heart.
“She was always happy out,” says Ger of his daughter, who passed away in CUH in November, 1993, from a brain tumour.
“She was never a day sick in her life. Megan was perfect, walking away, full of fun.
“When she complained of an ear infection, unfortunately it turned out to be something much worse. She went into a coma and never woke up.”
Ger and Connie had to face the fact that life without Megan would never be the same again; but that it could go on.
“It was one of those things that hits you going through life,” says Ger.
“We coped the best way we could. We were blessed with two other children, Jess, now 26, and Daniel, 24.”
Now Ger is well placed to help his friends, Gillian and Donagh, cope with the loss of their brave son, Darragh.
The young lad from Cork battled health challenges throughout his life, including osteopenia and epilepsy. Darragh, 13, passed away on New Years’s Day this year in the Puffin ward, CUH, where he was cared for.
“I want to undertake this 24 hour journey from Cork to Donegal for my friends, Gillian and Donagh, in memory of my friend Darragh, and to raise vital funds for the Puffin ward at CUH, where Darragh was looked after throughout his life,” says Ger.
The gruelling two-wheel non-stop journey from Malin to Mizen will require determination and courage.
“Darragh showed great determination and courage,” says Ger.
“I’m friends with his parents, Gillian and Donagh, for almost 30 years; the cycle is for them and for Darragh.
Darragh’s parents were devoted to him.
“He was a wheel-chair user and he required 24 hour care. In many ways it was a miracle he made it to age 13.”
Darragh and Ger had a special bond — a man-to-man bond.
“Despite being non-verbal and facing many challenges, Darragh was a source of joy to all that knew him,” says Ger.
“He dealt with such complex health problems for so long; it was purely his spirit and his determination that kept him going as well as the excellent care that his parents and the CUH provided for him.
“I decided last November to do the cycle for Darragh, then he sadly passed away in January. I asked his parents would I still go ahead and they said yes, that they would be delighted. Gillian and Donagh are still grieving.”
The grieving couple still have a circle of friends surrounding them whose support is unwavering.
“They were delighted with this gesture in memory of Darragh,” says Ger.
“Gillian and Donagh saw first-hand the work that the dedicated doctors and nurses at the Puffin ward do every day, making a difference to people’s lives. The money raised through the cycle will enable the staff to continue their wonderful work. The money will go straight to the source.”
The idea of Ger’s mission, cycling from the most southerly point in Ireland, Mizen Head, to the most Northerly point in Ireland, Malin Head, a distance of 601.9 kilometres, is to keep Darragh’s memory alive and to help support Darragh’s Trust.
“It is both a privilege and an honour for me to cycle the length of our beautiful country in memory of Darragh, whose bravery, courage, and determinations shone brightly through all his precious time on earth,” adds Ger.
Darragh’s parents, Gillian and
, and his older sister, Aisling, say they will never find enough words of gratitude to say towards every single person involved in Darragh’s care at CUH, particularly in his final days.
“We were dealing with a little person that required round-the-clock care,” says Gillian.
The family had many close calls and vigils beside Darragh’s bedside.
“It was the kindness of the paediatrician team that got us through it,” says Gillian.
“We built relationships like no other with so many doctors, nurses, and staff, many of whom were with us until the very end of our journey, and some are now family friends.”
Everyone rallied around the boy with the big smile.
“And the kindness and the support of people like Ger, and the communities of Ballincollig and Ovens, was just amazing.
“We as a family want to say thank-you on Darragh’s behalf.”
Darragh was everybody’s friend. The popular lad was non-verbal, but his beautiful smile and expressive eyes spoke volumes.
“He touched everybody that he met,” says Gillian.
“Darragh was gorgeous and he was a dote.”
He was wise beyond his tender years too.
“And he taught us a lot of things over the years.”
The Guinevans had the best years of Darragh’s life.
“He loved going on holidays to Valentia Island in Kerry and he got to know loads of people there. We have beautiful memories.”
Darragh, who was a big light in the lives of everybody who knew him, will always be a big presence in his parents’ lives.
“He is everywhere in the house!” Gillian says. So Donagh is not the only man of the house?
“Definitely not!” says Gillain. “We feel Darragh here around us all the time.”
She visits her son every day.
“I go to the cemetery and turn on the lights for him. Darragh loved lights.”
Darragh’s own journey brought people together. He steered them together and created a strong bond within a circle of love.
“He was the captain of the ship!” says Gillian.
“We are so grateful for the generosity of everybody who supports Darragh’s Trust. It is his legacy.”
Ger Cotter and his fellow travellers will ensure that Darragh’s Trust remains alive and well as they cycle the length of the country on June 19 in his memory.
“The funds raised will go towards ensuring that children like Darragh receive the best care possible with enhanced facilities,” says Ger.
The 47-year-old, who is self-employed as a pension’s investment brokerage advisor, is an avid cyclist, but this will be the biggest challenge that he’s ever taken on.
It’s good, then, that being such a good friend himself, he will have a little help from his own friends?
“My friends told me that they were doing the cycle in aid of Cycle Against Suicide, but straight away I thought about my friends, Donagh and Gillian, who were bereaved after they lost their beloved son, Darragh.
“I asked my friends if I could do the cycle in Darragh’s memory and they were delighted,” says Ger.
“They want all the funds raised to be donated to the Puffin ward through Darragh’s Trust so that the hospital can invest in new equipment for the ward.”
Other friends rowed in when Ger voiced his intention to take on the challenge of a lifetime; a challenge that would change other people’s lives during their own lifetime, due to funds raised for the Puffin ward at CUH.
“Joe Barr, a well known insurance cyclist, who is a lovely man, made contact with me when he heard about the idea,” says Ger.
He was well used to wheeling and dealing with long bike journeys. “Joe had ridden across America on the bike,” says Ger. “He provided us with a training plan; so we got great advice from him.
Gillian Mooney, a nutritionist, is extremely helpful diet-wise. Ger is feeling the effects of the healthy regime; he’s feeling the buzz, and he’s feeling the love.
“There is a great buzz coming up to the event,” says Ger.
“Everyone has been so supportive and incredibly helpful. It’s lovely.”
It is lovely to be surrounded by good friends and to have a team around you.
“I think Covid taught us a lot about helping each other out and about being kind,” says Ger.
“And it helped us discover what is really important in life. I really appreciate what Covid taught us. There is more to life than materialism.”
Life is all about helping people out and having a little help from your friends.
“The Beatles were right!” says Ger.
What does Ger’s wife Connie think of her husband’s epic journey cycling from Malin to Mizen?
“She is incredibly supportive,” says Ger who knows the value of having a team behind him.
“She thinks I’m half-mad!”
You can donate through Ger’s Go Fund Me page here: www.gofundme.com/f/darraghstrustMizentomalinin24hours
if you’d like to contribute.