'Cathal always put a smile on people's faces': Memorial to much-loved teen unveiled in Cork city park 

"He loved people and made everyone so happy. Lockdown let us have so much time together as a family and we'll always be grateful for that." 
'Cathal always put a smile on people's faces': Memorial to much-loved teen unveiled in Cork city park 

Unveiling of memorial bench in memory of Cathal O'Neill, who died suddenly in November 2020, at Fitzgerald's Park, Mardyke, Cork.

THE family of a teenage boy who died last year have been presented with a special gift to mark what would have been his 18th birthday.

A memorial plaque in honour of local hero Cathal O'Neill was unveiled at Fitzgerald's Park in Cork city, close to the playground that he loved to visit.

It was organised by Northside councillor and friend of the family, Kenneth Collins.

 Lord Mayor Cllr Colm Kelleher, speaking at the unveiling. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Lord Mayor Cllr Colm Kelleher, speaking at the unveiling. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

The teen passed away unexpectedly after a long battle with health complications related to spina bifida and a rare axial skeleton growth disorder known as JLS syndrome.

Cathal's mum Pauline confessed that she never liked Cathal's birthday because it meant they were one year closer to losing him. Nonetheless, she explained that this one will be their hardest yet.

"Last year we were in shock," she said, "We were all so numb but the reality of it all has finally hit us. 

"Everyone is really struggling but we still managed to get up our Christmas tree. We wanted to have it shining bright because we know that's what Cathal would have wanted. 

"Cathal always loved birthdays. As early as January, he would be asking me what we were going to do and who we planned to invite."

Cathal packed in 21 birthdays in 12 months after doctors believed he would not make his first birthday.

"We were told from the start that he wouldn't live for more than a few days. I threw a birthday party for him every week so we wouldn't have to miss out. It was a proper event with lots of guests including family members who would travel long distances to be with him. When we got to his 21st birthday party we realised that we couldn't keep going on eating cake as we were."

Cathal O'Neill was a superman fan and was described described as a true hero following his untimely death. 
Cathal O'Neill was a superman fan and was described described as a true hero following his untimely death. 

Cathal, Pauline said, had once insisted that he never wanted to grow up.

"His only struggle was that he always wanted to be a teenager. He didn't want to grow up and go to work and do all the boring things that adults do. He loved people and made everyone so happy. Lockdown let us have so much time together as a family and we'll always be grateful for that. Cathal was never happy until he had his whole family around him. He looked up to his three older siblings so much and loved his family more than anything in the world."

She recalled how he had planned to get a Power Rangers tattoo as soon as he was old enough.

Cathal's family, Terry, Sarah, Ciara, Terry and Pauline O'Neill. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Cathal's family, Terry, Sarah, Ciara, Terry and Pauline O'Neill. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

"His siblings told him that when he turned 18 they would take him to the pub and buy him a pint. However, he insisted that the only pint he would be having was a pint of water. All he wanted to do was get a Power Rangers tattoo. He loved them because they were teenage heroes fighting evil and making people happy."

The 16-year-old had also been described as a hero by those who knew him.

"Cathal always made sure to put a smile on people's faces no matter how sick he was."

Cathal enjoyed the best life possible despite the endless list of challenges he faced.

"We did the best we could and had lots of adventures from going to Disney in France to camping. Cathal had so many adventures in his short life."

He particularly loved music and enjoyed singing with his sister Ciara who he referred to as his "angel."

In 2018 Cathal fulfilled a dream of presenting his own radio show, with the help of Kieran Hurley of UCC Radio. Picture: Larry Cummins
In 2018 Cathal fulfilled a dream of presenting his own radio show, with the help of Kieran Hurley of UCC Radio. Picture: Larry Cummins

The teen always took centre stage in life and enjoyed success on the amateur drama circuit. One of his best-remembered performances was as the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland performed by the youth theatre group Breaking Barriers.

The production was organised under the umbrella of the Crann centre which provides services to people with spina bifida, hydrocephalus, neuromuscular conditions, and wheelchair users. He also featured heavily in a number of projects coordinated by Music Generation in the city's northside.

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