Charity match supports parents whose babies were born asleep

A special charity soccer match takes place this weekend, John Arnold tells us more in his weekly column
Charity match supports parents whose babies were born asleep

Some of the Féilacáin Fathers squad for the charity soccer match against Sands NI at Dalymount Park on Saturday, June 25.

I WOULDN’T be a great soccer man myself.

Now, I’ve nothing personal against it as a sport, but watching or taking part in a contest where, after 90 minutes, there might be no score... lads, give me a break!

Then fans and fanatics debating that ‘twas a classic game - will ye give me a break!

I’m often introduced ‘in company’ as ‘the man that wanted to keep Post Offices open and Croke Park closed’ -in fairness, I’ve no quibble with that description. Ironic, isn’t it, that 30 years ago, when the Government and An Post took the callous decision to permanently close our sub Post Office in Bartlemy, I suggested to the ‘powers-that-be’ that small stand-alone Post Offices should get some form of subsidy.

My argument then, and now, was that despite modern communication methods, the local village Office was a lifeline for so many rural dwellers.

My suggestion of a subsidy was rejected as being unworkable, against competition law, it would be thrown out by the EU and distort the postal service.

I adequately debunked all those arguments, but still nothing was done.

Since 1991, more than 1,000 sub Post Offices have been closed. Now, in this year of 2022, a €30 million subsidy package over three years has been announced! It couldn’t be done in 1991, but three decades later, it’s fully acceptable.

Anyway, that’s why I was once dubbed the man who wanted to keep the Post Offices open. Keeping Croke Park ‘closed’ was an entirely different matter! Croke Park was built as a GAA stadium and as such, in my mind anyway, should remain solely for Gaelic games and not for other sports which are in competition with our native games.

I lost that battle too, but remain firm in my belief that removing Rule 42 from the GAA Official Guide started the organisation on a slippery slope towards a two-tier Association which we now have, where professional (in everything but name) inter- county teams get the cream and the clubs can pick up the autumnal crumbs.

So, dear readers I have nothing personal at all, at all against Association Football, or soccer as it’s commonly called. I suppose because I was reared, weaned, fed, educated and enthralled by hurling and football, I just love Gaelic games.

I’m no bigot though - I don’t ‘hate’ soccer and rugby, nor boxing, athletics, judo, show jumping or volleyball, it’s just as John Mullane might say: “I loves me club and I loves me county,” simple as that.

This day two weeks ago in Lourdes, I walked the High Stations with a group of about 50 other pilgrims led by a Priest from the Waterford diocese. You climb up, up the winding, wending route of the Stations of the Cross, following it to the Crucifixion and then down the other side of the rugged hill.

There are normally 14 Stations but in Lourdes there’s a 15th, representing the Resurrection of Christ. After this Station, as pilgrims make the descent, the path goes round a turn and descends once more. Then, at the right hand side, high up over the path, is what looks like a huge cavern, called the Grotto of The Two Marys.

I only discovered it and its significance a few years back on a December trip to Lourdes. It is a very special place, a grotto dedicated to the memory of children and babies who have died. Premature births, illness and accidents are remembered here in a spot that truly can bring some peace to grieving parents.

My personal experience of a premature stillborn birth in our family came over 30 years ago, but the memory still remains.

I cried openly the first time I stopped and prayed at the Grotto of The Two Marys. Last Thursday was no different as we paused, prayed and sang with fathers and mothers, recalling children who never grew to adulthood.

Imagine my reaction then when I came home and was ‘catching up with the news’ from the Echo. I had heard previously of Féileacáin, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death association of Ireland, which was founded in 2009. Féileacáin is the Irish word for a butterfly - a fitting physical symbol of the human soul.

I was humbled when I read about the efforts of my friend Barry Johnson and other members of the Association to raise funds.

Féileacáin was set up by bereaved parents to offer support to those affected by the death of a baby in or near the time of birth. No State funding is received so fund-raising is vital.

Barry grew up here in Bartlemy and for over 20 years was one of Bride Rovers’ star hurlers. He gave such service to our club at Intermediate and Senior, played with Cork, and was the skills coach to last year’s All Ireland winning Cork Minor Hurling team. 7

Now living in Ballyhooley, where he plays with the local club, anything Barry does he gives it 100%.

Barry and Elaine’s daughter Saoirse Mai was born sleeping in 2017 and he is since then involved with the Féileacáin Fathers.

In the North of Ireland, a kindred group exists, SANDS - Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support.

In May, 2020, the two associations agreed and arranged to play each other in a soccer game in Dublin’s Dalymount Park. The best laid plans of mice and men can go awry and Covid scuppered all the arrangements for the fundraiser.

Since then, all the players involved have met up, usually monthly, on Malahide’s astro pitches.

Players from 14 different counties are on the squad, from Cork to Mayo.

So, next Saturday afternoon, as Cork GAA football fans are en route to Croke Park to take on the Dubs, the Feileacain Fathers and Sands teams will be in action in Dalymount with a 3pm throw in.

Anyone who would like to make a donation to this worthy fundraiser can do so online by going to the iDonate page - just google it and you’ll have no problem.

Life is strange, isn’t it? This day two weeks ago I stood at the Grotto of the Two Marys in Lourdes with other parents and grandparents who had lost precious children. We prayed and shed a tear and walked back down the winding path. We left the quiet and calm of the hillside for the hustle and bustle of the busy town below.

That’s life.

Today was the day,

You were looking forward to.

Today was the day

Your dreams should have come true.

Today is the day

Your arms are left bare.

Today is the day

We remember your lost one, so dear.

Today is another day

Where your baby flies free.

Today is another day

Where pain and suffering never can be.

Today is another day

In clouds with angels at play.

Today is a good day

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