Reaching out to families who need our support

Ireland’s only dedicated children’s hospice marks an important milestone tomorrow. CHRIS DUNNE talks to the Cork woman who heads up the LauraLynn Foundation, which has supported thousands of families
Reaching out to families who need our support

MARKING A MILESTONE: Orla O’Brien, from Mitchelstown, CEO of LauraLynn, Ireland’s Children’s Hospice

ORLA O’Brien, nee Keane, is equally at home in her native Mitchelstown in the shadow of the Galtee Mountains and in her role as CEO of LauraLynn, Ireland’s only dedicated children’s hospice.

LauraLynn is celebrating its seventh birthday tomorrow, September 27.

“I love going home to Mitchelstown where I was born and bred and where mum and dad still live,” says Orla, who is bringing 28 years of acute hospital experience, 18 of which has been at management level, to her demanding role.

“I always enjoy getting a golf lesson from dad, and getting out for a brisk walk in the heart of the country. My husband Conor and I are keen golfers,” says Orla.

“Mitchelstown is great to recharge the batteries. We live in Booterstown, which is nice, but it doesn’t have the charming country boreens or the beauty of the Galtee Mountains.

“I went to primary and secondary school in Mitchelstown. I love home and it loves me.”

Mitchelstown has another draw for Orla and her family. She and Conor, who is from Wexford, have three daughters, Ellie, aged 16, and twins, Rachel and Keelin, aged 14.

“Mum smothers us with food! Now, I have a family of my own, including twins; I have a certain sympathy for my mother! It is always nice too for our family to catch up with their Cork cousins.”

Orla and her twin sister, Dervila, both trained as nurses.

“We both got posts at Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin, and St James’s,” says Orla. “So we headed for the Big Smoke.”

Orla was always interested in the care of children and she concentrated in paediatrics, after qualifying as a children’s nurse in 1989.

“Our other sister, Eimear, became a nurse too,” says Orla. “Eventually she went to work for the healthcare company, Laya, in Cork. Roisin is not a nurse. But three of us girls went into nursing.”

Nursing was Orla’s calling in life. But she possessed other skills too.

“I had a good business sense about me,” she says. “I was on the front-line from an early age, nursing being my professional role, becoming a manager early on in my career. For 15 to 20 years I was full on in management at all levels.

“I was experienced in the hospital side of nursing, face- to-face with patients every day. The community side and the charitable side is a different experience for me, and an exciting one.”

Orla’s roles included Deputy Director of Nursing at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, project manager in the Department of Health, and more recently, Chief Operations Manager with the Children’s Hospital group.

“I am really excited to join LauraLynn,” says Orla.

“It is a challenging new role for me. The organisation has done so much to inspire the lives of children with life-limiting conditions and for their families across Ireland.

“Of the 3,840 children with life-limiting conditions living in Ireland today, over 700 are estimated to need specialised care provided by LauraLynn and I look forward to extending awareness and assistance to those families who currently do not avail of our palliative care services.”

Orla wants children to have the same palliative care access that adults have.

“Adults in Ireland can access palliative care relatively easy,” she says. “I would like it to be the same for children, and more importantly to make it as easy as possible for parents in a time of crisis. I feel there is room for us, and a role for us, to do a lot more. My hope is to grow and develop our services in the right way.”

Orla has huge respect for Irish nurses who work on the front-line.

“A big part of choosing a career for me, was hoping to make a difference,” she says.

“In my opinion, dedicated, highly skilled nurses have a tough job with not the biggest salary. It is full-on,” says Orla.

“To give yourself over, leaving everything else outside the door of the hospital, is an amazing thing to do every day. People who choose nursing as a career know they are making a difference to, and impacting on, the lives of others.” Orla is hoping to make a difference in her role as CEO for LauraLynn.

“At the end of the year, we are engaging with our stake-holders to discuss strategy where we can make the biggest impact.”

She is also looking forward to her next visit to Mitchelstown in October. “I get an update on all the gossip!” says Orla.

That’s important too.

“Of course it is!” says Orla.


The LauraLynn Foundation was established in 2001 by Jane and Brendan McKenna after their two daughters, Laura, aged four, and Lynn, aged 13, died within two years of each other.

The Children’s Sunshine House Project was merged with the LauraLynn Children’s Hospice Foundation in 2006 to maximise fundraising efforts and establish Ireland’s first children’s hospice in 2011.

LauraLynn supports children with life-limiting conditions and their families in the hospice or in their own homes.

It provides psychological counselling support groups as well as music and holistic therapies. Also palliative, support, transitional, crisis and respite care — all provided free of charge.

For more email: or call 01-2893151.

More in this section

Sponsored Content