GARRY Walsh was not only big in stature. The 6 foot 2 inch Kildorrery man had a big personality and a big heart too. His home was his castle and that is where his heart still resides.
“Life is very tough without dad,” says Garry’s daughter, Niamh.
Garry lost his battle with oesophageal cancer on March 17, 2017.
“We are lucky that we are living in the house that he built for us. His work is everywhere here, so it is a constant reminder that he is here with us every day,” says Niamh.
“It’s the little things like his written phone number on the bathroom door frame from when he did up the bathroom for us six months before he died, which will never be painted over.”
Niamh, together with her sisters Orla and Ciara, and their mother, Julie, are taking part in the Mercy Hospital Foundation’s annual Galtees ‘Climb to Remember’, which takes place on Sunday, June 10.
“We’d like to thank the Mercy Hospital for the opportunity to remember our father in this way,” says Niamh.
“I’m sure it’ll give our fellow hikers on June 10 precious time to reflect on and remember loved ones who have passed on. The care our dad received under the care of Professor Seamus O’Reilly and his team at the Mercy Hospital was second to none and we’re grateful for everything the team there did to help him and our family, and we’re happy that this event gives us the opportunity to give something back. Dad made us all proud. Now it’s time to give something back.”
There was no mountain high enough that Garry couldn’t climb. While undergoing treatment at the Mercy, he made the decision to organise a fundraising event and, so, on September 10, 2016, he organised a five mile family walk/run, followed by a social event in Kildorrery creamery, raising a staggering €32,556. Garry wanted to show his appreciation to the hospital and help make a difference for cancer patients there.
A coffee morning organised by Johnny Walsh’s family raised €4,007, boosting the funds to €36,563, all of which was put to good use by the Mercy Hospital Foundation.
“Garry had the same troops always in his corner,” says Julie. “He’d tell them what was going on, and they would just fall in.”
The tremendous success of the event meant that the Mercy Hospital Foundation was able to purchase six electric profiling beds for cancer patients at St Therese’s ward as well as extra equipment including eight high-backed patient chairs, 12 hot blankets, a triple pump, syringe driver, and two monitors with thermometers.
“Dad was always giving out about the beds in ward,” says Niamh. “He was so tall, his legs used to hang out of the bottom of the bed!”
Garry, who gave of his time and his building and carpentry expertise, travelling to improve facilities in Chernobyl for over a decade, didn’t believe in doing things by halves.
“Chernobyl was close to dad’s heart,” says Niamh. “As well as the Mercy Hospital, he supported St Joseph’s, Charleville, The Cope Foundation, CUH, and MS Ireland. He had great contacts and he could get people motivated to give money wholeheartedly for good use. He was the Mercy Stars Hero in 2017.”
Everyone knew the big, kind-hearted man.
“He was the go-to man in the locality,” says Niamh. “I’m sure he did work in every house. He fixed a roof on Christmas Day. If you wanted anything done; ask Garry Walsh.”
He didn’t let his illness dictate his life.
“Even when he was sick, and in and out of the Mercy Hospital and Marymount for treatment, he still worked away, fixing things and measuring up,” says Niamh.
“He was so handy. If anyone saw him at work, they’d never guess that he was sick.
“When he organised the fundraiser for the Mercy, he was up and down ladders all day, making sure everything was in order. He took two steroids to tide him over for the day. The distraction kept him going and we were all so proud of him.”
Julie and her three daughters, Ciara, Niamh and Orla, never guessed that big, strong Garry could be diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in November, 2015, when he was only 50.
“It was stage 4,” says Julie. “Surgery wasn’t an option. Palliative care and chemotherapy was the treatment plan. Life should begin at 50. Not for Garry.”
How did the diagnosis come about?
“He’d had a fall off a roof,” says Julie. “His movement was restricted and he went to the doctor to get the pins out of his elbow joint. The doctor asked him if there was anything else? Garry mentioned that he had experienced discomfort swallowing apples and grapes.”
Garry’s good humour was always near to the surface.
He was referred to Mallow Hospital, then to Cork.
“It was hard to believe that the cancer was stage 4,” says Julie. “Garry was fit and healthy. He went to the gym three or four mornings a week every day for three or four years. We wondered — how could it be stage 4?”
Garry took the diagnosis in his stride and continued to do the things he liked best.
“Dad was a keen GAA fan and he loved going to all the Munster games. If he went, we all went,” says Niamh.
He loved the banter.
“Dad built up a great rapport with Professor O’Reilly,” says Niamh. “They’d discuss Munster and Connaught rugby and swap notes. Garry would ring Seamus and ask him what he thought of the match. The two men got on well together and they had a great relationship.”
Garry, blessed with a sunny disposition, didn’t believe in doom and gloom.
“Dad never used his illness as a crutch,” says Niamh. “He still went out and about even though he was having treatment. He knew all the nurses in St Therese’s ward and dad and the nurses chatted away together and they had good fun,” says Niamh.
“At Marymount we were treated like we were the only family there. Dad used to go to Marymount for a boost. When Dad went to Marymount for a week, we all packed up and went with him.”
Marymount was home from home.
“Mam got her hair coloured and we sent out for Chinese. Dad got frozen pineapple. We were treated like royalty,” says Niamh.
“I remember at Easter, dad asked me to go out and buy 50 Easter eggs,” says Orla. “I had to give them out to all the nurses at the Mercy hospital.” Nobody was left out.
“Dad wanted to give an Easter egg to Martina, the tea lady, as well.”
The house that Garry built was always full.
“It was like Heuston Station,” says Julie. “One day, 30 people called that Garry had asked to call in! We had great neighbours, people like the Roches and our friend, Andrew.”
Garry never failed to amaze people.
“In July, his, nephew, Kevin, got married in Armagh,” says Julie. “Garry drove to the wedding. When Dr Marie Murphy found out, she said, don’t tell me he drove!”
Garry, always looking on the bright side of life, sought a second opinion about his condition.
“He travelled to Dublin, to St James’ hospital,” says Julie. “He was hoping that he could go on a clinical trial. Unfortunately there were none available to him.”
Julie has fond memories of the man she crossed the Limerick border to marry.
“We loved going on holidays,” she says. “If there was a party happening, we’d be the first to arrive and the last to leave. We saw Bruce Springsteen in concert in Cork which was fabulous.”
Garry lived life to the full.
It is not the years that you live. It is the life you live, he said.
His daughters know their dad was something special. Mum is too.
“We are so lucky to have mum” says Niamh. “She is a pillar of strength, both to dad when he was sick and with us.”
The Walsh women will climb the mountain together.
“Dad made us all very proud. Now it is our turn to return the favour.”
The ‘Climb to Remember’ is open to anyone over 16 years of age and takes place on June 10. A second ‘Climb to Remember’ takes place on Saturday, June 24 up Carrauntoohil.
For more information see www.mercyfundraising.ie. or call 021-42740766.