“I was with pals at Breeda’s cousin’s 16th birthday in the Firgrove Hotel, Mitchelstown,” says Mattie, from Kilfinane, recalling when he first set eyes on the young Limerick lady who would become his wife.
The couple had over more than idyllic decades together before the scourge of breast cancer would claim Breeda’s life when she was just 50.
“We had one dance that night to the song Girls Just Want to Have Fun, I’ll never forget it,” says Mattie, remembering the magic moment he met his one and only love.
The romantic chemistry was alive and well under the majestic Galtee Mountains.
“We sat down together and we never looked back since then,” says Mattie.
Breeda was diagnosed with the disease aged 35. While she was undergoing treatment at the Dunmanway Day Unit in CUH, she never forgot the other patients who were going through the same tough uphill journey that she was.
The Breeda McGrath Memorial Fund was founded by the McGrath and Leonard families in 2018 in loving memory of Breeda, to ensure that patients undergoing cancer treatment are assisted in times of financial difficulty. It is a fund that keeps on giving.
The fundraising Valentine raffle taking place on February 12, initiated by Cork secondary school teacher, Sarah Kelly, from Ballincollig, is set to boost the coffers of the CUH charity fund and the morale of the patients undergoing cancer treatment.
“There is nobody that hasn’t been touched by cancer in some form,” says Sarah.
“I have friends and family who have been affected by cancer and I realise while diagnosis and treatment is something people have to deal with, the hidden financial burden of a cancer diagnosis is also very difficult to have to deal with.”
In these unprecedented times, stress and anxiety as well as financial issues are magnified, especially when Covid has played havoc with our everyday lives.
“Often, a cancer patient may have had to stop working, their spouse or partner may be under pressure now, becoming the only bread-winner, or their jobs are in jeopardy,” says Sarah.
Cancer is unforgiving.
“There are a lot of financial implications going through cancer treatment, like transport, food requirements, child-care, extra fuel bills and medical prescriptions.
“I came up with the idea of supporting local businesses and supporting cancer patients at the same time, offering cancer patients a little treat to alleviate some of the stress of undergoing cancer treatment, which can often be a horrendous experience.
Sarah got to work.
“Making things a bit easier, giving something nice to cancer patients while supporting local businesses, seemed the way to go,” says Sarah.
“Shop Local for Cancer Care was the initial fund-raising initiative where vouchers from Cork shops and businesses were bought and put together in packages and given to cancer patients in the CUH. The little gift would help people out financially and cheer them up.”
It was a win-win situation.
When the idea of the Valentine raffle for CUH charity was born, it was another win-win situation for Cork businesses and for cancer patients.
“At the end of December, I thought a raffle with wonderful prizes would boost cancer patients, Cork businesses and the CUH charity, in particular the Breeda McGrath Memorial Fund,” says Sarah.
Cork and Munster businesses were more than willing to answer the call to sponsor the raffle that would make the best of times out of the worst of times for cancer patients going through gruelling treatment and for their families.
“John Brennan, of the Park Hotel, Kenmare, answered immediately,” says Sarah.
“He offered a two night stay, B&B, and dinner for two people at the hotel worth €1,200. That is pure luxury for a lucky couple to enjoy.”
Cork businesses followed in John’s wake, delighted to support a cause close to everyone’s heart.
“Second prize is a €300 voucher from Keanes Jewellers,” says Sarah.
Might come in handy for Valentine’s Day if anyone is thinking of proposing?
“That’s true! And maybe clock up some brownie points too!” says Sarah, who was bowled over by the generosity and level of support from Cork businesses like Brown Thomas, Hayfield Manor, Castlemartyr Resort, Greens Restaurant, and Cork sports’ stars, Derval O’Rourke and Eoin Cadogan. Cummins Sports rowed in behind the fantastic initiative too.
“The Breeda McGrath fund was the appropriate fund to donate to,” says Sarah.
“They often suggest people they are treating to the nurses who might benefit from the kind gesture of being given a voucher for a treat or a holistic treatment to lift them a bit. It can be an extremely tough time.”
Sarah knew people would want to give back to CUH for the wonderful work they do.
“This has grown much more than I anticipated,” says Sarah. “Just know I am hugely grateful to everybody.”
Breeda McGrath, who was always giving, is still spreading the love.
“She wanted to give something back,” says Mattie.
“So I put my energy into raising funds for CUH charity after she died in 2018.”
More than €20,000 was raised at the 2018 Limerick Ladies Marathon when 64 of Breeda’s supporters, including her then 77-year-old mother, Bridget Leonard, honoured her memory.
Shortly after, the Breeda McGrath Memorial Fund was established and is going strong.
Breeda put her energy into positive things, even when her health failed.
“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up,” she said.
“That was her motto,” says Mattie, who thinks about her every day.
What does he think about?
“I think about how blessed we were being so happy together, just the two of us” says Mattie who works as an operations manager at Munster Van Centre and who farms as well.
“We both had good jobs. We never had a cross word between us. We enjoyed life, the farm, the animals, going on holidays.
“We loved our animals and Breeda was particularly fond of her miniature ponies that she had designer coats made for. She loved our dogs and walking them.
“Breeda always helped out her mother, who farms half a mile from us. Being an accountant, Breeda sorted out family and advised friends about tax credits and tax queries. She was always there to help out. She was a good person to know.”
Breeda was a girl who just wanted to have fun.
“At our joint 50th birthday party at the Curraheen Park Greyhound track, she danced all night.”
They were all in the circle of love together.
“I still help out Bridget on the farm,” says Mattie.
“We are there for each other. We have a common bond. After Breeda died, I just had the four walls. I am glad to still have Bridget. Bridget is a great lady, now 79. We both miss Breeda so much every day.”
The pets Breeda and Mattie doted on enjoyed life too with their owners.
“Breeda passed away peacefully in the place she loved so well.
“She died in my arms at home on Saturday, January 20, 2018,” says Mattie.
“She was wrapped around me, snuggled into me, and then she passed away. Breeda was the love of my life.”
The Breeda McGrath Memorial Fund will help ease those going through an uncertain, anxious, sometimes painful journey.
“Breeda used to have conversations with other patients every Tuesday in the Dunmanway Unit,” says Mattie.
Breeda McGrath left a legacy of love, spreading the love. Her generous enduring spirit lives on helping the love flow.
“Sarah is a complete stranger to us,” says Mattie.
“But what a wonderful generous gesture on her part to support the Breeda Memorial Fund with the help of Cork businesses and Cork people organising the Valentines raffle.”
Random strangers do good random deeds.
“People are so good,” says Mattie.
“It means an awful lot to me.”
“Breeda knew she couldn’t change the world,” says Mattie.
“But she knew she could change the world for one person.”
And then some...
The CUH Valentine’s Draw takes place on February 12. For more see https://www.idonate.ie/raffle/CUHValentinesDraw
Further information on the draw is available at Sarah’s fund-raising page: shop.local.for.cancer.care on Instagram.