Cork mum who lost daughter encourages others to 'live their best lives'

CHRIS DUNNE talks to a Cork mum about the loss of her little girl and how she and her husband are creating a beautiful legacy in their daughter’s memory
Cork mum who lost daughter encourages others to 'live their best lives'

Pictured at the launch of the Heart Angel Charity are Irene and Eoin O'Connor: Béibhinn's parents, alongside Cllr.Fergal Dennehy (Deputising for the Lord Mayor) and Cllr.Seamus McGrath (Deputising for the County Mayor), at the City Hall. Picture: Siobhan Russell

THERE was always a whole lot of loving going on between Irene, Eoin and Béibhinn O’Connor, the trio, from Riverstick and Carrigaline, who formed a beautiful circle of love and kindness.

“Béibhinn was loaned to us for 10 years,” says Irene, who lost her beloved daughter 10 years after she had her 22-week scan which told her she was expecting a girl.

“B touched so many people and she was known for her beautiful smile and her kindness.”

Béibhinn, who suffered from an extremely rare congenital heart disease, died after open heart surgery last September. She survived major heart surgery but passed away after a routine post-operation procedure triggered cardiac arrest.

“I miss her hugs every day,” says Eoin. Béibhinn was a Daddy’s girl. “She hugged me first thing every morning and every evening.”

Béibhinn, now known as the Heart Angel, is gone but never forgotten. She harnessed love and kindness during her short, precious life, and has left a legacy of love and kindness both near and far.

Béibhinn O'Connor .
Béibhinn O'Connor .

Irene and Eoin asked people to keep their only child’s spirit alive by carrying out random acts of kindness and posting a picture to social media with hashtag ‘heartangel’.

“The response was phenomenal both at home and abroad, from as far away as New York and Australia,” says Irene.

“The most important thing for us is to keep Béibhinn’s spirit alive and for people to embrace the kindness B brought to the world in her few short years.”

The love and kindness continues to spread, infiltrating counties all over Ireland.

A new charity, The Heart Angel Charity, recently launched, plans to create beautiful inspiring memory gardens in every county in Ireland and has already begun working with local authorities. The first Heart Angel garden is planned for Carrigaline, a second garden will be created in Cork next year.

A special concert to celebrate Béibhinn’s life will also be held in 2022 - having originally been planned for September.

The beautiful idea of the heart angel gardens for children who have died in every county was inspired by the love and kindness that Béibhinn generated during her short, but wonderful, life.

“The gardens are inspired by positivity, kindness, creativity and colour and will be rolled out throughout the 26 counties of Ireland in memory of children who passed,” says Irene.

The gardens will be special places of remembrance.

“There will be a sculpture in each garden of the ‘Heart Angel’, which will represent children who have died,” says Irene.

Irene and Eoin want the gardens to reflect the beauty of Béibhinn’s life.

“We want the gardens to be colourful, uplifting and inspiring to all members of society,” says Irene.

“We also want to lift the taboo of speaking about a child’s death and to create a place where their friends and family can remember them in a positive light.”

Irene and Eoin O'Connor: Béibhinn's parents, alongside Béibhinn's cousins: Brooke and Jacob O'Connor and the Heart Angel Trustees: Jacinta McBride (Secretary), Deborah McGlinchey (Marketing Officer), Jane Manning (Event Co-ordinator) & Louise Cummins (Treasurer), at the City Hall Cork. Picture: Siobhan Russell
Irene and Eoin O'Connor: Béibhinn's parents, alongside Béibhinn's cousins: Brooke and Jacob O'Connor and the Heart Angel Trustees: Jacinta McBride (Secretary), Deborah McGlinchey (Marketing Officer), Jane Manning (Event Co-ordinator) & Louise Cummins (Treasurer), at the City Hall Cork. Picture: Siobhan Russell

Béibhinn Hope O’Connor was a beacon of light.

“She inspired everyone to be kind during her short life,” says Irene.

“She lived every day like it was her last and she has left behind a powerful legacy of kindness, love and positivity. We are feeling that positive energy.”

Irene and Eoin are positive that their daughter’s lasting legacy will go on and on.

“Béibhinn is the definition of ‘gone but never forgotten’,” says Irene.

“She will be watching over all of us.”

Irene and Eoin cherish the time they had with their ‘heart angel’. And they helped spread the boundless love to other children.

“The Heart Angel Make a Wish raised €97,000 in Ireland,” says Irene.

“And £3,000 was raised for the UK Heart Angel Make a Wish by Béibhinn’s cousin, Stephen Nagle, who lives in Slough, England. He and his pals did a charity cycle.

“Since Béhibbinn died, €100,000 plus was raised for children’s charities and to make children’s wishes come true.”

What are Irene’s and Eoin’s wishes?

“We want to keep Béibhinn’s legacy alive for the rest of our lives; that is so important,” says Irene.

“We want to grow it bigger.”

They want kindness to spread everywhere.

“Béibhinn was pals with everyone,” says Irene.

“When B was born we knew she had a weaker heart than others.

“We tried to make her aware that people can be different and to always be kind.”

Béibhinn was a kind-hearted girl.

“She was always popular and funny and she was upset if she ever saw any bullying. My sister, Laura, is an SNA and she explained bullying to Béibhinn. Béibhinn always told everyone to be kind to each other, she would help everyone to be friends with one another. She never wanted anyone to be sad.”

The epidemic of kindness is spreading around Cork primary schools.

“Thirty schools took part in the Heart Angel Challenge last year,” says Irene.

“Children who did a random act of kindness, got homework off and donated €2 to the Heart Angel Charity. The money raised will help create the Heart Angel Gardens to commemorate those children who have passed.”

Béibhinn O'Connor.
Béibhinn O'Connor.

The theme of kindness continues.

“The plan is to get primary schools in the city to set themselves a challenge every year for 10 years, depending on the year’s theme,” says Irene.

“The first year the theme was kindness where children were asked to be kind throughout the year.”

Béibhinn always led by example.

“There’s a whole video available all about kindness and The Heart Angel, Béibhinn.

“We tried to make it in a nice way, to explain to kids that there can often be tough situations and how to resolve those situations in a really cool way.”

The love goes on.

“The second year, the theme is forgiveness,” says Irene.

“Other themes continuing for eight years are inclusivity, courage, joy and so on.

“In the coming years we’d love schools everywhere to get involved.”

There’s a good incentive to be kind and to spread the kindness.

“The schools that take part will get an individual customised award at the end of the year and the ‘best school’ will get a special award, similar to the ‘best restaurant of the year’ award,” says Irene.

“Each child taking part will get a medal.”

Eoin has got his own award.

“He got 82% honours in his level 7 engineering electrical degree in CIT,” says Irene, proudly.

She and Eoin are getting on with their lives, surrounded by love and kindness and inspired by their beloved daughter, they want to inspire people everywhere to live ‘their best lives’.

“Our lives are about making sure Béibhinn is remembered,” says Irene. 

“And we want to try and encourage people to live their best lives.”

Béibhinn, living her best life, was always an angel.

“Her teachers loved her,” says Irene. “They never had to discipline her. We never disciplined her either she was so good and so happy. We made sure to do something special with Béibhinn every day, like a walk in the woods or going for a cycle.”

Their lives revolved around their Heart Angel.

“There were no date nights! And there were no regrets.”

Irene and Eoin wanted to make every day count.

“When she was born, something told me that I’d bury her,” says Irene.

“I thought it might be at twenty-something; not at nine. We adored her.”

Béibhinn made everyone’s day special.

“She was an angel on earth,” says Eoin. “We had her for 10 wonderful years, which wasn’t long enough,” says Eoin.

“She was a unique little girl and worth waiting for.”

For more information about the Heart Angel Charity and upcoming events see www.theheartangel.com

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