Cork sisters climb Ireland's highest peak with family and friends for cancer research 

Inspired by their mum’s cancer diagnosis, a Cork family have raised funds for Breakthrough Cancer Research, writes CHRIS DUNNE
Cork sisters climb Ireland's highest peak with family and friends for cancer research 

Catherine O’ Keeffe and Elaine Cooney and Elaine's son Darragh present a cheque to Breakthrough Cancer Research.

HAVING achieved reaching the summit of the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, 1,038m, in aid of Breakthrough Cancer Research, sisters Catherine O’Keeffe and Elaine Cooney’s feet have barely touched the ground.

They completed the gruelling climb for a cause close to their hearts and raised a massive €11,738 for the cancer research charity.

The sisters also made a generous donation on behalf of their family by donating €500 to Cork City Missing Persons and Rescue team for guiding them safely up and down the mighty mountain.

“It was unbelievable,” says Catherine, from Faranree, speaking about the mammoth climb that took place late last month, on August 28.

“Friends, family, in-laws, and our neighbours joined us and volunteers from Cork City Missing Persons Search and Rescue team led us to the top.

“The energy and the positivity among the mix of people was outstanding,” says Catherine.

“We had a great bunch. When we set off some of us didn’t know each other; by the end we were all pals!”

How long did it take the group to reach the top of the mighty mountain?

“Eight hours in total,” says Catherine.

“It was a- once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“The fabulous atmosphere motivated all of us and kept us going, even though bodies were aching.

“There were swollen joints and knees popping; but we kept on going.”

The good spirits never flagged.

“The cráic was mighty!”

Sisters Catherine O’ Keeffe and Elaine Cooney, with their group of climbers, who reached the summit of Carrauntoohil.
Sisters Catherine O’ Keeffe and Elaine Cooney, with their group of climbers, who reached the summit of Carrauntoohil.

The group had another guide.

“Elaine’s son Darragh, 11, led us all the way. He was first at the top of the mountain and he was first at the bottom,” says Catherine.

“He said he’d do it again, no bother. He is a good soldier. We wondered mid-way would he be able to finish the climb; he proved us all wrong! He said he’d do it again! His sister Katelyn was a great soldier too”.

Darragh’s mum, Elaine, doesn’t hang about either.

“She was just magnificent in organising the climb in aid of Breakthrough Cancer Research,” says Catherine.

“She put her heart and soul into it. She deserves all the credit. Once she sets her mind to something, she’ll run with it. She organised the gofundme page, the sponsor cards and sponsors, the t- shirts, and even booking the hotel rooms in Killarney was down to her. She’s amazing.

“Raising awareness for this charity was what the fundraiser was all about. It is such a worthwhile charity that will help future generations.”


Breakthrough Cancer Research is an Irish medical Cancer Research Charity focused on funding research leading to new treatments for cancers which do not respond or that are poorly served by available treatments. Their ambition is to accelerate progress and see three quarters of people surviving the disease within the next 20 years. They fund scientists, doctors and nurses to help beat cancer sooner.

They also provide information to the public and they develop policy.

Elaine and Catherine’s mother, Pauline, is pretty amazing too.

“Mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019,” says Elaine.

“She got the all-clear in August, but unfortunately she was re- diagnosed in August 2020. It was a heart-breaking blow,” says Elaine.

“She was supposed to embark on a clinical trial but her bowel erupted and that wasn’t possible. She had to have a stoma fitted but she adapted to it very well. She’s never looked back. Now mum is on the Prembo drug and she is doing good. She’s still up and about doing her bits.

“My mum is my best friend. We do everything together; we always have done. She’s a great grandmother to my kids and to my sister’s kids.

“She wanted to raise money for Breakthrough Cancer; so we all got involved. Mum has shown such strength, determination and courage. She inspired us to do the fundraiser and it took her mind off the cancer.”

Dr Dearbhaile Collins, oncologist, also inspired the Cooney family.

“She is an amazing woman,” says Catherine.

“She said she had a bag of tricks and that she would try them all for mum! Our grandad died of throat cancer 25 years ago; there was nothing for him.”

Cancer is a hard thing to bear, it takes its toll on patients and their loved ones.

“It affects you emotionally, physically and mentally. Mum put up a great front. I can’t begin to imagine how she feels,” says Catherine.

Pauline lives near her daughters.

The group reached the summit, with the help of guides from CCMSAR.
The group reached the summit, with the help of guides from CCMSAR.

“It’s a two minute walk,” says Elaine. “We’re in and out all the time. Mum loves the company and giving us dinners and cakes. She is the real ‘Irish’ mammy and she used love her holidays in the sun.”

The Cooney sisters made good use of their time during the pandemic.

“Having time off work was a blessing because we got to spend quality time with our mum,” says Elaine.

“She has been so strong and has pushed through so many difficult times. 

"She was even nominated for an award from CUH as one of the patients who would benefit from a current memory fund that a family run every year to give back to people who are going through what mum went through. She got a voucher to treat herself at Christmas because of her strength of spirit,” says Elaine.

Pauline always thinks about others.

“Mum said the fundraiser might not help people of her generation; but it will help future generations. Every day Breakthrough Cancer Research carry out new trials and research.”


Elaine says regular smears to check for pre-cancerous cells and getting regular check-ups are important.

“It is vital to get a cervical smear regularly and some adults might choose to get the HPV vaccine. Getting medical advice is always important.”

Pauline was behind everyone doing the climb up Carrauntoohil.

“We couldn’t have done the climb without the support of our mum. Breakthrough Cancer Research was an amazing cause to focus on.

“Everyone’s support meant the world to us. Coming near the day of the climb, we were running around for gear to wear like socks and boots; the boots had to be broken in!”

People got roped in.

“Alan, Catherine’s husband, got roped in! James their son, aged eight, had a very important job minding his nana while we were doing the climb. We were all proud of him.”

It was a family affair.

“All the in-laws, family, friends and neighbours rallied around,” says Elaine.

“It was amazing.”

“My 11 year old son, Darragh, motivated us all,” says Elaine.

“He went on 5km walks to make sure he was trained and fit enough to do his 10km walk alongside our climb. He’s really close to his granny. She often minded him and his sister, Katelyn.”

After reaching the summit and returning back down, the group were elated.

“We were all delighted,” says Catherine. “Mum was at the bottom of the mountain to welcome us back.

“A few dropped out during the course of the evening, but a lot of us lasted longer!”

The sisters are delighted their efforts in fund-raising for Breakthrough Cancer Research will help future generations.

“We hoped to raise around €2,000 initially, says Catherine.

“The final figure surpassed all our expectations. We’d like to thank all the Cork businesses that supported the fundraiser in aid of Breakthrough Cancer Research.”

To donate to breakthrough Cancer Research see: For more information call 021-4226655.

More in this section

Sponsored Content


Called Droid, our next story is about a boy who designs a robot at UCC and chaos ensues. It was written by Margaret Gillies, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC.

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more