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The Fairytale of Tipperary
By Tommy Gorman Senior Contributor of https://thecurrency.news/ On the day that the farewell to Shane MacGowan in Nenagh’s St Mary’s of the Rosary Church was making international headlines, 55 kilometres away in Tipperary Town, another celebration, a 10th birthday, was taking place. The activities of the Circle of Friends are a real-time Fairytale of Tipperary.    The voluntary group members run a Cancer Support Centre from their own building at Knockanrawley. Its neighbours include a busy childcare centre, a housing estate and a resource centre. The site was provided by the Cashel/Tipperary Municipal District Council. The driving force behind the project is a local woman, Jennifer Jones Hickey. She is unlikely to be known beyond her own community but her story deserves a wider audience. In 2010, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She began travelling to Cork every fortnight for treatment. There, in a cancer support centre off Paul Street, she received much-needed emotional and psychological help. She decided that if she lived, she would try to build a similar service in her hometown. With help from people and their families and friends dealing with a similar challenge, Jennifer began campaigning. Ten years ago this month, they found a first home in Station House, on […]

By Tommy Gorman Senior Contributor of https://thecurrency.news/

On the day that the farewell to Shane MacGowan in Nenagh’s St Mary’s of the Rosary Church was making international headlines, 55 kilometres away in Tipperary Town, another celebration, a 10th birthday, was taking place. The activities of the Circle of Friends are a real-time Fairytale of Tipperary.   

The voluntary group members run a Cancer Support Centre from their own building at Knockanrawley. Its neighbours include a busy childcare centre, a housing estate and a resource centre. The site was provided by the Cashel/Tipperary Municipal District Council.

The driving force behind the project is a local woman, Jennifer Jones Hickey. She is unlikely to be known beyond her own community but her story deserves a wider audience. In 2010, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She began travelling to Cork every fortnight for treatment. There, in a cancer support centre off Paul Street, she received much-needed emotional and psychological help. She decided that if she lived, she would try to build a similar service in her hometown.

With help from people and their families and friends dealing with a similar challenge, Jennifer began campaigning. Ten years ago this month, they found a first home in Station House, on Station Road in Tipperary Town. Soon they were offering, free of charge, workshops, group sessions and complementary therapies to people and their families dealing with cancer.  

As word about the Station House service spread and the numbers using it increased, it became clear that the base with three rented rooms was not sufficient. Jennifer and the board of volunteers committed to fundraising for a purpose-built centre that would serve future needs.

Some €120,000 National Lottery funding provided important seed capital. The communities of West Tipperary, East Limerick and North Cork generously supported fundraising schemes. The Boston Scientific Employee Charity committed to supporting the gardens and landscaping at the site. Other businesses including O’Dwyer Steel and Dundrum Nurseries also pitched in.  

Lobbying Simon Harris

One important thread in the story began on January 26, 2017, when a group of board members travelled to Leinster House to ask then-Minister for Health Simon Harris for support. That delegation included Sarah Gleeson, who was dealing with her cancer condition at the time. During the discussions, she spoke passionately about why the project deserved government support.  

Eight months later, Simon Harris visited the group at Station House, when he was in Tipperary. Sarah Gleeson was too ill to attend the meeting. She was in hospital, receiving treatment but he phoned her and she again made the case for government funding. Sarah died two months later.

Two years later, in June 2019, when Simon Harris officially opened the new centre, he announced the Department of Health would provide the finance to complete the funding of the project. In his address, he referred to his conversations with Sarah Gleeson.  

The centre cost €1 million. The facilities represent extraordinary value for money. Although it was only opened last year, it would be impossible to deliver the project on such a budget today. The reception area includes a bright graphic of red bricks, with names attached. Each one cost €50. 

The donor wall is one of the schemes used to help fund running costs and the list of names grows. Jennifer Jones Hickey was a driving force during the design and build. While she and her board members are grateful for the life-saving treatment they have received, their policy involved making the centre the polar opposite of a hospital setting. When a block of electrical outlets was being fitted in one of the rooms, Jennifer insisted that it be changed. It reminded her of a hospital and she wanted an environment that provides a sense of family and home.

The majority of the Circle of Friends are women but men are involved too, including the chairman, Jim Rhatigan. He says the centre has the ideal mix of volunteers, goodwill and state support and now the main challenge is to make more people aware of the available services and welcome them through the doors. Tipp Mid West FM recently won a national award for its series of interviews with users of the Circle of Friends services.

I visited the Centre on Friday at the invitation of one of its volunteers, Tom O’Donoghue. I first met him with his wife, Maria, in Sweden’s Uppsala University Hospital in 2007. We were both there, receiving treatment for our neuroendocrine cancer condition. Tom taught at the Abbey Christian Brothers Secondary School in Tipperary. He trained local GAA teams and is a passionate supporter of GAA, soccer and rugby.  Now in his late 70s, he says the Circle of Friends project helps him to get out of bed in the mornings and is a living, breathing example of community in action.

The Tipperary town project is part of a network of centres doing similar work throughout the country. They are a modern example of the concept of meitheal, driven by heroic, unsung people like Jennifer Jones Hickey and the late Sarah Gleeson.

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