The family of a young Londonderry man who died two years ago is urging people to take part in a virtual run in his memory.
Aodhan O’Donnell (19) from the Foyle Springs area of the city died in July 2018 after entering the River Foyle.
Last year his school, his friends and family raised over £30,000 for the Foyle Search and Rescue charity, allowing them to purchase a new boat named ‘Aodhan 13’.
This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, organisers have moved the annual run online and also dedicated it to fellow St Columb’s pupil Oran Boyd, who died in November from a rare and serious blood disorder.
This year participants will be able to donate online to charities in memory of the two young men.
Luckily enough the city has Foyle Search and Rescue, who are unfortunately very good at what they do, tragically because of the practice that they have had at it.
Aodhan’s brother Sean (30) says that event means so much to his grieving family.
“Aodhan was my younger brother, the youngest in the family,” he said.
“I was me, then Ciara, then Aodhan. Aodhan was just 19 years old when he died. He took his own life two years ago. We lost him in a way that unfortunately is very common in Derry, when he entered the River Foyle.
“I was living in England at the time. My sister, Mum Moira, Dad Gerry and Aodhan were all living here.
“It was a very hard time for them, especially the first couple of days. But luckily enough we had Foyle Search and Rescue.
“They were able to reassure us about everything and talk us through it all, which didn’t make it easier, but we knew it wasn’t going to be harder. They made things that little bit better for us.
Aodhan was one of the most genuine people you could meet... the best smile ever.
“We knew we had lost Aodhan, but the next part of the process was trying to get him back to us so we could start the grieving process properly.
“Luckily enough the city has Foyle Search and Rescue, who are unfortunately very good at what they do, tragically because of the practice that they have had at it.”
Sean said the family sorely miss Aodhan, whose “smile was infectious”.
“Aodhan was one of the most genuine people you could meet,” he said.
“He always had a big smile and a grin on his face. That is one of the things we put on his headstone — the best smile ever.
“He was just one of those people whose smile was infectious. It wasn’t that he was always being funny, but he was always making people around him happy. He was a brilliant laugh.
“In the early days he was my baby brother, but as he got older he became like a friend.
“He was one of the best hurlers I have ever played with. His talent was unreal. He just oozed talent.
“He was very competitive, he didn’t like to be beaten at anything, never in an arrogant way, always a funny way. If he ever beat me at anything he liked to let me know.
“He was just a dream of a young man.”
Me, my Mum, Dad and sister, we grieved — it is other people who have done these things and made it easier for us.
Sean says that the walk in memory of Aodhan and Oran organised by his godmother Ailish O’Kane, a teacher at St Columb’s College, brings that family some manner of healing.
“Ailish really wanted something for the school to remember Aodhan by because he was such a big part of the sporting side of the school,” he said.
“It was her who really championed that. She was absolutely outstanding, the work she put into it.
“It was overwhelming for us as a family to see that happen. Initially we thought that it might be a few of Aodhan’s friends and family, and maybe a few people out of the school and the hurling team.
“But it was amazing to see how many people were registering. Ailish was giving us an update on numbers signing up. There were more and more people every week.
“People were saying to us what our family have done is amazing, but to be honest it wasn’t us. Me, my Mum, Dad and sister, we grieved — it is other people who have done these things and made it easier for us to grieve, because this is something to be so proud of.”
Not only are we proud of the life Aodhan lived but we are proud of the people who have done so much in his name.
Sean said this year’s event will be different in that everyone will not be getting together in person. Instead they will take part in single runs and walks in memory of the two boys.
He added: “Because of coronavirus this year’s event won’t be one single run the way it was organised last year. But St Columb’s College are doing it as part of their virtual sports day.
“It means so much to us to have something in Aodhan’s name. As a family we will obviously never forget Aodhan, and we can share memories of him every time we are speaking to each other, but it’s these kind of events and any of the other charity fundraisers that have happened in Aodhan’s name, they are the kind of things that positivity really comes out of — raising money for good causes.
“We can sit and have a think and a chat about him any time we want, but it is these things that are the important things because there is a visible benefit to it. People will benefit from the money that is raised.
“It is healing for the family to see so many people coming together in Aodhan’s name. I use the phrase ‘it’s heartbreaking but it’s heartwarming’. It’s nice to see how many different lives that Aodhan has touched — whether that was a friend in the sports team or at school.
“We know that nothing is ever going to bring Aodhan back, but having these things is important. Even looking at the photographs from last year, and the amount of AOD 13 jerseys that we could see out running. It really makes us so proud as a family.
“Not only are we proud of the life Aodhan lived but we are proud of the people who have done so much in his name. We are able to look at all those who took part and say the people of Derry are fantastic.
“I don’t think I could ever put into words how much we appreciate it.”
Sean said that there are so many family moments Aodhan has missed and that he is so missed, but the birth of his little nephew has given them “another Aodhan to throw all our love at”.
“It was my 30th birthday on Monday,” he said.
“And it was hard not having Aodhan there. Living in England and on lockdown I wasn’t able to have a birthday party. I really missed Aodhan that day.
“My little sister had her baby boy on June 8th and she has named him Aodhan, so that is another Aodhan we have in our life.
“It was hard not having him there for that also, on the day he would have been an uncle. But we have a new Aodhan in our lives to throw all our love at.”
This year’s virtual run is being held on Thursday, June 25.
Participants are asked to donate to the charities chosen by the boys’ families through online fundraising account.