Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back

by Barretstown
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Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Give Seriously ill Children their Childhood Back
Alex in Barretstown in 2019
Alex in Barretstown in 2019

Dear friend,

Our journey started in the spring of 2019. It was 9.30am on a chilly Saturday morning, and Alex was rushing to get out the door to GAA. I was giving him a hand putting on his thermal top when I noticed he’d a bit of a swollen side. And I thought hang on, that’s not right. So, I decided to bring him to hospital later that day for a scan. I told myself it was just in case. A precaution. But before I left, I packed an overnight bag. I guess I just knew it in my gut – call it a mother’s instinct – that this was something serious. That night, the doctors broke the news. Alex had something called a Wilms tumour on his kidney. It was something he would have been born with. But it had now grown so large, that it had pushed his liver up and kidney out, which is why we could see the swelling for the first time. It was terrifying.

I just swung into action. My child needed me. Within weeks he’d lost every inch of hair on his body. Even his eyelashes and brows. After 8 weeks of chemo, they were able to operate. They removed his kidney and a tumour measuring 15 x 8cm. But, when they removed it, they saw there were other cancer cells surrounding it. And so, he’d to have another gruelling 30 weeks of chemo. Every single Tuesday, he’d be in. He was always on the slim side, but he lost so much weight. And it was the day after treatments that were always the toughest. I remember him, this tiny little ball, curled up on the couch in the foetal position. Not able to eat, barely able to drink. 

The biggest advice they give you is to try and keep everything as normal as possible. So, by Thursdays when the worst was over, he’d put on his uniform and go back to school with his younger brother Cal, when he could. He’s such a great boy – very intelligent and funny. And he never lost that. He even kept up going to his GAA training as much as possible. But towards the end of his chemo, the treatments were really taking their toll. And he did become very frail. Infection was the biggest worry. We were constantly monitoring him. If there was the tiniest rise in his temperature, we were straight into Crumlin. It didn’t matter if it was 3am in the middle of the night. Myself and my husband had a bag constantly packed in the boot of the car, we got so used to the over and back. One of us would go with him, the other would stay with Cal. Then we might swap. Often, I’d go straight from all night in Crumlin, to work. Shower at our gym in the office, and then sit at my desk at 9am and do my day’s work. This was life for months and months. It’s only looking back now, that I can see how much it took out of all of us. How exhausted and running on empty everyone was. At the time we were all too busy just trying to survive. Running on autopilot. Focused on protecting Alex.

And then we went to Barretstown. It was just the most incredible, magical experience. In just a few days, it changed our outlook on everything. From favourite foods to favourite hobbies – they adapted our weekend to fit in all the things the boys’ love. We went horse riding, had loads of group play and even myself and my husband got a break in the evenings.

Cal, my four-year-old son, was included and looked after the whole time as well. Which was so important.The journey has been so hard on him too. He’s had to miss out on so much of our attention. It was amazing just to all be together, as a family. And for the first time since the diagnosis, to feel like we didn’t have a worry in the world. It’s funny – it’s a camp for sick children, but ‘cancer’ was not mentioned once that whole weekend. It gave Alex the boost and strength he needed to face those final 4 weeks of chemo. It recharged all of us – to get over that finish line. To hear our little boy ring that bell on his last day of chemo.

People have been so good to us on our journey. From neighbours well wishes and thoughts, to visits from local Fire Brigade and Gardaí, tickets to gigs and toys vouchers, and even a training session with Bernard Brogan and the Dublin team. We were blown away by the incredible thoughtfulness of people as they went out of their way to create little special moments for Alex. But honestly, it’s the times he spent in Barretstown that he remembers most, our first camp back in 2019 with his bald head when he was still so sick, our virtual camp during the hard days of COVID lockdowns and getting to go back last October. Barretstown has been on this journey with us. When we look back, Barretstown has been a shining light in that memory.

There’s a thing that they do at the end of camp. You get together in the theatre and they play a round-up video of the weekend with all the photographs of the kids and activities. I’ll never forget my boys’ faces lighting up, as each picture of them flashed up on the screen. In Barretstown we heard a sound that was missing from our lives for the months prior. A sound no family home should be without. Laughter. That amazing sound of your children laughing freely. You could go months and not hear the kids laugh when they are going through all of this, then you are down in Barretstown for just two hours and you can hear them giggling!

It really is a little magic wonderland, hidden away. Packed full of the best medicine of all – serious fun and lots of laughter! It’s like it’s in our DNA now, it’s part of us… Barretstown is part of our family now.

Alex is cancer free right now. But we still have to go for scans every few months, to make sure it’s staying that way. And we do our best to not think about it, in between times.

You made this happen for my family, I truly hope you realise how special that is, how special you are. How much this means to families like mine on our darkest days.

Thank you,

Louise (Alex's Mum)

Alex and his family in Barretstown last October
Alex and his family in Barretstown last October
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Cancer steals the magic and fun from childhood.

Because of your support, at Barretstown we have been able to create a magical world, where children, like Darragh, can come to get a break from their illness and rebuild the confidence cancer can take away. Where they can experience the incredible wonder and fun of being a child again and the therapeutic benefits that brings. The support and generosity you have given us this year has made this possible and helped unlock the world of Barretstown for another child, like Darragh. There is no better gift you could have given this year and this Christmas!

Cancer throws children into such an adult world, overnight. The level of knowledge that children like Darragh have about cancer and medications is just unbelievable. He’d blow you away with his level of maturity. But that takes its toll. And while medicine is busy treating the illness, generous supporters just like you, allow Barretstown to treat the child.

The support you have showed us last year is going to help bring even more sick children through the gates of Barretstown in 2022, which is so vital as right now, another child like Darragh, is at one of their lowest points in their battle with cancer. Your support this year will ensure they get the best gift of all – fun, laughter, healing and hope! Your support is going to help them take back some of the magic and joy that serious illness is stealing from them. And rebuild their confidence. On behalf of them, and all the team here at Barretstown, I can’t thank you enough for your generosity and for your ongoing belief in the work of Barretstown.

 Wishing you, and yours, a magical, healthy and happy 2022.

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Below our volunteer Hugh shares his excitement for getting Back to Barretstown, for volunteering and the positive impact you support is having for families living with serious illness.

Hugh's Story:

Since volunteering at his first camp in 2017, Hugh has volunteered at over 25 camps! Here Hugh shares his love of Barretstown and unique perspective on the impact of your support.

``Some of the greatest privileges in my life have been witnessing seriously ill children realising their strength and finding their confidence again at Barretstown Camp. From the moment I drove through the gates of Barretstown to volunteer at my first summer camp back in 2017, my life was never the same. It’s been filled with a level of fun, laughter and magic I could never have imagined. And at each of the 25 camps I’ve volunteered at since, I’ve had the privilege to watch seriously ill children who were going through unimaginably difficult journeys, leave their self-consciousness, cancer, illness, stress and worry at the gates. And just sparkle and thrive again.

But in spring 2020 that all stopped with lockdowns. It’s hard to think about all that these sick children have had to miss out on, in the 16 months. Barretstown was closed. No break from their illnesses or grueling treatments. And all the added stress and isolation of the Covid-19 crisis.

But there is hope again. Barretstown is open again and that is why I wanted to write to you today. To thank you for helping to bring these children Back to Barretstown. Because of your support children living with serious illness will get to experience the transformative magic of Barretstown again``.

Thank you so much,


P.S. So many children and families are waiting to experience the life changing magic of Barretstown again. Your continued support is helping to bring them Back to Barretstown.Thank you so much.

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Barretstown is delighted to announce that on June 4th 2021, we will once again open our gates and welcome children living with serious illness, and their families, back to experience the magic of camp.

In March 2020, Barretstown had to make the difficult decision to close its gates temporarily and postpone all residential camp programmes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this was an extremely challenging decision for our charity to make, the safety of our camper families, staff and volunteers was the top priority. Since that time, Barretstown has continued to provide our life-changing programmes and services virtually through our innovative, new ‘Barretstown Live’ virtual camps, allowing us to continue to serve over 6,900 children and their families, during a time where they were more isolated than ever before.

We’re incredibly excited to share the news that on June 4th, we will once again be opening our gates and welcoming families back to our magical camp in Co. Kildare this summer. Each weekend, we’ll be inviting families to return to camp to engage in our fun-filled camp programmes and enjoy the same magical experiences we’ve been providing campers for over 25 years. Campers will be able to enjoy a host of activities including; Arts & Crafts, Drama, Lego, Adventure Games, Mini-Golf, Canoeing, Fishing, Baking, and Movie-Making.

At Barretstown we are committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for all staff, volunteers, campers, families, visitors, and contractors.  Since May 2020 Barretstown has partnered with Precision Health to provide both occupational health and COVID-19 services to allow Barretstown to provide a safe environment for families during the pandemic 

Since 1994, we have offered specially designed camps and programmes for families living with a serious illness, supported by onsite 24 hour medical and nursing care, serving over 70,000 children and families from every county in Ireland as well as across Europe and the UK. Families come to Barretstown free of charge and enjoy quality time together away from the stress and worries of living with serious illness.

Our therapeutic recreation model empowers and encourages campers to step out of their comfort zone and begin to re-build their confidence and discover something new about themselves. For many children living with serious illness, life becomes about what they can’t do, but at Barretstown, we teach them what they can do.

Your ongoing support has made this possible and we would like to thank you, most sincerely for keeping the magic of Barretstown alive!

Best wishes,


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Dear Friend,

I hope you and your loved ones are keeping safe and well as we enter this new year. Hopefully, like the team here in Barretstown, you’re looking ahead to the future with a sense of optimism for all 2021 has to offer.

2020 was undoubtedly an unprecedented year in the history of Barretstown, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading so much fear, hardship and uncertainty for so many. In a way, the crisis has given us a glimpse into the lives of the families we serve who are living with serious illness and what they go through on a regular basis. So many continually live with the fear of infection and miss out on normal life events that we can often take for granted. Postponing our traditional camp programmes and closing our gates temporarily for these families was an extremely difficult decision for us to make, but an incredibly important step in ensuring the safety of all those we serve and will continue to serve in 2021. 

But while 2020 has provided its fair share of challenges, it has also been a year of great resilience and hope.

You, and so many of our incredible supporters, have continued to show us just how much you care for the work we do here at Barretstown, and for the families who need our support. Without your continued generosity and kindness, we would not have been able to deliver our innovative new Barretstown Live programmes which helped families to continue to engage with us during a time when they needed us most. Campers could enjoy our therapeutic programmes from the safety of their homes or hospital beds, without fear or risk of infection.

Despite the significant challenges we faced in 2020 through the temporary closure of our site and a significant shortfall in our income, we were able to reduce costs by over 30%, allowing us to serve over 6,900 campers, including many who would not have been able to attend Barretstown due to their diagnosis. Barretstown continued to play a vital role in helping families living with a serious illness.

Your support made it possible for us to serve these families in 2020 and will continue to help us serve families throughout 2021. 

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021.

Dee Ahearn,
CEO, Barretstown 

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Organization Information


Location: Co Kildare - Ireland
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Barretstown?ref_src=twsrc%5Ego
Project Leader:
Blathnaid Harney
Co Kildare, Ireland
$36,525 raised of $60,308 goal
528 donations
$23,783 to go
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