Vice-chair Tona Gaffney, third from left, front row, has been involved in Clann Lir Comhaltas branch, Castlepollard, for 40 years. Also pictured are PJ Kennedy, Pauline Granahan, secretary; Richard Hogan, treasurer; Thady Burke, chairperson; and committee members Joe Masterson and Peter Early.

‘Mini-fleadh’ for twins undergoing lifesaving treatment

The Castle Varagh Hotel in Castlepollard hosts a fundraising trad session for twins Cillian and Ronán O’Keeffe from Mullingar, who are undergoing lifesaving treatment in the UK for Hurler Syndrome.

The twins’ grandmother, Tona Gaffney, who has been involved in Clann Lir Comhaltas branch in Castlepollard for the last 40 years, has organised the day, and she hopes that all Comhaltas branches in Westmeath to participate.

Likening the event, on Sunday February 5 between 3pm and 6pm, to a “mini-fleadh”, Tona says the 20-month-old twin boys have undergone chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, and it is a “waiting game” to see if the treatment works.

“Edwina is my daughter and mother of Daniel who’s 10, and twins, Ronan and Cillian,” said Tona. “They live in Abbeylands, but currently the twins are in Manchester undergoing treatment. The syndrome is very rare, Hurler Syndrome, which means they can’t break down sugars in their bodies, and that affects many of the systems in their bodies.

“Their paternal grandparents, Daniel and Stephanie O’Keeffe, recently held a fundraiser for them (see facing page), a night with Johnny Logan and friends, so we’re trying to keep the momentum going.

Twins Cillian and Ronán with their older brother Daniel.

“Once the Comhaltas in Westmeath became aware of it, they were all offering to help out in any way they could.”

Speaking of Cillian and Ronán’s progress, she said: “The twins have had their chemo and a bone marrow transplant, and it’s a waiting game now, really, to see how they’ll react to the treatment. They don’t have an immune system at the moment, and one of them had to get a blood transfusion a couple of weeks ago, so it’s very up and down.

“When they return from the UK, they have beds for them at Beaumont Hospital – they can’t just return home to Mullingar straight away – and they will have follow-up treatment in the Mater.

“The thing about it is, none of us know what the outcome will be for the twins. At the moment they’re not walking on their own, it could be a slow business. But they are two lovely little boys, they have their own identities, and we’re all just hoping for the best.”

Tona plays the bodhrán and the spoons. “I learned to play the spoons when I was just three years old, and we’ve held tin whistle classes here in the past. I also played the big drum as part of a marching band.

“Clann Lir host a lot of competitions around the St Patrick’s weekend. There’s a lot of young people involved in the singing and the dancing, and since the fleadh in Mullingar, more and more young people are interested, they want to get a banjo or other instruments, so it’s great for the branch.”

The session is in the Castle Varagh Hotel, Castlepollard on Sunday February 5, 3-pm. The crowdfunding page is: