Green shoots in national garden dedicated to organ donors and recipients in Galway

“The best gift in the world,” recipient says


On one of the many recent wild and windy mornings along the Atlantic seaboard, a group of people defied the elements to plant some trees in Galway’s Salthill.

The seafront garden where they gathered had been flooded just a few weeks before, but such challenges are small for a group not short on courage and determination.

One of the participants, Steve Carter, travelled a fair distance – from Glengormley, Co Antrim – for the occasion hosted by the Strange Boat Donor Foundation. In 2009, his wife, Denise, died after giving birth to the couple’s fourth child.

“She saved five people’s lives,” Carter says, for her organs were donated after her death.

“We had never talked about that sort of thing, because we were young and in our 30s and with a healthy lifestyle,” he says. “But I knew that she was such a loving person that it is what she would have wanted all along.”

Carter planted a tree in memory of Denise. It is one of many so-named in the Circle of Life, the first national garden dedicated to donors and recipients which is due to be formally opened on May 6th, and Steve will be back with his children, Cameron (11), Ethan (9), Aaron (6) and Leah (5).

Located in Quincentennial Park, Salthill, the garden was established by Martina and Denis Goggin of Spiddal, Co Galway, who lost their only child, Éamonn, a sound engineer, in a road crash in 2006.

Like Carter, the Goggins made the difficult decision, giving four recipients a chance of new life.

Support foundation
Two years later, the Goggins had set up the Strange Boat Donor Foundation to raise awareness and to give comfort, consolation and support to those affected by both donation and transplantation. Among its many activities was the creation of a website, and it was a posting from Patsy Curtis in Sligo which led to the Circle of Life garden.

Curtis’s daughter was an organ donor, following a motor crash in South Africa. She wrote of the great comfort and peace she had received from knowing that her child was among those remembered in a memorial garden established in the suburbs of Johannesburg.

The Goggins approached Galway City Council with a plan to establish a national commemorative garden as a place of sanctuary and reflection.

Stones from the 32 counties and from “iconic” sites on five continents – north America’s Ellis Island, Australia’s Melbourne football grounds, India’s Sevagram among them – have been worked into the design, which incorporates a series of planted pathways, an elevated area for “rest and reflection” overlooking Galway Bay and the Burren, and sculpted representations of life’s journey.

Voluntary donations
Some 85-90 per cent of the €150,000 capital cost has been pledged or given already in voluntary donations, Martina Goggin says, ranging from the Galway/Chicago Sister Cities International to Galway City Council, University Hospital Galway consultants, the Irish Kidney Association, Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association and Beaumont Transplant Foundation.

Greg Dooley, from Ferbane, Co Offaly, gave €15,000 through the foundation he established in memory of his wife, Emma, who became an organ donor after a fatal road crash in June, 2012. He ran 10 10km races to raise it.

The Strange Boat Donor Foundation also made almost €12,000 from a Waterboys concert held in Spiddal in September, 2012.

Ruth McGann from Oranmore, Co Galway, who has recently received a second kidney transplant – this time from her brother – describes the garden as “the best gift in the world”.

McGann, who had two relatives who donated their organs after their deaths, says that though they may never meet, recipients “always think of their donors, especially on the day they died . . . as that’s the day we got the gift of life”.


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