Behind the News: Lisa and Ciara Collins

The sisters are the daughters of Gerry Collins, face of the HSE’s Quit anti-smoking campaign, who died from lung cancer last Sunday, at the age of 57, and was buried on Ash Wednesday

Family: Gerry Collins with his wife, Delly, and children Stephen, Ciara and Lisa. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

'Don't smoke, don't start and, for those who have, stop." Gerry Collins delivered his message in an HSE advert shown during RTÉ's Nine O'Clock News on Ash Wednesday this week, National No Smoking Day – and the day of Collins's funeral in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

In the most recent clip he says, “I’m grateful for loads, my family and friends around me. I’m going to die soon, from smoking – nothing else.”

Ten months ago Collins was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had already been treated for throat cancer, in 2008, but this time the illness was terminal. He died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by his family at Blackrock Hospice, in Co Dublin.

Lisa and Ciara Collins say they were immensely proud of their dad. "He believed in us, his three children, and encouraged us to be the best we could be. 'There are no mistakes, only lessons, and then you move on,' he told us," says Lisa.


She and Ciara say that their father’s decision to take part in the HSE’s Quit anti-smoking campaign in 2010, and again since his second cancer diagnosis, brought the family closer together. “He had a vision about how impactful his story would be. He was so passionate about this. It was his honesty that made it so effective. The campaign has blown out of the water other statistics for giving up smoking,” says Lisa.

“It was tough to see him in the advert, but it distracted us from the tragedy of our personal reality,” says Ciara.

The sisters believe that their father’s decision to speak publicly about dying helped the family to cope with his illness and death. “It allowed us bring our emotions to the surface,” says Ciara.

“Dad was so open about the terminal [aspect] of his cancer that it gave us the right to talk, hug, grieve and have those hard conversations with him when he was there,” says Lisa. “It is so helpful to be given that right, and it helps other people talk about dying with their own families.”

Gerry Collins had many talents: he coached at Kilmacud Crokes GAA club, played football for the Dublin senior team, and was a boxer, a member of the band The Upbeats, and a well-known figure in the recruitment business.

“We’ve huge support around us in these days, and we’ve also had a lot of people contacting us about their own cancer stories, and others saying thank you for inspiring them to quit,” says Ciara.

The HSE estimates that more than 60,000 people have tried to stop smoking this year, many as a result of the Quit campaign.

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