From Orla to Dad: ‘I blame you for my sense of adventure and believing in the impossible’

Orla Tinsley, journalist and Cystic Fibrosis campaigner

Dear Dad

Sparkles icepops, the orange flavoured ones, fell from the sky as you walked in the door from work when I was five. Smile wide, arms open, eyes popping like marbles as you feigned disbelief when the ice pop you had thrown up in the air just before yelling ‘Hello’, fell mysteriously from our kitchen ceiling. The only answer of course was that you were magic. It helped on the winter evenings after seven when you would suddenly announce a trip to a nearby river or seaside for a swim. Were you mad? The other parents would say. My cousin, six months older than me dipped a toe in and ran the opposite direction but we ran towards it, the first one in the winner. The power of the mind controls everything you said.

So when I found myself lying on a trolley with punk looking kid doctors circling me, I wasn’t so worried. When it took an hour and five or more attempts at getting an iv line in, I could still look them straight in the eye. Their usual attempts at distracting me drove me crazy ‘So, what’s your favourite colour?’ ‘Do you have a boyfriend yet?’ You and I would glance at each other, eyes squinting in cynicism I was often told beyond my seven years.

You did everything to get me to keep swimming which would help me stay well and when I gave it up we discovered Sunday mornings at the riding stables. The day I went flying over King’s head mid-show jumping competition and fell crashing into the jump was, you admitted recently, the scariest day of your life. Good job you didn’t see me carelessly jumping the dykes in the middle of a field on long treks, but then again we watched a lot of western movies together, not to mention Indiana Jones. I blame you.


I blame you for my sense of adventure and believing in the impossible when the chips are down. I blame you for the moments I transcend myself and manage to burst through situations that probably should leave me frozen. I blame you when I get doggedly angry at situations that seem impossible and seek to change them and believe that in fact they can change. I blame you for my obsession with potatoes, when every evening of my childhood when I couldn’t stomach food because of the meds I was on you’d spend hours making potato dishes of every kind, a la Brian, until we found one I liked. Potato Dauphanoise for the record.

We blamed you for the near heart attacks we got when you told us you were going to complete the Dublin City Marathon some months after I took up running. We didn’t immediately believe you so we plotted to meet you along the trail ‘just in case’ but you whizzed past the 22 mile mark barely struggling and I ran alongside for a minute wishing I could be like you. Each nightly bed time story told ‘from your head’ in childhood coloured the landscape of my mind with every possibility for a life well lived. You remind me daily that nothing is impossible.

But it seems impossible now that when I was three weeks old they told you I wouldn’t live through the night. You uncharacteristically hit some alcohol and planned my funeral, and then I survived. You both committed to me and never looked back. For this, and for so much more, I am deeply grateful.

Love Orla