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Donegal cancer survivors sing song of hope at national Relay for Life

Cancer survivors from Donegal sang loud and proud at Ireland’s first National Relay for Life event on Friday evening.

It was a special evening for the Donegal Survivors Choir who were selected to open the major event at the Aviva stadium.

The choir was joined by volunteers from across Donegal who flew the county flag high on the national stage.

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The national relay was a poignant celebration and commemoration of people affected by cancer, with special guests including Westlife singer, Shane Filan, presenter Andrea Gilligan from Ballyshannon and Majella O’Donnell, the Global Hero of Hope for Relay For Life Donegal.

Donegal’s impact on the Relay for Life movement was celebrated throughout the evening. Since the first relay in Letterkenny back in 2011, a staggering €1,675,000 has been raised locally for the Irish Cancer Society.a

Relays currently run in eleven counties in Ireland. The charity’s aim now is to inspire more volunteers to expand the initiative into every county in the future.

Majella O’Donnell and Ena Barrett at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Donegal Relay for Life Committee members Mary Friel, Davy Cowan, Seamus Devine, Donal Kavanagh, Ena Barrett, Rosemary Cassidy and Joan Cowan the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Outside of fundraising, the uniting force of Relay for Life was echoed in many ways at the Aviva.

Survivors of all ages walked the pitch with an air of pride and defiance. Other families walked in solemn remembrance of loved ones. The Candle of Hope ceremony, featuring thousands of personalised tributes, shone a light on those lost to the disease.

A song by Letterkenny’s Rachel Akkoç communicated the many emotions felt at a Relay for Life event. Rachel, who battled breast cancer in recent years, captured the survivorship and hope in a powerful song called ‘The War’ which was released this year for the Irish Cancer Society.

The Donegal Survivors Choir earned rapturous applause for their performance of The War before the relay was formally launched.

Donegal survivors choir performs at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Rachel Akkoc and Amy Meehan at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

The opening of the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

For some people, being open about cancer while putting one foot in front of the other was the goal of the evening.

That drive is echoed by the Donegal Survivors Choir. The group started in 2013, directed by Maggie McAteer, before broadcaster Donal Kavanagh stepped in as coordinator. The choir has also been boosted by the addition of director Amy Meehan, a young singer-songwriter from Manorcunningham who has been a long-time supporter of the Relay.

Donal tells Donegal Daily how the choir is about shared ideas and experiences.

“We get together, we have a chat, we have a laugh and we sing a few songs in the process. There is nothing serious about it. We tend to avoid morose conversations,” he said.

Bernie Gallagher from the Rosses, who was a 2019 Global Hero of Hope, said the choir is “one big family”.

“Choirs bring joy”, said Dr Anthony Caldwell, who has been a member for five years.

Siubhan Gillespie has also been a member from day one. She said the choir is a light-hearted side of Relay for Life.

“When we meet, we meet to sing meaningful songs, we don’t talk about our illness. It’s like a support group,” Siubhan said.

Sadly, the choir has lost some wonderful members. Corrine Moyne, Bernard Kennedy, Seán Diver, John Mc Glinchey and Astrid Mc Laughlin were firmly in the singers’ hearts as they performed last night.

Remembering members of the Donegal Survivors Choir who have sadly passed

Relay for Life carers and teams from Donegal joined the celebration to do what they do best – raise awareness and raise spirits.

Iryna Chaika from Team Ukraine said: “At home, events like this would be sad but here I could feel the support for people who lost family members. They keep moving and support each other. I am so excited that we are members of that Irish community and Relay for Life in Donegal.”

New chairperson Seamus Devine said that the national relay was a huge opportunity for Donegal Relay for Life to promote the fundraiser.

“The atmosphere here is incredible, everybody is so happy to be there. Obviously, it’s a sad affair when we do the Candle of Hope ceremony. In memory of everyone who has passed away from cancer, particularly in Donegal, I’d like to invite everyone to Relay for Life 2024 at ATU campus in Letterkenny. It’s going to be an amazing event as always.”

The 2024 Relay for Life returns to the ATU Letterkenny campus on the 25th and 26th of May 2024.

If you would like to register your team for Relay for Life Donegal 2024, please get in touch with a committee member or contact relayforlifedonegal@gmail.com.

See all the photos from the evening here:

The Donegal representatives at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

The Optum Superheroes Amanda McFadden and Anne-Marie Gallagher

Davy Cowan and Ed Wickes at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

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Ambassador Shane Filan at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Presenter Andrea Gilligan at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

The Optum Superheroes Amanda McFadden and Anne-Marie Gallagher Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Donegal survivors choir performs at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Donegal survivors choir performs at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Donal Kavanagh and Anthony Caldwell at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Tina Moore, Bernie Gallagher and Siubhan Gillespie at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Breda McCloskey, Breid Bonnar and Kathleen Toner at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Team Ukraine Iryna Chaika, Elena Romarova, Iryna Onyshchenko and Juliya Huk at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin

Adelina Doherty, Kathleen Hegarty, Rosemary Cassidy Susan Murray at the Relay for Life National Event. Photo Rachel McLaughlin