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Teenager embarks on ‘Hell and Back’ challenge in memory of late mum

Cullyhanna teenager Erin O’Reilly is undertaking the gruelling ‘Hell and Back’ challenge to raise funds for the Mandeville Unit in Craigavon. 

Erin’s mum, affectionately known as Mary O, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2015 and passed away in May of this year.

‘Hell and Back’ is billed as “Ireland’s toughest challenge” and Erin spoke to The Examiner about her decision to embark on this fundraising endeavour.

“I decided to do it because there is not a lot of money going into the Mandeville Unit for treatment for patients that are really sick. We had to raise money for my mum whenever she was sick and she needed treatment. So I thought that in memory of her, she would have liked for me to raise money for people who are in the same position that she was in.”

Mary stoically faced up to all the hardships that befell her during her battle with cancer and Erin says the ‘Hell and Back’ challenge give participants a small glimpse into the obstacles Mary had to overcome. 

“My mummy was going through a hard time so I decided that ‘Hell and Back’ is something that is tough and difficult and it would help people get a small insight into the fight she was facing. 

“I thought this was a good way to honour my mum who was very popular in the community.”

The Mandeville Unit was a source of comfort during Mary’s battle with cancer and Erin is delighted to be able to give back to the Unit in this way. 

“Mummy loved to go down there and met new people. The Mandeville Unit was so nice to mummy and every time she came in they would always welcome her, give her a cup of tea, let her know what she was going to be doing and let her know who would be looking after her for her treatment. 

“So I just decided  that it would be great to raise money for them because they were so helpful when she was sick and they did so much for her. I wanted to do something in honour of her and it’s great to be able to give back to them so that they can help other patients who are in need.”

Mary O was much loved and Erin gave the paper a small insight into what it was that made Mary so special. 

“She would talk to anyone and was very bubbly and kind. Whenever my brother passed away from a heart disease, she devoted herself to raising money for ‘Little Hearts Matter’.

“She did this in memory of my brother but also to give money to those children who had the same problems that my brother had. She also held different events for the hospice and was always willing to help people. She always had time for people and forever had a smile on her face.”

Erin’s father, Gerard, also paid tribute to Mary. He told The Examiner:

“Mary was a people’s person. Everyone was very friendly with her. Whenever you talked to her, it was like you knew her all her life. She had that aura, people wanted to be her friend.

“Mary had a hard fight for four years. It was so difficult for Mary, but she fought hard and made a lot of friends in the Mandeville Unit and she left an impression on everyone she met through her illness.

Erin O’Reilly from Cullyhanna pictured with her late mum Mary 

“This was the type of person she was. Everyone wanted to help her because she was always willing to help others. When we lost our son, Mary went over and above raising money for this cause and for other children in the same situation. She always did fundraising for the hospice and cancer awareness too.”

Gerard said he was incredibly proud of Erin for taking on this fundraiser and that Mary would be proud too.

“Erin wants to do this because Mary was her best friend and she wanted to do something to repay the Mandeville Unit who treated Mary over the last four years. 

“Erin’s mum is very proud of her. She is a fantastic footballer, she plays with Armagh and Mary had great pride in watching her play football, and she is also a fantastic person as evidence through this fundraising.

“I am very proud of Erin also for taking this on. I know how hard it is to organise something like this, it is difficult and takes a lot of time. 

“A lot of people may not be aware of what goes on behind the scenes, but their job is a very difficult one, but they carry it out with such kindness and warmth.”

There will also be a function in Cullyhanna club rooms following ‘Hell and Back’ to raise funds for the Mandeville Unit, and someone could be in line to win a very special Armagh jersey as a prize.

“Mary was a big Armagh supporter. At her funeral, her request was that everyone would wear club and county colours. She even convinced her cousin, a big Down fan, to wear an Armagh jersey! And he did it! Now he had a big Down coat over the top of it, but he still wore it. 

“This jersey was then signed by the current Armagh team, and at the function in Cullyhanna club rooms the night of ‘Hell and Back’, we will either raffle or auction off this signed jersey. That was a very nice touch of both Jerome McPoland and the current Armagh team.”

Gerard said that Mary was a great family person who remained stoic and resolute thoughout her illness, and that she is greatly missed by all who knew her. 

 =‘Hell and Back’ takes place on Saturday 5th October in Kilruddery Estate in Wicklow. Participants must be aged 16+. If you would like to support Erin’s cause, you can contact Erin via Facebook or seek more information via the “Hell and back in memory of Mary O” Facebook page: