Report by Heike O’Sullivan
‘Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting.’
(Thomas S. Monson)
Elsewhere in this Christmas edition of the Kenmare News, your favourite free monthly magazine, you can see a photo of the presentation of a cheque in the amazing sum of €2,700 to Anne-Maria O’Connor of Brú Columbanus in Cork. The money was raised in the Kenmare locality in late October and is yet another example of the generosity of a small community, particularly in the expensive run-up to Christmas. As the true spirit of Christmas is supposed to be the spirit of giving, let me tell you a story about a place where Christmas spirit reigns all year round – in Cork, of all places (shock-horror!)…
Like me, you may have occasionally heard or read about Brú Columbanus since it opened in 2005. You may be aware that it describes itself as ‘home from home accommodation free of charge to the relatives of seriously ill patients in Cork hospitals’, and may have thought what a good idea that is. Like me, you may have donated a Euro or two when passing a collection bucket for Brú Columbanus in a street and thought of it no further.
It was only when I had need of the hospitality of Brú Columbanus for two weeks last November, that I learnt to appreciate how unique and important a facility it actually is. Having to be referred to the house by a clinical nurse manager at any one of Cork’s hospitals is an ingenious arrangement because it is guaranteed to prevent fraudsters from taking advantage of the generosity of the Knights of St. Columbanus, the donors and volunteers who help to keep the house open. I was astonished to hear that this fabulous facility does not receive any financial support from the Irish Government whatsoever. That’s why fundraising volunteers such as Maura Landers who organised the table quiz at the Brook Lane Hotel in October, and individual donors are the life blood of the day-to-day existence of this fantastic, independent charity that provides such an invaluable service to people in need of safe, restful accommodation near their loved one’s hospital bed, at no cost whatsoever (although donations from guests are, of course, gratefully received).
‘Brú’ is the Irish word for ‘hostel’. Yet, Brú Columbanus is so much more than that. Yes, there is a huge room filled with no less than five fully equipped single galley kitchens, each with large dining table and chairs, dedicated dry-goods storage, fridge and freezer space for every single room, thereby enabling guests to cook their own meals rather than having to spend money on restaurants or take-away. The 26 en-suite bedrooms, however, each large and bright, have simple but good quality furnishings and would give any three star hotel a run for its money. They are homely, clean and comfy, and my two weeks there were as pleasant as they could’ve been given the circumstances.
During my stay in November, the house was very busy with people coming and going. Some kept to themselves, others were mingling and sharing their burden with fellow guests. I met one lady who called Brú Columbanus her home since her very ill husband was admitted to CUH last July. The daylight-filled chapel on the house’s top floor and the offer to guests to participate in yoga and meditation classes held in-house made her days a little easier. Another young woman was staying there whilst caring for her two year old nephew whose only 36 year old mum is being treated for cancer in four different parts of her body. She particularly appreciated the Children’s Den, filled with toys for all age groups as well as a football table, large flatscreen TV and couch for teenagers. Hearing these stories puts life’s daily complaints into perspective.
Brú Columbanus is a true blessing for people who find themselves in the situation of having to avail of its second-to-none services and quiet, calm environment. And yet, the charity manages to run the large house with only 2.5 paid staff members. The fact that an army of tireless volunteers maintains the property to such high standards of care and comfort is surely a testament to the house itself and to what it stands for.
The next time I’ll be passing one of those collection buckets, I’ll be sure to drop in more than just a Euro. Maybe you could do so, too. If you would, you’d be supporting a very worthy cause indeed, and who knows when you might find yourself in a situation when you may need to stay at Brú Columbanus yourself. Hopefully not, but one never knows.
In the meantime, if you’re still looking for a Christmas present for that golfer in your life, do check out the Brú Columbanus golf umbrella or set of golf balls on www.brucolumbanus.com. There, you will also find their lovely Christmas cards, already reduced, and their very well priced 2017 calendar. If you feel like celebrating Women’s Christmas in the Rebel County, you could do worse than booking tickets for the fundraising Women’s Little Christmas Luncheon on 6th January, at the Cork International Hotel. €45 will get you a Prosecco reception, a sumptuous lunch, make-up demo, entertainment and prizes galore. See www.brucolumbanus.com or phone 021 434 5754 for more information, and Merry Christmas, Everyone!