‘AN ANGEL’ and ‘an inspiration’ were among the words used to describe Labhaoise Fitzgerald, whose funeral ceremony took place in her native Tulla on Thursday, January 7. The teenager passed away after a six-year battle with cancer, borne, her mother Louise told mourners, “with a smile on her face, a positive attitude, and a brilliant sense of humour”.
Diagnosed in 2014 with a medulloblastoma, Labhaoise bravely underwent brain surgery twice, more than 60 rounds of radiotherapy and gruelling chemotherapy. All the while, she kept up her deep connection to her family: her mum and dad, Louise and Patrick, her brother Pádraig; her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and her many friends at St Joseph’s Secondary School.
Labhaoise worked tirelessly to raise funds for Barretstown House where she had attended summer camps over the years and met other children like herself who were determined not to let illness get in the way of their lives.
Last April, Labhaoise told The Champion about her love for Barretstown, which she said helped kids to feel like kids again. After being chosen as the Clare ambassador in the online ‘Virtual Hug’ campaign, Labhaoise had sent her own virtual hug to her beloved Auntie Claire in Wexford.
Her mum revealed that, even after losing her sight in recent months, Labhaoise continued to take part in Zoom meetings with her peers on Barretstown’s Youth Leader’s Council.
Lockdown and learning from home were nothing new to her and she took them in her stride, having studied remotely to prepare for her Junior Cert. Her courage and determination were honoured by her peers and the wider community. Labhaoise received a Garda Youth Award and was honoured last year in the Special Achievement category.
At an emotional funeral ceremony, which was attended remotely by more than 300 people, Parish Priest, Fr Brendan Quinlivan said: “Labhaoise showed us what it really means to be strong, because strength is not to be found in the being the biggest, the toughest or the fastest. Real strength is found in the one who keeps on going, who keeps on trying, day after day, long after many of us would have given up.”
Co-celebrant Fr Brendan Lawlor described Labhaoise, who had been at mass server at St Peter and Paul’s Church, as “our little angel”. “We met our angel years ago,” he told mourners, “and she has played a very important part in our lives.”
Covid-19 restrictions meant the gathering within the church was a small one, with hundreds of tributes pouring in through social media platforms as the ceremony was live-streamed. Readings where by Labhaoise’s brother, Pádraig and her uncle, Declan. Music was by Éabha McInerney, a class-mate, whose contribution made the funeral service even more moving.
In an online tribute, a representative of St Joseph’s described Labhaoise as “a beautiful, special, sweetheart”.
Labhaoise’s connection to her friends and family was recalled by her mum, Louise, who described her as “fiercely loyal”. “If you had Labhaoise as a friend, you had a friend for life,” she said. Louise also described the most important role for her daughter as “being a sister”. “Everywhere she went, she talked about Pádraig. Everybody knew who Pádraig was and how proud Labhaoise was of him.” After expressing the family’s gratitude to all of the medical teams who cared for Labhaoise, and to her school community, Louise thanked her daughter too, saying: “Labhaoise, it was a privilege to have been chosen to be your parent.”
Recognising the dedication of Labhaoise’s family, Fr Quinlivan said: “She helped us to see the beauty that is at the heart and soul of you, her family, especially you, Louise, Patrick and Pádraig. It’s a special kind of dedication that enables people to put their lives on hold, so they can do everything they can to provide for someone they love. And, for you, it reflects a deep and unrelenting love for a person to say, ‘If you need help, I will give you help. If you cannot talk, I will be your voice. If you cannot stand, I will support you. If you cannot walk, I will carry you. I am here for you and I will stay with you through it all.’ And, that’s just what you did. That was your greatest gift to Labhaoise. To nurture someone so completely and gently, to do it for so long takes a dedication and a depth of love that is hard to comprehend for those who do not find themselves in a position to have to do that. It’s truly loving without conditions and it’s perhaps the most beautiful and pure example of love that exists in the world today. We thank you for that witness. Labhaoise made that kind of love exist.”