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Celebrating a sister: 'It's about remembering what she was good at - not her death'

A 5k with a difference next weekend.

I’D WORRY THAT I’d forget to talk about her and remember her. It’s a really good way to remember her, aside from the anniversary. It’s something different.

“It’s about remembering what she was good at – and not just her death. It’s to remember she was really talented.”

HANNAH MCDONNELL LOST her big sister when she was just 16 years old.

Elizabeth had turned 18 when she died after a short but intense battle with cancer in 2005.

PastedImage-12500 Katie, Hannah and Liz McDonnell

Next weekend, and for the tenth time, hundreds of people will gather at the historic Castletown House to remember what she was best at – running.

The Liz McDonnell Run, a 5k cross-country course, is open to competitive runners, joggers and walkers and aims to raise money for ARC Cancer Support, and celebrate her legacy.

Local newspaper clippings from the time of Liz’s death recall her as a champion athlete – with Irish team promise – an excellent camogie player, an accomplished fiddle player and a bright student.


Her camogie coach paid tribute, stating:

Her absolute determination to win at all times, in addition to her phenomenal running ability and skill with the ball, made her a natural leader, who inspired and lead her teammates to many wonderful wins.

“Elizabeth, with her bright smiling face, was loved by everybody in the club, and will always be remembered for as long as camogie is played in Celbridge. Her battle with her illness is an inspiration to us all and reflects how she lived her life with her family and with her sporting families.”

“It was just another race she was trying to win,” Hannah tells TheJournal.ie about her illness. “She was officially diagnosed on the 2 March 2005 and was very positive.”

The cancer had first appeared two years earlier, when Liz was in Transition Year. She had a melanoma removed from her arm but then everything went back to normal.

“It was January of Sixth Year, 2005, she was training really hard in Santry for athletics. She found a lump on her stomach,” recalls her sister. “She went and got it assessed. Initially, she and her trainers thought it was a hernia.”

It was much more serious though. Despite trying to avoid callbacks to the hospital – preferring to opt for chemistry exams and mocks – she was told it was a malignant melanoma. She was to ‘expect the worst but hope for the best’.

Up until June, while undergoing her chemotherapy and radiation, every day life was OK. She had an unbelievable 18th birthday party on 13 May. They went out to Time (a nightclub in Naas) and she said they never left the dance floor. During the June Bank Holiday she was in the Ozone (a Leixlip nightclub). It was after that when she deteriorated.


“I really didn’t have a clue what was going on. I didn’t know how bad it was. Until the day she came home from hospital after two weeks there. I asked why she was home? My Mam told me, ‘She’s home now’.

“Just looking at her that day at the table with Dad, it just clicked with me. She was so weak, she couldn’t eat. She was in and out of consciousness. I started getting very upset. She looked at me and said, ‘Everything’s going to be OK’.

“She knew exactly what was happening.”

PastedImage-18843 Liz appearing on The Late Late Show as part of the Form and Fusion fashion and engineering event.

Liz died in July 2005, four months after being diagnosed.

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Weeks later, her family and friends decided they needed to “do something to remember her”.

But her father Seamus insisted, much like her funeral, that any event would be a celebration and not a memorial.

“Mam and Dad were so impressed with ARC as well,” says Hannah. “Elizabeth and Dad went there after every chemo and radiation session. Had cups of tea, spoke to people, did meditation. They wanted to raise money for the services.”


The annual event is attended by teammates, friends, classmates and family, as well as local people and running enthusiasts from all over.

“I suppose I don’t know what it would have been like without the run. So in that sense, it definitely helps me,” says Hannah.

“What we always say is that she achieved a beautiful death in the face of a terrible disease so we want to remember that beauty. And what she was good at. She was good at so many things. But she was such a talented athlete and runner, it’s a perfect event for us.”

PastedImage-59878 Hugging her mother, Ann, after her last competitive run.

The Liz McDonnell run will mark its 10th anniversary at Castletown House on 28 September at 1pm. More details and registration here

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