by Peter Rooney
"When I signed up I didn’t expect for it to leave such a lasting memory in my mind, or become such an active part of my life. However, just like the Rose of Tralee, Barretstown is starting to take hold of my attention and infuse itself with my personality. This mere, once random notion is quickly becoming one of my favorite set of memories."
I get these notions from time to time. Ideas that come into my mind from somebody’s comment of an experience or even just an advertisement on Facebook. It’s not often a lightbulb moment when I say “I’m doing that” but just something that resonates with me that I get around to eventually.
One such notion was being a Rose Escort for the Rose of Tralee Festival, something I said I’d do some day. Having said that, when I decided to do it I didn’t think it would become such a big part of my life. Another more recent notion was volunteering in Barretstown children’s camp. When I signed up I didn’t expect for it to leave such a lasting memory in my mind, or become such an active part of my life. However, just like the Rose of Tralee, Barretstown is starting to take hold of my attention and infuse itself with my personality. This mere, once random notion is quickly becoming one of my favorite set of memories.
Barretstown offers free, specially designed camps and programmes for children and their families living with a serious illness – supported behind the scenes by 24 hour on-site medical and nursing care.
All of the children and families come to Barretstown free of charge. Everything, including accommodation, Food and medical assistance are provided at no cost to the family.
I drove into the spectacular estate of Barretstown as nervous as I have been in quite a while. I genuinely don’t think I’ve even talked to a child in about 10 years. I’ve no children, no nephews and nieces, and all my younger cousins were not “young” anymore. On top of that, these children were different; they have been through so much that they deserved only the best attention and the most magical weekend.
Anyone involved in the Rose of Tralee will tell you that the network of people is vast. As luck would have it, as I walked in to the reception I happened to see a very friendly face, the 2018 Wicklow Rose Lorna Mallick. We both looked at each other, shook our heads and knew it was going to be a great weekend. As soon as I saw Lorna the nerves vanished and the fun started.
It’s hard to describe what exactly you do there. You’re given the role of “Cara” (friend in Irish) and basically you’re just that. A group of Caras are paired up with two families who stay in a “Cottage”. Each family is different, but each includes the child who has a serious illness, their siblings, parent(s) or some sort of mix of aunts/uncles etc. Each camper is important, whether that be the younger sister who is trying to comprehend what is happening to her brother, or the father who never thought he would have the need for a place like Barretstown.
The weekend is packed with different activities for the children such as drama, kayaking, rock climbing and other fun activities. The excitement doesn’t stop here however. In the evenings, the parents all meet up with one another which leaves the Caras in charge of the children. This “Cottage time” has made up some of the highlights of my time volunteering with Barretstown. The children themselves have some of the best personalities of anyone I’ve ever met. I think Barretstown brings out their creativity, good humour and imagination in full. Some best memories include being taught the card game Uno by a 7 year old, asked who I voted for in the Irish general election by a 10 year old, and was questioned by one camper why I didn’t have a wife at the ripe old age of 26. I didn’t have answers to some of their questions.
After the first time I volunteered I knew I was coming back. One particular group who I was confident would love the experience is the Roses and Rose Escorts from my year in the Rose of Tralee Festival in 2018. A Whatsapp message was put up by Lorna and I. An interest was sparked. The next nthing we knew, we had five new Caras stepping up to the challenge; 2018 London Rose Grainne Hawkes and 2018 Louth Rose Anne Marie Duffy among them. Of course no Rose would be fit to travel by themselves, so three dashing Rose Escorts (Conor Kelly, David Donnelly and Alan Grincell) made sure they got all the way down to Barretstown.
Each of them were a credit to the Rose of Tralee and their communities in general. I had no doubt they’d take to it, but seeing them dance around the tables, laughing with the campers and contributing the positive atmosphere at camp, made me feel very proud to be their friend. The weekend culminates with the Gala Dinner on the Saturday. Each Cara dresses in fancy dress, such as clown costumes, Batman, SpongeBob etc. The tables are dolled up and the food is top class. It reminded me of the Rose Ball with better dancing!
I know our whole group is planning on going back and I’m sure we’ll bring a few more with us each time. The Rose of Tralee network is famous for their reunions, but I would encourage any group of friends to make this one of their shared endeavors.
Serious fun in every way!
www.barretstown.org/ to see Barretstown for yourself and how to volunteer
- When was the last time you tried something different?
- Have you ever thought about volunteering?
- Being a Rose Escort brings unexpected opportunities
- Take time to figure out who you are and what feels right for you
- Giving back to your community is an constantly rewarding experience
Peter was a 2018 Rose Escort who spent his week in Tralee waiting patiently for his Roses and chanting songs in the hope other people would then chant them back at him. Peter is an accountant from North County Dublin working for AIB. He loves his local area of Man O War and Fingal in general. He is always interested in getting involved in charities, either local or national; especially those focusing on Cancer Research or children’s health. He was sponsored by Street Sweep LTD, Apache Pizza Ireland and the Man O War Pub. He looks forward to going to Barretstown again with new groups in the short future and is always happy to answer questions about camp to anyone.