Life savers

Some of the attendance at at Circle of Life Garden in Salthill last Thursday. Photos: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Some of the attendance at at Circle of Life Garden in Salthill last Thursday. Photos: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle – A Galway campaign to encourage organ donations has gone global with events in Derry, Cape Town, Melbourne and Boston last week to coincide with a special ceremony in Salthill. Judy Murphy traces the history of the group who celebrate the legacy of organ donors.

Candles were lit, songs were sung, tears were shed –  and not even heavy Galway downpours could dampen spirits when organ donors worldwide were celebrated at a special ceremony in Salthill on Thursday – one of a series of commemorations being held on the same day in Derry, Cape Town, Melbourne and Boston.

The Global Organ Donor Commemorative event also marked the 50th anniversary of the first human heart transplant, which took place in Cape Town on December 3, 1967. The commemoration was organised by Denis and Martina Goggin from Spiddal who in 2006 endured the greatest tragedy any parent can suffer – the death of a child.

Éamonn (26), who was their only child, was critically injured in a car crash in July, 2006. He was in a coma for several days and when Denis and Martina realised he wasn’t going to make it, they donated his organs – in keeping with Éamonn’s own wishes.

That began a journey that led to the opening of the Circle of Life Garden in Salthill in May 2014, a beautiful space designed to commemorate and celebrate organ donors and their families and to offer all visitors a peaceful space in which to reflect on life’s journey.

From the beginning, the Circle of Life garden had a national and international dimension – stones with symbolic significance representing every county in Ireland and all the continents – were incorporated in a design that has seen it ranked by Trip Advisor as Number 17 out of 139 things to do in Galway.

The garden’s centrepiece is a carved stone candle, complete with a flame, that symbolises the lasting legacy of organ donors. And when a group of kidney recipients from Belfast visited the garden two years ago, they were so moved by the experience that they wanted to create a reflective space in their own city, so they commissioned a candle similar to the one in Salthill.

Denis Goggin approached Galway City Council and the Galway Civic Trust, which maintains the Circle of Life garden, and suggested that Galway City might gift the candle to Belfast. That’s what happened and it now has pride of place in the Rose Garden of Belfast’s Botanic Gardens.

That generous gesture inspired Denis and Martina Goggin to make this a global project, with the help of Galway City Council. Places such as Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Derry and Belfast have followed Galway’s lead, with candles being shipped from Ireland to cities across the world, where they have been installed in public spaces to highlight the life-giving role of donors internationally.

The chosen cities have played a significant role in organ donation. Boston was picked because it was there that the first ever human organ transplant took place in 1954, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, carried out by Dr Joseph Murray.

Barcelona was selected because Spain has the highest rate of organ donation in the world and because of the work done in the Catalan capital in terms of training in and promoting organ donation.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.