Remembering the dead: Poignant reason behind Cork’s Zombie Walk

The organiser of Cork’s Zombie Walk reveals the poignant reason behind her involvement to Ellie O’Byrne

HALLOWEEN is a time for dress-up, trick-or-treating and enjoying a whole host of silly, seasonal, or downright spooky traditions and festivities.

Traditionally, it’s also been a time to remember our dead.

For Katriona Shanahan, organiser of this year’s Cork Zombie Walk, it’s a particularly poignant time of year because she’s following in the footsteps of her sister Lorraine, who founded the Zombie Walk and ran it until her tragic death in 2015, aged just 31.

“Her favourite time of year was Halloween,” Katriona says. “She loved everything about it: Getting dressed up and everything. She always did fundraisers, and she was always looking at ways to raise money. The Zombie Walk came to mind, because it hadn’t been done in Cork before.”

Katriona and Lorraine were close in age, with Katriona older by just a year and a half. They grew up, two daughters of three, in Thurles, Co Tipperary. Their father, Billy, is blind, as is his brother Gerard, and the family has an impressive track record of fundraising.

Over 22 years, the Shanahans and friends have raised €1.2 million in aid of charities for the blind, including the National Council for the Blind (NCBI), Irish Guide Dogs, Fighting Blindness, and Deafblind Ireland, mostly through motorbiking and cycling events with their organisation, Blazing Bikers.

The sisters were emotionally close, in constant contact, although with different interests.

“I forced her out of her comfort zone with cycles and the gym; she forced me out of mine with metal gigs and zombie walks,” Katriona says.

Katriona Shanahan and boyfriend Daniel Walsh in costume for Cork Zombie Walk
Katriona Shanahan and boyfriend Daniel Walsh in costume for Cork Zombie Walk

Both young women moved to Cork for college: Katriona enrolled in UCC and Lorraine developed her creative talents with a fine art degree from CIT Crawford. Lorraine founded Inkoholics tattoo and piercing studio and quickly developed a reputation not only for her work but also for the friendly atmosphere in her studio. She worked alongside her partner, tattoo artist Mikey Sirbu.

Katriona recalls dropping in to visit Lorraine at work when she was running a unique fundraiser for DAWG (Cork Dog Action Welfare Group), a charity that, as an animal-lover, was particularly close to her heart. Lorraine had agreed to give a free dog-paw tattoo to clients, with the full fee going to the charity.

When Katriona arrived, there was a queue winding up three flights of stairs leading to the shop.

“I can’t describe the panic I felt when I saw the queue,” Katriona says, “but Lols was like, ‘it’ll be grand, I’ll get through them all.’ The poor girl was seeing paws in her sleep after it, but she didn’t want to turn anyone away.” That was typical of Lorraine, Katriona says: “She was always thinking of everyone else, never about herself. Lorraine always walked around with a smile on her face.”

Zombie walks originated in the US in the early 2000s and quickly became a popular form of flash-mob activity. Ireland has had its share, with events in Dublin, Drogheda, and Kilkenny, but Lorraine’s event in 2011 was Cork’s first foray into the theatrical street spectacle. It attracted about 100 people in its first year, and continued to draw similar numbers.

Lorraine’s love of the macabre, body art, and costume design meant she was in her element preparing for it. “She’d call over and burn out my hairdryer making all these latex moulds,” Katriona says. “It’s not really my thing. It’s a bit outside my comfort zone, and I can’t really do the walk: I just get really embarrassed. But she loved it.” It was shortly after the 2015 walk that Lorraine went to her studio one ill-fated November day. Always an asthma sufferer, she had an attack and collapsed while at work. Katriona was with her.

“She was in the shop, so excited about the day,” Katriona says.

“She was so happy about her design for a tattoo she had booked in for later that day. The one thing that keeps me going is that she was in the place she loved, doing what she loved, and that I was there by her side when the world decided to be so cruel and take her from us. I can’t even begin to describe the void I feel in my life without her. I feel lost. Nothing can ever bring her back, but I am so thankful for the 31 years we had together. Lorraine was more than a sister to me; she was my best friend, my confidant, pretty much my everything.”

Katriona with her sister Lorraine.
Katriona with her sister Lorraine.

To pay tribute to Lorraine, the Shanahans dedicated all their fundraising efforts for 2016-17 to her memory, presenting a cheque to the Irish Guide Dogs, Lorraine’s charity of choice for the Zombie Walk, with a cheque for €93,993.

But organising the 2016 Cork Zombie Walk was tough for Katriona, less than a year into the grieving process. “I didn’t want to do it, and I hadn’t even been back to Cork, but then I realised that I didn’t want to let it go,” she says. So, with the help of her boyfriend, Daniel Walsh, she organised it at short notice. More than 200 zombies showed up.

Although it still jogs painful memories, Katriona is working hard to make this year’s event a success. The zombies will gather on Cork’s Grand Parade on Saturday, October 28. Free make-up assistance is available from 3pm to 6pm, followed by registration. The €5 fee and all other proceeds will be donated to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The walk begins at 7.15pm, and there’s an after-party with prizes for the best dressed, and a raffle, starting at 9pm.

For more information, see CorkZombie on Facebook or bikerschallenge.ie.

“We’re going to have a performance there, and we’ll also have five or six volunteers from Inkoholics doing make-up, so even if people want to just come along in their old ripped clothes, there’ll be make-up there,” Katriona says.

“I just want to keep it going for as long as I can, to keep Lorraine’s memory alive in Cork for as long as possible.”


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