Marathon man’s final battle with cancer ends

HE battled cancer for 30 years, ran 20 marathons and raised over €1 million to fight the disease.

However, well-known charity runner Pat O’Connell, 55, lost his own battle after he died in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, yesterday.

The Killarney man was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease - cancer of the lymph glands - in 1977. His sister, Marie, had died from the same disease five years earlier.

In an operation at St Luke’s Hospital, Dublin, he had his spleen, part of his liver and some stomach glands removed.

Following intensive treatment he lost over four stone in weight, but made a good recovery and took up running in the early 1980s.

After taking part in a number of half-marathons, he ran in the 1982 Dublin City Marathon to raise funds for cancer treatment.

“I see this as my chance to do something to fight cancer at another level and to thank the people who have done so much for me,” he said at the time.

So began a massive sponsorship campaign, with marathons in Cork and Dublin (four times), Boston (twice), New York, London and Chicago.

In a tribute last night, Killarney mayor Tom Doherty said O’Connell gave himself unselfishly to helping cancer patients and their families.

“He was a great fighter who never gave up and overcame his own personal suffering - a truly inspiring figure who left his mark. In spite of his illness, he was out running in all weathers, getting ready for the next marathon,” Mr Doherty added.

Running up to 48,000 kilometres during his career, he raised over £300,000 for the cancer unit at Cork University Hospital, enabling a scanner, linear accelerator and other necessary equipment to be purchased.

He also presented £3,000 to the children’s cancer research unit at the Mercy Hospital, Cork.

In 1983, O’Connell was chosen as the first Kerry Person of the Year and, in 1984, was honoured with a People of the Year award along with then SDLP leader, John Hume, and the late sports commentator, Micheál O’Hehir.

He worked as a wildlife ranger in Killarney National Park and, in 1987, nursed a rare American eagle back to health at his own home over four months. The eagle had been found in a poor state in Kerry, and was later returned to the US by Mr O’Connell. The story received huge publicity at the time.

In recent years, he and his wife, Rosemary, were involved in the bed and breakfast business, for which they won a number of awards. He was also a keen gardener.

The couple have three grown-up daughters, Audrey, Justine and Melissa.

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