John McGrath is described as having a “life-long love of farming”, and had worked happily on the family dairy farm in Moyvane, north Kerry.

But his was a life that was cut far too short by terminal illness. In January 2020, he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. A year later, on January 26, he passed away.

His fiancée, Erin Stack, is now carrying out a wish of John’s – through combining his desire to fundraise for the Palliative Care Unit of University Hospital Kerry (UHK) and his passion for farming.

Erin, alongside other members of John’s family and with the support of farmers around north Kerry, is organising a ‘Donate a calf’ fundraiser in cooperation with Listowel Mart on March 24.

They are asking for farmers to donate a chosen calf/calves, with proceeds going to the Palliative Care Unit in UHK. The mart will be foregoing any charges for the calves sold.

‘John was an inspiration’

John’s brother, Ciaran, described him as “an inspiration”.

“During the past year he raised around €50,000 for the palliative care. Then, Erin decided she wanted to rear a few calves and sell them in aid of it; and then we were thinking maybe other farmers could get involved too,” he told AgriLand.

We’re thinking if we could collect calves, carry them to the mart on March 24 and whatever they make collectively, give that to the palliative care.

“It’s not an awful big ask – whatever people want to give. We just want to put together as many as we can. If we can get phone numbers from people to say they’ll commit a calf they’ll be collected the morning of, the sale starting at 1:00pm.”

‘He appreciated those in there so much’

A popular man, he was involved with local football and soccer, and was due to get married to Erin in December 2020.

“He was just a bit too sick at the time so then they postponed it, and then he got very sick at Christmas and he died on January 26,” Ciaran said.

“It was sudden in the end. John didn’t want to go into palliative care in the beginning – he was very sick last February [2020] and he was emotional when he heard palliative care mentioned because he thought it meant the end of life.

But six times he went in there during the year and every time he came out like a new man. They’re unbelievable. We never knew about palliative care before, it was a world we knew nothing about. But now, we can’t praise them enough.

“He appreciated those in there so much – people are so afraid of it when they don’t know anything about it. I think it’s important to raise a bit of awareness of this too.

“Unfortunately, every family is touched by cancer at some stage.”

Those who are interested in donating a calf can contact Erin at: 087-175-5324. Non-farmers that would like to contribute are also encouraged to get in touch.