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those we lost |

by Mary Gallagher

Bill O’Donnell

(1935 – 2019) ormer newspaper reporter Bill O’Donnell died in April, aged 84. A beloved and dedicated member of the Irish community in Boston, O’Donnell proudly held dual citizenship in Ireland and the U.S., and offered a great example of the strong connection between Ireland and the United States. O’Donnell was born and raised in Boston, and after attending Saint Clement’s School in Medford, he went on to Somerville High School, Suffolk University, and then Boston State College. He later served in the Marines during the Korean War, though he refused military honors when planning his funeral service, telling his family, “I never got shot at!” After his family, Bill’s priorities in life were Boston’s Irish community and respecting his own heritage. He visited Ireland a number of times, and kept his community informed on the events of the Troubles during his tenure as the editor of Boston’s Irish Echo in the 1980s. Journalism proved to be his life’s work, as he went on to offer a monthly column in the Boston Irish Reporter in the 20 years before his death. Outside of his work, he was a president of the Eire Society of Boston and a member of the Irish Cultural Center and the Charitable Irish Society. “I was truly amazed by his knowledge of Ireland and the complexities of our politics,” Ann Mullan, a friend of Bill’s who immigrated to Boston from Ireland in the 1980s, told the Reporter. “Bill’s example taught me as an Irish-born person to admire and respect Americans of Irish descent.” O’Donnell is predeceased by his brother Steven and his parents, William, Sr., and Anne O’Donnell (née Flaherty). He leaves behind his wife of 50 years, Jeanie, and daughter Erin.

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Lyra McKee

TOP: Bill O’Donnell CENTER: Lyra McKee ABOVE: Laura Brennan

(1990 – 2019) elfast investigative journalist Lyra McKee died in April, aged 29. While covering riots in Derry for a piece on the perils of frontline reporting, McKee was caught in the fire of dissident New IRA members, who claimed they were aiming at police. She was well-respected for her thoughtful, in-depth studies on the effects of the Troubles and IRA ceasefires in the current millennium in Ireland. McKee was born and raised in the ’90s in North Belfast’s “killing fields,” where roughly one-fourth of the violent fatalities took place during that grieffilled period. Her close proximity to the violence made her a witness to its effects and fueled her determination to see them brought to the limelight. While attending St. Gemma’s High School in Belfast, she began publishing at 14 with an article in the school paper.

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24 IRISH AMERICA MAY / JUNE 2019

She would become known for her research pieces, including “Suicide Among the Ceasefire Babies,” published by Mosaic in 2016, revealing that suicides in Northern Ireland had increased at an astonishing rate since the last IRA ceasefire – more in the 16 years since than in the three previous decades of brutality altogether. A book that McKee was working on, The Lost Boys, focuses on young males who were abducted and killed during the Troubles, and the killers who are still at large. The book will be published posthumously. “Her life was a shining light in everyone else’s life,” said her partner, Sara Canning, at a vigil held for Lyra in Derry. “Her legacy will live on in the light she’s left behind.” McKee is survived by Sara; her mother, Joan; and her five siblings, Gary, Joan, Nichola, David, and Mary.

Laura Brennan

(1992 – 2019) PV vaccination advocate Laura Brennan, whose passionate activism was driven by her own experience with the disease, died in late March. Making the most of the time she had after her terminal prognosis of cervical cancer, Brennan launched a determined campaign in September 2017 to encourage vaccinations against the virus that caused it. Brennan worked with Ireland’s Health Service Executive to spread awareness of the vaccine and its benefits, establishing an online video campaign and appearing on the Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy. “This illness is devastating, and it’s going to take my life, but the good news is there’s a vaccine you can get that prevents it,” Brennan said in her campaign, which helped bring HPV vaccinations up by 18 percent in less than 18 months. She was invited by the World Health Organization to promote the vaccine throughout Europe, and her efforts saw her named Clare Person of the Year, honored by UCD, and the recipient of a mayoral reception from the Clare County Council. County Clare mayor Michael Begley praised Brennan’s efforts to alert Irish parents to the dangers of the disease. “Telling one’s story to a public audience is often the most difficult thing to do. In doing just that, however, Laura opened a debate, gave a voice to the silenced, and generated a better understanding of what is a serious issue that affects so many.” The Irish Republic’s Minister for Health Simon Harris spoke publicly on the effects of Brennan’s zealous campaign. “Thanks in no small part to her sheer determination, the uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased among young women. The State owes her a debt of gratitude,” he said. “Amazing doesn’t do justice to her or her courage.” Brennan is survived by her parents, Bernie and Larry; brothers Fergal, Colin, and Kevin; and a grateful generation of young Irish women.

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Profile for Irish America Magazine

Irish America May / June 2019  

Irish America's May / June issue, featuring Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means committee of the U.S. House of Represent...

Irish America May / June 2019  

Irish America's May / June issue, featuring Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means committee of the U.S. House of Represent...