By Joseph Murray
In many walks of life, we are told that small gestures can make a huge impact.
In this instance, what started as four friends rallying around their friend following a cancer diagnosis has become a huge nationwide fundraiser that has seen 36 people shave their heads, raised almost €50,000 and captured the heart of Galway’s student community and far beyond.
Two months ago, 23-year-old Fearghal Clerkin, whose diagnosis is at the heart of the fundraiser, received the news that Wilms tumour, a rare type of cancer he had previously suffered from as a child, had returned, this time to his lungs.
Having recently begun his Master’s Degree in Human Resources at the University of Galway, Fearghal, who hails from Monaghan, was forced to drop out to begin treatment at St James’ Hospital in Dublin.
In response, after consultation with Fearghal himself, his friends decided to shave their heads. Following this decision, they set up a GoFundMe page called ‘Bald for Wilms’ and advertised it on social media in hopes of raising money for the St James’ Foundation for Research on Wilms Tumours.
The initial aim for the fundraiser was set at an initial €1,000. Now, almost two weeks later, the fundraiser has surpassed the €40,000 mark. In some cases, single donations have exceeded the first target.
One of the organisers, Redmond ‘Red’ O’Hanlon, explains that the fundraiser came about as a snap decision to show solidarity with their friend, saying, “Last Wednesday we were sitting around and we were on the phone with Fearghal. After he hung up, we were chatting away and I was like ‘Lads, will we shave our heads with him?’ and everyone in my house said yeah.
“So, we said we would aim for €1,000, an ambitious aim. Sure enough, by midnight that night, we had made €6,500 and we had 20 lads shaving their heads. Now, here we are a week later, there’s 36 lads in total, 12 in Monaghan and 24 of us here in Galway.”
Carroll’s Bar on Dominick Street was the venue for the Bald for Wilms shave itself. Around three hundred people crammed into the outdoor ‘Caravan Club’ to watch the action unfold as three barbers worked their way through the 24 individuals, to the delight of the onlooking crowd.
Supplementing the main event was a raffle, where prizes included a golfing package at Glenlo Abbey, a bar tab and much more. Tickets quickly sold out, raising an additional €2,000 to add to the vast sums already raised by the online donation page.
Besides raising a hefty sum for a valuable cause, another of the organisers, Sean Patrick Houston, believes the fact that so many people have shown support for Bald for Wilms will give great encouragement to Fearghal himself.
“He’s going through a very tough time, but he’s got lots of people who support him and are by his side … but you know you want to do more. You want to help more than you can or do anything you can.
“They’ve organised the fundraiser … to try and raise more money, but I think more than anything, it’s the morale boost for a friend—that is the most important part about this fundraiser. We’re all behind him and I’ve no doubt that he’s going to get through it.”
This point is echoed by Red, who says that they have all been blown away by the outpouring of support within Galway and beyond, with donations flooding in from every corner of the country.
“To be honest, it’s completely overwhelming. I mean, for the last week, we’ve been so excited, not necessarily on our behalf, but mainly for Fearghal,” he explains.
“It started off as our house and there are loads more of Fearghal’s mates who we’re close with and all of us said we’d pull together and do something for him. We all did that thinking that he’d get a lift out of the 12 of us pulling together for him. I never thought that we’d have 1,300 donations.
“That’s obviously around the country, but there’s not one person in Galway we know who hasn’t donated. Obviously, we’re all students we don’t have a lot of money, yet every single person has donated that we know, and an awful lot of them have shown up tonight,” he continues.
“It’s just overwhelming support and I mean, whatever about us ourselves, for Fearghal it’s been out of this world.”
With donations open until Sunday, 26 November, it looks increasingly likely that the figure will go beyond €50,000, providing a hefty donation to an important charity and marking an incredible gesture to a friend in his time of need.
From a simple idea among four friends to a movement that has spread across Ireland, this fundraiser’s incredible success showcases the power of unity and compassion. The overwhelming support that Bald for Wilms has received is a testament to the strength of community and the unwavering spirit of solidarity.