When Derry teenager Michael Clarke died of meningitis in the summer of 2003 the shock and devastation felt by his family and friends was like no other.
This year is the tenth anniversary of Michael’s tragic passing and his mother Mary Clarke and sister, Aine Clarke are organising a charity fashion night and a sponsored walk to help raise money to fund research into meningitis.
“Michael was a happy, healthy 18 year-old boy who had just finished his A-levels and was looking forward to going to university,” said Michael’s sister Aine.
Michael was originally from Prehen and his mother, Mary, is a retired primary school teacher so when deciding on what to study at Queen’s University Belfast, Michael opted to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
“I can’t believe ten years have passed. Michael died in July and his A-level results were out in August. We had to open his results and God love him, he got the results he needed to go to Queen’s to study to become a teacher,” recalled Aine.
“Michael was so excited about going to university and I have no doubt that he would have made an excellent teacher,” she added.
In the days leading up to his death, Michael had headaches and went to the doctor.
“We took Michael to see the doctor and he was given Co-codamol and sent home.
“However, two days later his headaches got worse and he went back to the see the doctor who sent him to hospital.
“Michael was diagnosed with having meningitis between eight and ten hours later but by this stage it was too late - my wee brother died the next day,” said Aine.
The Clarke family need no introduction into what the heartache and sadness of losing a loved one to meningitis is like - they have lived through it for the last ten years.
Aine and her mother are under no illusions, the empty feeling left in the wake of Michael’s death is something that can never be replaced but they are determined to do all they can to ensure no other families has to go through a similar trauma.
“Meningitis is so difficult to diagnose. Much more research is needed for the vaccines to be able to stop meningitis in the first place.
“My mother has seen first hand the good work that the charity Meningitis UK carry out and we both thought that we wanted to do something special and raise money for them.
“Next Sunday evening (March 3) we are hosting a charity fashion show called ‘City of Couture’ upstairs in Sandino’s. Every single penny raised will go directly to Meningitis UK and the Foyle Hospice.
“I’d appeal to the kind hearted people of Derry to support our charity night because the funds will help to fight this dreadful disease and spare other families the heartache that we went through ten years ago,” said Aine.
Aine is the owner of local knitwear shop, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, on Pump Street and along with other local businesses she will stage a fashion show for children and adults next Sunday.
“I am really nervous but I have been completely taken aback by the generosity of the businesses and people of Derry - without them this fashion show would not be happening.
“I am organising the children’s fashion show but I’ll be running about behind the scenes to make sure that everything is going according to plan.”
When asked if she has any plans to take a stroll down the catwalk herself next Sunday, Aine laughed and said she would be too busy.
“Are you off your head? I’ll be that nervous making sure that everything is ok that I’d be an absolute liability if I was to go down the catwalk,” she laughed.
‘The Henry Girls’ will provide the entertainment at next weekend’s charity fashion show and all of the people who will be modelling the clothes are Aine’s friends and family.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to raise the money and we’ll have a bit of craic along the way too.
“My children’s fashion show will have 12 or 13 children modelling knitwear from the shop,” said Aine.
Aine and her mother have set their sights on raising £10,000 and along with next week’s fashion show they will organise a sponsored walk from near Coleraine Hospital to Ballycastle beach where Michael’s friends erected a bench in his memory. The walk is called ‘Michael’s Big Stroll’.
“Michael will be gone ten years this summer so we want to raise £10,000 to help fund meningitis research and the Foyle Hospice. We’re doing this for Michael.
“If everything goes according to plan there is no reason why next weekend’s charity fashion show can’t be a success.
“Ticket sales are going really well and I can’t thank everyone who has helped us out enough. Everyone has been so generous. The kindness displayed by the people of Derry to myself and my mother over the last few weeks has been like nothing I have ever experienced before - the people of Derry are just amazing.”
“Michael went to Good Shepherd P.S. and St. Columba’s P.S. in Newbuildings when he was younger and then he went to Loreto Convent in Coleraine - that’s where he met most of his friends.
“I have five brothers and Michael was the baby of the family. All of the rest of us had left home but when Michael passed away he was still at home with my mum - it was very sad.
“He was such a great wee brother. He was so kind, caring and gentle. My lasting memories of Michael are of him running about and playing in bands with his friends - he was just a typical teenager who absolutely adored life.”
‘City of Couture’ charity fashion show tickets can be purchased from any of the following retailers: The Closet, Austins, Edel McBride, Fosters, Glendowen, Linda Kerlin, Hansel and Gretel, Poppy Boutique and Audrey Doherty Millinery. Tickets cost £10 each but anyone interested in attending can also pay at the door.
‘Michael’s Big Stroll’ will take place on Saturday June 22 at 9.30am. For sponsorship forms email firstname.lastname@example.org