In memory of a superhero - a tribute to Orla O’Reilly

The late Orla O'Reilly, a 'mentor and a friend.'
The late Orla O'Reilly, a 'mentor and a friend.'

A poignant and emotional tribute has been paid to the late Orla O’Reilly in a touching blog post composed by a young woman she mentored.

Orla O’Reilly, who lived in Muff and was originally from Cavan, was tragically killed in a road traffic collision in Newtowncunningham in November last year.

She was a great mentor to me throughout my teenage years and undoubtedly she played a role in shaping the person I became today.

Sorcha Cusack

She worked with - and was a strong advocate - for the Donegal Youth Service, at which she met Sorcha Cusack.

Ms Cusack, who is from Letterkenny, is now a blogger and student and lives in Dublin.

She has composed an online blog post titled ‘In memory of a superhero - my thank you to Orla,’ in which she speaks of how Orla, who was in her 30s, was ‘a mentor, a mother, a confidante and a friend.’

Sorcha has kindly allowed the Journal to republish the blog post and you can also read it and follow her blog at astoldbysorcha.blogspot.ie

You can also read it below:

‘I haven’t posted in about a month. Probably more. And it’s taken me far too long to figure out a way of starting this post without repeating the usual excuses. So I’m just going to be honest. I haven’t written in this blog because I simply couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm.

Blogging is something that I like to do when I’ve stories to talk about and experiences to keep track of. This is my scrapbook and as such, I’ve tried to fill it with positive memories and experiences both for myself and for everyone who reads my posts. I’ve never really liked using As Told By Sorcha for anything else. Granted there’s been manys a post on exam stress (I’m about to face into the FE1s - turns out the fear doesn’t stop after one gets a degree) but overall I’ve tried to keep this blog as negative-free as I can.

But what I will say is that things have been quite tough for me lately. A month ago the world lost Orla O’Reilly. Although she needed no introduction in so many circles in Donegal, for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to know her, she was an inspirational human being. She was a great mentor to me throughout my teenage years and undoubtedly she played a role in shaping the person I became today. She was superwoman for so many of us - a mentor, a mother, a confidante and a friend. Always a friend. I’ll forever remember her patience when I went through my ‘save the world’ faze (it’s still there, but I’ve toned it down a notch) and she helped me learn how to turn my words into actions. She taught us how to be leaders. In time, when we’d grown up and left for college and work, Orla remained as a youth worker in the Loft, helping more and more generations of young people grow up with a sense of individualism, confidence and self-worth. We were so so lucky to have had Orla in our lives, even if it was for far too short a time.

In recent years, I went off and lived lives in Dublin and in Paris. I kept in touch intermittently with the people here at home, but fell into the belief that nothing in Letterkenny would change while I was gone. Home is home, that doesn’t change, and nor do the people that come with it. I was completely ignorant to reality. I lost touch a little with those who I had spent so much time with growing up. I allowed myself to be convinced that seeing photos on Facebook and liking statuses could be substituted for real conversation. I got lazy.

When I first met Orla, I had started going to the youth centre after a time in my life where I had been bullied and left without any real friend to my name. I felt incredibly alone and I didn’t really have much time anymore for myself. To me, the Loft was my new start. It was my second chance. And at the heart of that youth centre, was Orla.

I always told myself that one day I’d tell her about it. How tough it was starting over. How grateful I was to her for allowing me the space and time to find myself again. It’s a truly awful thing to feel alone as a teenager, a time when so many insecurities come to the fore anyway, and Orla helped take that away for me. I thought about writing her a letter once I went to college. And, as time went on, I thought it would be more appropriate to tell her in person. I made up excuses, constantly assuming that there’d be another chance. And I’ll always be sorry that we didn’t properly talk about it. But then again, perhaps she knew all along anyway. I’d like to think maybe she did - she was excellent at reading people, so I wouldn’t really be surprised.

The point of this post is to say that I’m sad. I lost a friend, and I haven’t written much in this blog because of it. She was a true lady and she will be missed. Goodnight Orla. I hope that one day we’ll meet again and I can thank you in person, but until then, I remain forever in your debt for the kindness you showed to me and to those who are closest to me.

The lessons you taught us will be carried with us for the rest of our lives and your legacy can be found embedded in all of our successes.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Sorcha x