Remembering Niamh and running for a better life

Kilkenny born actress Muireann Ryan ran a half marathon this year to raise monies for children’s hospice Acorn. She shares her story about the little girl that taught her so much over her four short years.

Kilkenny born actress Muireann Ryan ran a half marathon this year to raise monies for children’s hospice Acorn. She shares her story about the little girl that taught her so much over her four short years.

On the September 29 last year, my cousin Helene and her husband Alex Silk lost their little girl Niamh, who had just turned three, to a very large and aggressive brain tumor.

As the Silks live in Birmingham they wanted to comemorate Niamh’s life in someway in Ireland, so this year we had a gathering of the clan to mark what should have been Niamh’s fourth birthday. 16 of us old enough and able enough climbed one of the Comeragh mountains in the Nire. It turned out to be a strenuous climb with weather conditions quite difficult which resulted in us getting quite lost in the thick fog and misty rain. I had personally set an intention for my climb. I wanted to be rebooted! I wanted God or Niamh or whoever to press reboot. I felt I had been through a most stressful period of my life. I really felt like I had started to imprint negative thought patterns in my mind and body. I knew I needed to change a gear in some way, so to speak. So getting lost in the fog was probably a great thing. I had to surrender. I had to completely trust that everything was going to be alright. And It really was out of my control. I came off the mountain definitely rebooted but also exhausted. I found it hard to chat with relatives and sing into the small hours.I just wanted to sleep it all off. I really felt that Niamh was teaching us all to let go. She had no choice in her journey but to let go. Let go to her sickness and her suffering and in a way, pave the way for us all to do the same.

During that weekend Helene mentioned that she was going to run the Birmingham Half Marathon in aid of Acorns, the hospice that looked after Niamh and her family during those last six weeks together. She joked asking the rest of us to join her. It took me a few weeks but once I got my head around it, it felt like the absolute right thing to do. I had only given myself six weeks to train. And although I have been doing a spot of jogging on and off over the last two years I had only pushed my way through a five kilometre run a month before as a one off. The thought of being ready for 21 km was mesmerizing. I just put my mind to it. I got out there and stuck to my training plan, even doing more than the plan suggested. I was eager to do well. I have a gorgeous three-year-old, Saoirse, and she came out with me regularly in our jogging buggy. She encouraged me to “go Mammy” up the hills, and shouted at me what the run keeper voice was telling me “5 k Mammy”. Other days or mornings I would go out on my own. I would listen to music on my iphone and run by the river. The river would carry me. It is amazing how quickly you can get addicted to the feeling. The feeling of being extra alive and full of vitality. What amazed me was when I would get to that extra kilometre since the last run every time I would cry. Tears of sadness and gratitude all rolled into one.

When I signed up I announced to my friends on Facebook: “I am running to support Helene, to give thanks to Acorns Childrens Hospice for helping Niamh and her family through the darkest time and I am also running for me. A reminder that I must embrace life, my life with energy, gusto and enthusiasm because it is just a mere moment. And I thank Niamh for showing me that.”

Our beautiful angel Niamh had three surgical procedures to remove the aggressive tumor, four rounds of chemotherapy and another three surgical procedures to relieve a build up of cerebrospinal fluid in her head. After the fourth round of chemotherapy Niamh’s cancer had progressed. With very few options, Niamh then started a long course of radiotherapy. Six weeks later, on August 10, four days before Niamh’s third birthday, the family were told, that, despite the radiotherapy, the tumour had continued to grow. Niamh’s consultant did not believe that Niamh could be cured. The family looked for further treatments but there were no more that they were prepared to put her through. They were told that Niamh only had weeks to live. The family spent the last six weeks of Niamh’s life in the excellent care of Acorns Children’s Hospice where Niamh got to enjoy the best possible time with her sister Emilie. Niamh and Emilie enjoyed their daily swim in the hydrotherapy pool. Acorns gave the family the opportunity to share special moments at a very difficult time.

Acorns is currently supporting over 630 children in the area and need to raise over £8 million to keep running. Sponsorship of £14 will pay for one day’s food for a child during their stay with Acorns, £21 will pay for a family splash session in the Acorns hydrotherapy pool and £45 will pay for a child to enjoy a one-on-one multisensory session.

Running and raising money for Acorns was really so easy. I mean, why wouldn’t you? I know the impact that Acorns had on my cousin’s family, and I know how much they’d like to pay them back, or at the very least help another family who is going through a similar journey.

So the race day arrived. 400 people ran for Acorns. My parents paid for my flights and I was sponsored and still am being sponsored by friends who know me well and friends who are inspired by this worthy cause. Six of us ran for “Team Niamh”. Helene and I held each others hands as we ran, in excrutiating pain, across the finishing line in two hours and 21 minutes. I had the feeling of hyperventilating. My body had never ran so much…it was caving in! But my God! What a sense of achievment.

My body feels great, my heart is strong, my mind is clear and my soul is filled with appreciation and gratitude. Running in a big run surrounded by people who are also runnig for their own reason and causes is the most amazing experience. Surrounded by love and life and people choosing to run. I think I smiled for 20 of the 21 kilometres. The atmosphere was great with high-fiving kids, samba bands and cheers from onlookers. The last kilometre was the toughest one. If you are not running or moving your body in some way I recommend that you do. It will make a lasting impression on your vision of the world. And the world really is a better place than we are led to believe. And if you are not? Well think about it again and if it’s not for you cheer on those who are.

If you would like to support my cause please go to

If you too are going through a similar journey of cancer and heartache. Helene wrote an beautiful blog whilst going through the treatments etc to help others who are going through the same. It is still on line and public

Muireann Ryan, from Kilkenny, is an actress soon to be appearing in Jack Taylor Detective Series on TV3.