A little boy from Belfast continues to hold a special place in the hearts of the Philadelphia Irish community.
Everywhere you looked at a jam-packed fundraiser at Tír na nÓg Bar & Grill in Center City on Sunday, there were reminders of Oscar Knox, a 4-year-old boy from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder and high risk neuroblastoma, a quite rare and aggressive childhood cancer.
Guests wore commemorative “Wee Oscar” T-shirts, pictures of the smiling boy flashed by on monitors throughout the bar, and musicians like John Byrne and Seamus Kelleher, who donated their time, never passed up a chance to remind everyone why they were there.
The grand total raised: $27,000.
On Sunday, organizer Brian McGarrity couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how much money was pouring into the local fund’s coffers—but he knew it was going to be big.
“We had sold maybe 200 to 250 tickets beforehand. I would say we might have sold at least another 100 to 150 at the door,” said McGarrity, straining to be heard over the happy crowd noise.
Perhaps no one should have been surprised by the outcome. At an October bake sale at Sacred Heart Parish in Havertown, Delaware County, McGarrity, his wife Laurie, and friends had hoped for a profit of $1,000; they wound up with $8,000.
The McGarritys and their friends first came to know Oscar Knox when he and his parents, Steven and Leona, came to Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in early October for a course of immunotherapy for his cancer. In a heartbreaking turn of events, Oscar developed pulmonary hypertension, an also rare condition affecting the lungs and heart. He had to discontinue immunotherapy and return home to North Ireland.
“We’re originally from Northern Ireland (County Tyrone), where Oscar is from,” said McGarrity. “It’s very, very big news in Northern Ireland. We had seen from watching the news from home that this little guy was coming to CHOP for treatment. There were a few of us who put together a hamper to send down to the family. Aisling Travers and Fidelma McGroary brought it down. That kind of got a connection going with the family, and then it just progressed.”
Despite the bad news and the family’s return to Northern Ireland, there’s still plenty of reason to continue aiding the family, McGarrity said.
“We wanted to keep the momentum going because everything we raise goes directly to the family to help them with living costs so they can concentrate on Oscar’s situation. They won’t have to worry about bills. We started out thinking we would be able to raise maybe a month or two worth of bill money, but it has progressed to be a lot, lot more than that.”
Of course, nothing as successful as the Sunday fundraiser happens without plenty of help. Among others, McGarrity said, Laurence Banville of Irish Network-Philadelphia, Celtic Clothing entrepreneur Charlie Lord, and Tir na Nog general manager Roger Power were a huge help.
All that work clearly paid off, McGarrity said, looking around the bar crawling with guests. “In our wildest dreams, we never thought it would be anything like this.”