Derry Girls star Saoirse-Monica Jackson is supporting Derry charity HURT, which was set up by mum Sadie O’Neill after the tragic death of her son Tony.
Derry Girls star Saoirse-Monica Jackson was in Derry recently to lend her support to a local charity which is close to her heart.
The 24-year-old actor, who plays Erin Quinn in the hit Channel 4 comedy visited the Clarendon Street headquarters of the charity Have Your Tomorrows (HURT) to view for herself the life-saving work they do with those impacted by addiction.
HURT was set up by Sadie O’Reilly after she lost her 22-year-old son Tony to a heroin overdose in 1999. In the midst of her grief, Sadie decided she didn’t want another mother to suffer the loss she had and channelled her grief into charity work.
During her visit, Saoirse met Sadie and the rest of the HURT team and joined young people taking part in one of the organisation’s personal development programmes.
“Drug and alcohol addiction is such an important issue and Derry, like many other places, has its fair share of problems,” Saoirse told Local Women. “However, it is heartening to learn that organisations like HURT can offer much needed help and assistance, not only to people suffering from addiction but their families too.
“What this organisation does is incredible,” she said. “The passion and drive that these people have to help and to also prevent is amazing. They have a real understanding of addiction, how it doesn’t just affect the user, but how it affects their family and everybody around them.
“They are teaching us what we can do in the long-run, starting from a young age to prevent addiction.
“They don’t get any government funding. It’s a shame that it is made any harder for the people that make this happen, because they should have the support.
“Tony’s story is heartbreaking,” she said. “But HURT is an absolute credit to Sadie and to her partner Dessie. What amazing people they area, to take such trauma and turn it around.
“They don’t want this to happen to anybody else, they don’t want anyone else’s daughter to have to deal with the death of their brother or another mother to go through this.
“It’s incredible and we are lucky to have this charity.”
Saoirse-Monica says she knows addiction is a growing problem in her hometown.
“Growing up in Derry I was quite sheltered to the drug problem,” she said. “Going to university I was shocked at the number of people, many of them just 18, who were addicted to prescription drugs and indeed people’s knowledge of other drugs.
“And I know that there has been a huge increase in drug use in Derry from when I had left, which was seven years ago.”
They don’t want this to happen to anybody else, they don’t want anyone else’s daughter to have to deal with the death of their brother or another mother to go through this.
During her visit Saoirse met with the charity’s founder Sadie O’Reilly who told her the tragic story of her son Tony’s death.
“My son Tony was a lovable, sports mad typical teenager,” said Sadie. “He grew up dreaming of playing football for his beloved Liverpool Football Club. When he was a teenager he studied sport and recreation at the North West Regional College. At 15 he was offered a scholarship to play football in America, but I wouldn’t let him go. I thought he was too young.
“At 16, Tony began smoking cannabis and this lead him to using harder drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy and eventually heroin.
“I found out he was on heroin when he came back from Dublin after a weekend away. He was pretty sick. I found a letter in the toilet that he has tried to flush down. It was from the hospital. It said that he had overdosed down there and was taken in. On the letter it said he was using heroin. I went into panic mode. I didn’t know what to do. I was distraught.
“As a mother I was desperate to get help for him, but could find nowhere to turn. I thought that he would die if he didn’t get help. We went everywhere we could - doctors, addiction centres, you name. Back then there weren’t a lot of places to get help. There was no help. There was nothing anyone could do for him. We helped get him clean several times and for months we’d get the real Tony back. But then he’d relapse.
“He had been clean for three months before he overdosed. I remember it was a Saturday and he was in bed with the flu. A guy called to the door for him and I told him Tony was sick, that he wasn’t going anywhere. I was glad he was sick because he was in bed and I knew where he was. But when I went out, Tony went out with this guy and they went to Dublin to get drugs. I was phoning him and he wasn’t answering. When he didn’t come back the next day I got really worried.”
“On the Monday Tony come back from Dublin on the bus and used heroin at the station in Monaghan. He got off at the end of the bridge in Derry and went up into his flat instead of coming home here, because he didn’t want to come home in the state he was in. “We went to the flat and there was no sign of him there. I said to my partner Dessie that he needed to break the door down because I knew he was in there.
“There was a roof space above the flat and Dessie went up and looked through. I think Dessie saw him and came down and told me to go back home. But I refused. Dessie broke the door down and Tony was in there. He was on his knees, down on his honkers. It was horrific. He had injected into his ankle and suffered a massive heart attack.
“At that moment I don’t remember anything else except lying on top of him and screaming. It was horrific. In the days after I was just numb. It was like I had died myself. My heart was completely broken.”
Sadie says the work she does at HURT is sometimes challenging, but when she feels like it gets too much, her son’s words pop into her head.
“This is a hard job at times, and there have been times I have felt overwhelmed and wanted to give up,” she said. “But when I do, I hear Tony’s voice in my head telling me to keep going. We are working together, he and I and the team here, to help save the lives of others.”
HURT is based at 14 Clarendon Street and can be contacted on 028 7136 9696.
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