by Louise Doyle
LIGHT dances across the faces of Róise Quinn’s parents when they speak of her.
Cathal Quinn and Rachel MacNamara, from New Mills, have been remembering their beautiful daughter who passed away peacefully at Letterkenny University Hospital surrounded by her family on March 22 last year, aged just 22.
An adored sister, friend and girlfriend, Róise, who had ambitions to work with a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) for women in developing nations, died by suicide having battled depression.
A proud former student of Loreto Secondary School in Letterkenny, her parents have chosen to celebrate the legacy of the vibrant, intelligent, witty and kind young woman with a perpetual award in her memory.
‘The Róise Quinn Senior Art Student of the Year Award’, made by Letterkenny Glass and designed with doodles drawn by Róise including a heart, clock, wand and a cup of tea, was inaugurally presented at the school’s prize giving ceremony held recently.
Róise herself won Senior Art Student of the Year in 2018.
Cathal, Rachel and Róise’s close friend and past boyfriend Issam Jamaleddine, this week paid a remarkable tribute to their beloved Róise, describing her as a “constant” to her family and friends and as a person who championed inclusion on all levels.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Cathal, a well-known local solicitor, recalled an early memory of his daughter, which, he said, was an indication of just how special Róise was to become.
“We used to say night prayers with her big brother Patrick, who is a few years older than Róise. Róise, no more than a baby in a babygro, was standing in her cot listening to us when one night she started reciting the prayers. I remember being stunned. That was the first realisation that I had about her ability to absorb language and give it back to you.”
Rachel described her daughter as a “very bright child from very early on”.
“When she was in national school her high infants teacher said she was an ‘asset to the class’.”
Róise was exceptionally gifted academically, and, despite her small stature, she was fearless on the sports field playing both rugby and GAA.
She also had a love of art and music, possessing a beautiful singing voice and an electric theatrical presence during her various stage performances over the years, mostly notably in her role in ‘Unified The Musical’ in 2016 with Letterkenny Musical Society, which saw her perform a rap on stage in An Grianan Theatre with her friend Angel Cranny.
“Róise was a leader and in TY she persuaded all her friends to participate in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar with her. They had great fun. She also succeeded in having several of them join her in playing rugby with Letterkenny rugby club.
“Her general knowledge was phenomenal,” said Rachel.
“When she went to Loreto she was really afforded a lot of opportunity. She was on the Student Council and represented Loreto nationally. In Transition Year she came into her own. She took part in Model UN and European Youth Parliament and many of her friends told us they themselves became involved in both organisations directly as a result of Róise’s enthusiasm. She went on to represent Ireland at EYP and she and Issam met at an international EYP session. At the same time she was singing with Donegal Youth Choir, performed at Electric Picnic with them, and she sang with her choir at the 1916 Commemoration in Dublin.
“She won several art competitions. A 3D Harry Potter piece she designed during her Junior Certificate was included in the County JC art display at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny and was voted by the Donegal art teachers the best piece there.
“The work she put into it was very meticulous.”
Fun loving Róise would break into recitations from musicals around the kitchen table to amuse her family.
Cathal said: “She could recite whole big sections from the musical ‘Hamilton’ round the kitchen table. She would just start reciting it for our entertainment. She was a brilliant mimic, she had a very musical ear. On holiday she would go into the swimming pool and would arrive out 15 minutes later with a London or Liverpool accent.
“She was full of fun, and she was very witty.”
Róise had been studying International Politics and Conflict Studies at Queen’s University in Belfast. She met Issam in Austria at European Youth Parliament. Their relationship continued, with the couple travelling back and forth between Belfast and London where Róise and Issam were based, respectively.
“We really clicked,” he said.
“I came to Donegal for New Year in 2019, the turn of the decade. I fell in love with Róise’s family. It is an understatement to say that she was truly the funest person you could ever have the privilege of coming into contact with.
“One thing to really note about her was that she had a very good way with people. She had a deeply magnetic personality. People could not stay away from her, they were always attracted to her personality, kindness, humour and they felt very alive around her. It was a gift that she had.”
Very much part of the fabric of Loreto Secondary School life, Cathal and Rachel said they are “very proud” her memory is being honoured with an award in her name.
“Róise was 22 when she died. She should not have died. She was a very sick little girl and you can’t get away from that. Róise died on a Tuesday morning and from that day until we left for the (funeral) Mass on the Friday morning our house was full of youngsters, which was so important. They came in from all over Ireland and Europe and one friend even came from the States. They were all there, together. It was a sad, happy time. It was important for them to laugh and cry together.
“We’re conscious of the fact that many of Róise’s friends would not have previously experienced loss or suicide.
“They have never forgotten her. Her friends visit the grave. The week after she was buried we heard there was one girl at the grave playing the violin and on another occasion another girl was lying down beside the grave talking to her. They were hugely affected.
“She made a huge contribution to the school. Even though she struggled in the sense that she was becoming unwell, she fought very very hard and we wanted to mark that with a perpetual award. We wanted to commemorate Róise and redeem the memory.”
Rachel added: “Róise was very much her own woman. She was articulate and passionate. One of her friends described her only a few weeks ago as ‘fierce’. She would fiercely defend and advocate for any cause and anyone she believed in. She had a backbone of steel. She was a very strong individual.
“A key part of Róise and her personality was that Róise saw you. She saw beyond the facade. She had empathy. We got a lovely letter from the mother of a child, a wheelchair user, she was in national school with after she died. The mum wrote of how Róise never saw anything different about her child, and that she always included her. She never judged or excluded anyone. She took care of people who were on the edge, or who were a little bit shy. She had a deep interest in bringing them in.”
Cathal said Róise’s ambition was to one day address the UN representing marginalised women.
“She was so distressed when the war broke out in Ukraine, if she knew what was going on in Gaza now she would be so devastated.”
Cathal and Rachel said their daughter is “much loved” and achieved so much more in her 22 years of life than many do in a lifetime.
“We are very grateful for that, very thankful for having had her.
“The sun was shining on Róise the day she died,” said Rachel.
“We were in ICU for 48 hours with Róise. When she died at 9.40am the sun was shining on her face and when we brought her home the sun shone in on her during those days. By the time we put the lid on her basket all her freckles were up, which she would have been thrilled with!”
Cathal told of how the family made the heartbreaking decision to turn off the ventilator and let their beloved Róise go.
“In the ICU when they did all the scans, we were hoping in the first few hours that she would pull through but there was too much damage. We did not want any more pain for Róise.
“We prayed to God to take her home and that is what happened. When they moved her into a room off ICU where we would have the last few hours with her, they took her off the ventilator. They said she would live for maybe 10 minutes. I remember putting my head to her chest and listening to her heartbeat as they switched the ventilator off. Then, she took a big gasp and she kept breathing strongly for another 12 hours.
“It was such a comfort having that time with her. We held her hand and talked to her.”
Rachel said she knows Róise is now at peace.
“Someone described her to me recently as a meteor that flashed across the sky. We were so lucky to have her. She loved us and her brothers, Patrick and John. They know that. They were all very close.”
Cathal added: “ She really enriched our lives and those of the people around her.”