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Window To My World

August 1, 2018 Alpha1 Admin Comments Off


John Joseph O’Donnell was born on Monday the 21st of November 1960 at Monfad, Newtowncunningham, Co. Donegal at the home of his grandparents George and Mary Burke. 

John as a baby with his mother Annie

John, along with his sisters and brothers, attended Drumoghill National School, which he fondly remembers in the poem “Drumoghill National School”. 

John holding his baby brother Brendan with his brothers Kieran, Liam and Michael

John on his first Communion day

John with his three sisters Anne, Mary, and Sheila

At this stage John began to suffer from chest problems and was diagnosed as asthmatic.  After leaving school John worked with an accountant’s firm in Letterkenny, as a book-keeper. 

John with three of his brothers Liam, Brendan, and late brother Damien

Sadly, two years later marked a distinct turning point in his life, when the constraints of his illness forced him to give up work and live on oxygen full time. 

John’s world became very restricted and his home and local community became his whole world.  Nature, world politics and science fiction served as great sources of enjoyment, and the endless stream of visitors to the Corkey household kept him informed of all major happenings.  John’s greatest love was comedy and his hoarse laugh was always the loudest to be heard, especially if he was watching Only Fools and Horses.  John began writing his poetry around this time, when life had slowed down to the point where he became a keen observer of all things around him.

John J O'Donnell

John pictured shortly before his tragic passing

John‘s love of nature inspired much of his poetry.  As his physical restrictions grew, he derived great pleasure from the beauty he could see in the world around him.

As his illness progressed John was sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, where they tried to understand how a young man could have such a progressive and aggressive lung disease.

In January 1987, John was again sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he became aware that his final hope of a heart and lung transplant would never come to fruition. He was admitted to hospital in February 1987 with a chest infection no more serious than the others, but with all hope gone, John felt that he could no longer fight.

John died on the 5th of February 1987 aged twenty-six years of age.

Almost twenty years later, the O’Donnell family discovered that John had alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.


In 2015 the O’Donnell family published a collection of John’s poetry for the first time.  The book was dedicated to the two people John loved most in the world, his mother Annie and his late father John.  The family decided that proceeds from the sale of the book would go towards the Alpha-1 Foundation and held several events in Donegal to promote the book and Alpha-1.  This helped to raise awareness of Alpha-1 in Donegal which has a particularly high number of people affected by the condition. 

Donegal Democrat newspaper coverage of the successful launch of Window To My World

Over 400 people attended the launch of John’s poetry collection, titled “Window To My World” in Manorcunningham in August 2015.  Many local newspapers covered the book launch and John’s sister Anne Gormley was interviewed on the local radio station Highland Radio.  Anne gave a powerful account of her brother’s struggle with lung disease and her own battle with the same lung condition. 

A section of the huge crowd present at the book launch in Manorcunningham in August 2015

Letterkenny Book Sale

The late Damien and Sheila O’Donnell selling copies of their brother John’s poetry in the local bank branch

After the first print edition sold out, the O’Donnell family generously donated the proceeds to the Alpha-1 Foundation at the Annual Alpha-1 Conference in October 2015. 

The O’Donnell family donating proceeds from Window To My World to the Alpha-1 Foundation in October 2015

The family also presented the collection of John’s poetry to the Alpha-1 Foundation Ireland and a second print run of Window to My World was commissioned in October 2016.  This beautiful book is available to buy from the online shop at eprint.ie – just click on the image below. 

Window to My World


The O’Donnell family have continued to help raise awareness of Alpha-1 and in 2016 John’s sister Anne played a leading role in our educational film “What is Alpha-1?”.  Funded by the Health Research Board and shot on location in Donegal and Kildare, the film explains Alpha-1 in a simple, easy to understand way, using John’s poetry to start and finish the narrative.  The film was launched at the Annual Alpha-1 Conference in 2016 making a tremendous impact.  It received a commendation in the patient education category at the Irish Healthcare Awards in 2017 and continues to be a vital tool in Alpha-1 Foundation awareness and education efforts. 

Click to watch the “What is Apha-1?” film