Irish hockey twins Bethany and Serena Barr use sport to continue sister's legacy

  • Published
Media caption,

Ireland women's hockey heroes continue sister's legacy

For the Irish women's hockey team, 2020 will be a year not to be forgotten with the squad set to make its Olympic debut.

But for County Armagh team members, Bethany and Serena Barr, it will also be significant as it marks the tenth anniversary of their sister's passing.

Charlene Barr, who was born with cystic fibrosis, died at the age of 20.

Before her death, Charlene began raising money to build a school in Uganda - a legacy her family continues.

Image source, Barr family
Image caption,
Charlene pictured during a family holiday to Uganda in 2008

"Charlene had to drop out of school while she was on the double-lung transplant waiting list," explained Serena.

"She decided: 'If I can't go to school, I want others to be able go to school.'

"But unfortunately, Charlene passed before the school could be built."

Serena added: "Through reading her journals when she died, we as a family knew this wasn't a one-off thing - so we've kept going at what she started."

Image source, Barr family/ Charlene's Project
Image caption,
Bethany coaching hockey at a school supported by Charlene's Project in Uganda

Since then, the twins and their family have travelled to Uganda on numerous occasions to visit the schools they have been supporting, and have even managed to incorporate their beloved sport.

"We brought hockey to some of the work we were doing in Kampala and to the rural schools," said Bethany.

"Some of them had played hockey before, but some of the others had never seen it.

"But the kids absolutely loved it. They loved the opportunity to try a new sport and to have fun.

Image source, Barr family/ Charlene's Project
Image caption,
Charlene's Project now supports eight schools in Uganda

"In a lot of cases, the children don't get the chance to just be kids and play, so it's really great to be able to do something that can make that happen."

And when it comes to how the 24 year olds perform on the pitch, they believe a lot comes down to shared experience.

Image source, Barr family
Image caption,
Bethany and Serena Barr pictured pitchside with their mum and dad

"We love playing beside each other, or in front of each other," said Bethany.

"You just know what the other twin is going to do.

"Maybe it's a twin thing, or maybe it's just because we've played our entire hockey careers together.

"Either way, we're very blessed."

Image source, Barr family
Image caption,
The Ireland women's hockey team qualified for the Olympics for the first time, following a shootout win against Canada

Anyone who watched Ireland's play-off against Canada will know it was a nail-biting affair, right to the bitter end.

But how do the twins cope with the pitchside pressure?

'Steeliness and stubbornness'

"In sport, I think, it's easy to allow your last performance to dictate how you're going to play," said Serena.

"We have it tattooed on our arms and we constantly say it to each other that we are playing for an audience of one, and that's God."

Image source, Barr family
Image caption,
Charlene Barr

The "steeliness and stubbornness" of their sister Charlene is also a massive inspiration, said Bethany.

"She didn't let any of the difficulties or setbacks in her life hold her back.

"Something we've learned is to face obstacles head on. We're lucky that we can do that together, and that's what gets us through the hard days."