The lack of social outlets for children with differing needs and abilities can create feelings of exclusion and isolation – particularly in rural areas where this void in services is more common.
In the absence of these services, one group of parents in Portumna have created the Mighty Oaks Arch Club.
Since June, the Arch Club has been providing a secure social environment for people with special needs, their siblings and their friends.
It enables children to learn, form friendships and, above all else, have fun – and as one of 50 groups nationwide, it is part of an expanding network.
The person behind the club is local woman, Colette Flaherty.
Colette’s son, Paul, has autism and, now in his teenage years, she wants to help him find his identity and prepare for his future.
“The main thing is to get them something that they are interested in – so they can be themselves.
“Some have autism, some have dyspraxia or Down Syndrome and some don’t have any particular disability – they just struggle in school with friends,” explains Colette.
The group meets in the Sign Out Youth Café on a weekly basis and every month, puts on Pilates and yoga classes.
“They are learning new skills – they might be learning to do something so small to other people but it is a big thing for them,” says Colette.
The Arch Club provides an environment where the children can meet with likeminded people and form meaningful friendships.
“Down the road, it would be lovely in the years ahead that they might meet up – at least they won’t be so isolated.
“We also want to get them involved in the community so that people will see them and be able to say, ‘hi Paul’ or whatever because they will know them.
“If everyone knows them, that is giving them an identity and that is the least that anyone deserves.
“Autism doesn’t define a person – it is a part of them but it doesn’t define the individual,” says Colette.
The group is characterised by the fact that it is led by parents and Colette believes more change is needed to make things a bit easier on them.
“People are exhausted fighting for every little thing. Most people can let their kids go to classes and drop them off – we still haven’t got that freedom.
“As parents, we are putting in 100 per cent of our energy and a lot of it goes unnoticed.
“Every town needs to cater for those with different abilities and interests and not only cater for mainstream sports and classes – if we, as parents, don’t do this, no-one else will,” says Colette.
See full feature in this week’s Community Matters. If you know of a story we should cover – or an area of the county we should feature – in a future Community Matters, just email email@example.com
Exploring the merits of moving into the west
Broadcaster Mary Kennedy has an abiding image of those early mornings when she’d set out from Dublin at the crack of dawn to begin work on another day’s filming down the country with Nationwide.
“I always liked to go in the morning rather than stay there the night before – so I’d be on the road early. And from the moment I’d hit Newland’s Cross, all I’d see was a line of traffic of people trying to make it from home to their workplace in Dublin,” she says.
These were people whose day began before dawn to get their bleary-eyed kids ready to drop at a childminder along the way, so they could be on time for work – and then race home to hopefully see those same kids before they went to sleep.
But if the pandemic had a positive, it was the realisation that work was something you did, not a place you went to. As a result, many people finally grasped the nettle, moving out of the city and sometimes even taking their work with them.
Which is why Mary – busier than ever since her supposed retirement from RTÉ – is presenting a new television series called Moving West, focusing on those individuals and families who have, as the title, suggests, relocated to the West.
One of the programmes comes from Galway, where Mary met with Stewart Forrest, who relocated with his family from South Africa to Oughterard, and Carol Ho, a Hong Kong native who has also settled in Galway.
The TG4 series also stops off in Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim.
Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Community’s tribute to one of their own – saving final cut of turf after his passing
A local community responded in force to the death of one of their own – a man who had given so much of his life for the good of the parish – by paying one last practical tribute to him last week.
They lifted and footed his turf.
John Geraghty – or Gero as he was known – lived for Gaelic football and he’d filled every role imaginable with the St Brendan’s GAA Club since he came to live in Newbridge in 1983.
He’d cut the turf before he died last Tuesday week, but there it lay, until his old GAA friends organised a bunch of guys – made up of the football team, friends and neighbours – to meet in the bog last Wednesday evening to lift and foot/clamp John’s turf.
“Upwards of 50 fellas from the community showed up,” said St Brendan’s chairman Gerry Kilcommins.
Which was just as well, because, as Gerry acknowledged, John – himself a two-time chairman of the club in the past – had a lot of turf cut!
“It took up an area around three-quarters of the size of a standard football pitch,” he said.
Not that this proved a problem, given the enthusiasm with which they rolled up their sleeves for their old friend.
They started at 7.30pm and had it done at 7.55pm – that’s just 25 minutes from start to finish.
Read the full, heartwarming story – and the St Brendan’s GAA Club appreciation for John Geraghty – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Liver donor dad would do it all again in a heartbeat
It is nearly two years since Paddy Browne gave his daughter Sadhbh part of his liver to save her life. And just ahead of Father’s Day, he reflects on how he would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a single moment’s hesitation.
After an initial testing time in the first six weeks when they beat a path to the intensive care unit after the operation in St King’s Hospital in London, Sadhbh has never looked back.
“She’s thrived and thrived and thrived. She skips out to school every day. She loves the normal fun and devilment in the yard. She’s now six and started football with Mountbellew Moylough GAA, she loves baking, she’s a voracious reader – she’ll read the whole time out loud while we drive up to Crumlin [Children’s Hospital].”
But it could have all been so different.
Sadhbh from Mountbellew was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia shortly after she was born. She quickly underwent major surgery to drain bile from her liver. It worked well until she reached three years old when an infection caused severe liver damage and she was placed on the liver transplant list.
She was on a long list of medication to manage the consequences of advanced liver disease. While she lived a full life, she would tire very easily.
Paddy was undergoing the rigorous process to be accepted as a living donor when one of the tests ruled him unsuitable. His brother Michael stepped forward and was deemed a good match.
Then, further tests revealed that Paddy was in fact eligible for the operation and the previous result disregarded as a false positive.
Read the full, uplifting story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.