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Connacht Tribune

Sinéad is smashing through the barriers!



Sinead O'Donnell after she was presented with her PhD at NUIG.

She has a PhD, a Masters, a degree in law as well as a basic degree. Yet despite her phenomenal academic achievements, Sinead O’Donnell is struggling to find work.

Because – so far – employers have been unable to look beyond her severe physical disabilities.

“If they only focus on what I can’t do, I’ll never get a break. But if they see past it, the skies are the limit,” she reflects.

Sinead has Cerebral Palsy which is complicated by thoracic scoliosis, profound spasticity and constant pain due to multiple surgeries over the past decade.

She requires assistance to do everything – from getting out of bed in the morning to eating, dressing and getting into her wheelchair. Which makes her educational feats even more remarkable.

She is likely to be the most decorated student with high dependency needs in the country.

But that fact has only served to whet her appetite to achieve more in life.

“I’m not where I want to be,” she confides.

“I feel a burden to my parents – I always feel that way. That’s why I work. I want to be completely self-sufficient.”

Her mother Patricia O’Donnell – a retired special needs assistant who lives in Gort – is quick to interject, insisting that she has been far from a burden.

“Sinead wanted to leave home at 18 – she wanted to be gone, she wanted to be away. She had to come home very weekend for a long time but would be away for the week.

“She didn’t like that because at home you have to go to be when your parents go to bed because she wouldn’t be able to go to bed on her own. And it’s not that we were strict or anything, she just liked the freedom of being independent.”

From the age of two, Sinead demonstrated a particularly intense interest in life and people, recalls her proud mom.

“She was always listening to what was going on, listening to people having a conversation. I was quite busy when she was in school but she could always tell me what was going on in the world.”

Born in the Netherlands eleven weeks premature in 1984, Sinead was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy Quadriplegia (CPQ) when she was nine months old.

Cerebral Palsy is caused by brain injury before, during, or shortly after birth. It is a complex neurological condition that affects a person’s posture, co-ordination and ability to move arms and legs.

As she recalls in her thesis, which is an examination of independent living for people with disabilities and high dependency needs:

“The outlook for me given to my parents about my future was bleak but from the outset they saw potential in me that others missed.

“They enrolled me in a course of Conductive Education run by the Peto Institute, renowned for its positive approach to children with CPQ, wishing to give me every chance to live as normal and independent a life as possible.

“They quickly passed on this determination to me – a wish to strive in every respect to live a full and fulfilling life.”

As a young child, she was placed with other disabled children in schools in Rotterdam and Southampton in the UK where there was no academic focus.

“After a long struggle, my parents were successful in their quest to enroll me in a mainstream school and so I woke up, started to learn, had numerous friends and went from strength to strength in my new environment.

“These early experiences of both segregation and integration tell us that unless a human being is accepted for who they are through complete integration, they will not develop and grow to their full potential.”

One she found a suitable place to live and secured personal assistance hours and social housing supports, she embarked on her third level education.

For the last decade she has lived in a supported housing estate managed by the Irish Wheelchair Association on the Headford Road.

Patricia says that, at NUI Galway, her daughter has also proved to be a ground-breaker.

“When she started in 2003, NUIG was very inaccessible. She had to go to the back of the university to the delivery area to get into the lecture hall and then have to sit on the podium away from all the other students. She was very unhappy with that situation and she was instrumental in changing the access for all students – she couldn’t even get into the library”

Sinead remembers it as a form of segregation.

“They were surprised I was speaking up.”

The challenges she faced in completing her studies were formidable. Sinead gets tired quickly particularly if she speaks or sits for too long, which can set off the severe pain.

During her six years of doctorate study, she has undergone three major operations, nearly dying from infections on a number of occasions.

Crucial to her independent living and studying regime is ‘simultaneous and consistent’ access to a personal assistant to help with day-to-day living as well as an education support worker to assist with college work. This has not always been so, she laments.

It has also proved difficult conducting research outside of the allocated support worker hours.

“Starting from the very basic task of setting up IT equipment through to locating, browsing and finding relevant reading to extracting chosen appropriate material has been a mammoth task and at times almost impossible,” she writes in her thesis.

“The disruptions by my physical support and basic needs to the day-to-day research process were constant, very time-consuming, and curtailed momentum.

“Using the bathroom, which entails hoisting, can take up to 30 minutes or more and feeding, hydration and repositioning because of pain at pressure points and postural problems all impeded the smooth flow of the necessary academic research, causing me huge frustration and loss of focus.”

In her thesis, she argues the Government should go a step further by taking the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – adopted in Ireland in 2006 – and make them legally binding in the form of a Personal Assistance Act, which would make access to personal assistance services a basic human right enshrined in law.

We are sitting in Sinead’s cosy sitting room beside a picture of her donning a cap and gown during the graduation ceremony last month.

“Half of the people who do PhDs drop out, so considering all that and my level of disability on top, I’m glad I finished it. Now it’s about finding a new purpose.”

She would like to work in an organisation like the Irish Wheelchair Association or the HSE.

“Somewhere I could use my experiences to help young people with disabilities reach their full potential and give then the courage to pursue their aspirations.”

Connacht Tribune

Galway SVP launches annual appeal as national calls reach record levels



Mayor of Galway, Cllr Colette Connolly, launching the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Annual Christmas Appeal at Ozanam House, St. Augustine Street, pictured with (from left) Frank Leonard, SVP Area President, Galway City East, Seamus McManus, Area President, Galway City West and Deirdre Swords, SVP Regional Administrator, West Region. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul members made around 18,000 visits to homes in the Galway area last year – spending over €1m per year on direct assistance in the area.

And the charity, which helps with a myriad of practical, emotional and psychological problems, has only seen demand for its service grow under Covid.

That’s according to the Presidents of both Galway branches, as the organisation launched its Annual Appeal this week – predicting that, nationally, calls for help will be at their highest level in its history and could reach almost 200,000 by the end of December.

“We are seeing a lot of people getting in touch who have never needed to before, people whose circumstances have changed due to Covid,” said SVP Galway City East President Frank Leonard. “

We in the SVP have adapted to the new way of doing things and ensuring we are getting to people who need help.”

“The bulk of this goes to helping families with food, energy and education costs. Our volunteers are also involved in Education and Youth Initiatives and work directly with the elderly across Galway City,” he added.

SVP Galway City West President Seamus McManus said that they depend entirely on donations from the public and corporate donors – but, he said, thankfully the generosity of the people of Galway to SVP over the years has been outstanding.

“We hope that the response to this year’s Annual Appeal is as equally generous. The money raised in Galway is used locally and this Annual Appeal will support SVP’s work between now and year end and well into 2022,” he added.

National President Rose McGowan said the fact that the Society has received more calls for help nationally than at any other time in its history – and still managed to provide help – was testimony to the dedication of its volunteers and staff and the incredible support of the Irish public.

“We are facing a perfect storm for families contending with a cost-of-living crisis on multiple fronts. Energy prices are soaring, we are seeing rents rise well beyond what people can afford and increasing transport costs are also putting pressure on low-income households,” she said.

“We are deeply concerned that during the coming months this crisis will come to a head as households are unable to find extra room in the budget for escalating energy costs.

“In those circumstances they will inevitably turn to SVP for help. Need is the only criteria we apply when people seek our help. But to provide that help we need the generous support of the Irish public that we are seeking through this 2021 Annual Appeal.

“We are appealing for donations to be made locally, online or over the phone that will help people through this winter and into the new year,” she added.

The public can help by donating online to and nominate ‘Galway’, or by phoning 0818 176 176 and again nominating ‘Galway’.

You can also do this by post to SVP, West Region, Ozanam House, St Augustine’s St, Galway, with cheques made payable to Society of St. Vincent de Paul Galway Area – or keep an eye out for special blue envelopes that will be in newspapers, churches and delivered to homes throughout the country.


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Connacht Tribune

Top award for political heavyweight with Galway roots



President & CEO of The Ireland Funds Caitriona Fottrell with Martin J. Walsh, US Secretary of Labor, at The Ireland Funds Gala.

The son of Galway parents who went on to become Mayor of Boston before moving to Washington to become President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Labour was honoured for his achievements in his native city last week.

Close to 500 guests gathered for the Ireland Funds 40th Annual Boston Gala, where Martin J. Walsh, 29th Secretary of Labor of the United States of America, was presented with The Ireland Funds 2021 Distinguished Leadership Award.

Martin Walsh’s parents were originally from Galway; his father emigrated to the US in 1956 and mother in 1959, before they met in Boston and married there.

The Ireland Funds is a global philanthropic network. Established in 1976, its mission is to harness the power of a global network of friends of Ireland to promote and support peace, culture, education, and community development throughout the island of Ireland, and among Irish communities around the world.

The Boston Gala is one of the largest of The Ireland Funds’ international events and over $1.3 million was raised during the night to support outstanding charitable causes within across the island of Ireland and in the Boston community.

Returning to the city of Boston where he was Mayor for seven years, Martin J. Walsh spoke of his family’s immigration to the US from Galway and the importance of welcoming immigrants of all backgrounds seeking new opportunities, as his family once did, and of paying that opportunity forward.

He thanked those gathered for their generosity to the Ireland Funds and its vital work across Ireland as well as for the City of Boston.



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Connacht Tribune

Craughwell turn the screw in second half to take the spoils



Alan Clancy of Liam Mellows gives chase to Craughwell's Alan Callanan during Saturday's County Junior A hurling final replay in Loughrea.

Craughwell 1-19

Liam Mellows 2-9

Ivan Smyth in Loughrea

CRAUGHWELL secured Junior A honours in their replay with Liam Mellows as a powerful second half display helped them atone for their 2020 final defeat to Clarinbridge.

The winners fired nine points without reply in an 18 minute spell during the second half which decided a contest that in the opening 30 minutes looked as if the winner would not be known until the concluding stages. The win means Craughwell will now field at senior and intermediate level next year as the club’s stock continues to rise.

The Pat Monaghan and Stephen Glennon managed side survived a challenging opening quarter and the subsequent concession of a soft goal just after the first water break to prevail. A Fergal Healy penalty in the 24th minute gave Craughwell a lead they would not surrender as Brian Dolan’s accuracy up front combined with a rock solid defence proved enough to curb the threat of a Liam Mellows side that simply did not perform in the second half.

They only scored one point from play in the concluding period of action with a late Luke Byrnes 20m free finding the net, but the effort only served to keep the losing margin to single digits. Owen Burke’s side did pile forward after conceding nine points on the spin, but Craughwell looked the fresher outfit and were able to use their pace on the counter attack.

Liam Mellows will look back on the opening quarter with regret as they dominated the action,but were only on level terms at 0-4 apiece when referee Gerry Donoghue blew for the first water break. They were in control of the game, but allowed Craughwell into the contest, mainly through their own poor shooting as they struck five opening quarter wides.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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