Spreading the word

Gearóid’s sisters Karen and Sinéad Mannion who edited his extraordinary schoolboy essays and short stories for the forthcoming book.
Gearóid’s sisters Karen and Sinéad Mannion who edited his extraordinary schoolboy essays and short stories for the forthcoming book.

A collection of essays and short stories written by a Clifden schoolboy in the 1980s – and recently found in a cupboard – is to be published next week. The author Gearóid Mannion died a few years later having lived with Muscular Dystrophy from birth. Judy Murphy tells his story.

Gearóid Mannion was just 14 years old and in second year at Clifden Community School when he took on the role of managing a soccer team. He couldn’t play the game himself because the Muscular Dystrophy he’d been born with had left his young body weak and fragile. But Gearóid knew how to manage and his side won their first game.

His brief, successful management tenure and the fate that befell those rebels who subsequently ignored his strategy is recalled by Féilim Gibbons, a member of that team and a friend of Gearóid’s, in the introduction to a new book, The Long-Lost Short Stories of Gearóid P. Mannion.

Being launched on Sunday, September 23, at Clifden Arts Festival, this collection of essays and short stories was written by Gearóid as a schoolboy in the 1980s. It lay forgotten in a cupboard for more than two decades until his nephew Niall discovered them a few months ago, while rooting in a press for a mobile-phone charger.

They are the work of a highly intelligent teenager in love with language and sci-f, who had a quirky world-view, partly due to his unique perspective – being profoundly physically disabled and in a wheelchair.

What makes this legacy more special is that Gearóid died 25 years ago, aged 21, because of Muscular Dystrophy.

Having been born healthy and happy, on June 30, 1971 Gearóid missed several milestones such as sitting up and crawling. He was sent to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, Dublin where he underwent a series of tests and procedures before being diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type II, a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy.

“At first, we thought he’d be able to walk, but as time went on, he had to have physio and we just had to get on with it,” his mother Anne recalls over tea in the kitchen of their house, a few miles outside Clifden on the Galway road.

“There was a paper bag full of copies in the press,” adds Gearóid’s older sister, Karen, who is Niall’s mum, about her son’s discovery. “Niall saw Gearóid’s name on them and started looking at them. The writing was so poor that Mammy had to translate them.”

That was no problem to Anne, who had been determined from the moment of Gearóid’s diagnosis that he would live a full and happy life.

And he did, attending primary school first on Omey Island, where Anne was a teacher, then Roundstone NS, before going on to secondary at Clifden Community School and to the then RTC.

Anne taught on Omey when just three families still lived there so Gearóid and Karen attended that school until it closed in the early 1980s, when she was reassigned to Roundstone.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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