In the mid-eighties and up to 1992 I worked in a place that was known locally as ‘’The Shed’’: Roxton, Corofin County Clare. I am a native of there and from a family of 13 children. My family expected me to remain an invalid at home: and go to mass, with only the annual trip to Lourdes to look forward to. None of that auld craic for me…!
The Shed was formed by a group of liked minded people with a vision based on equality, socialism, self-sufficient and challenging reigning view of private and state employment. We experimented with new ways of living and sharing ideas. We owned a plot ground of about 4 acres of land, on which we build groups of purpose built buildings. We also had a stake in lands that held cows and calves, as well another stake in a quarry at the Cliffs of Moher.
The village of Corofin was over two miles away. This is very rural north Clare, where a stranger would be spotted sticking out like a sore thumb. North Clare had seen an explosion of ‘’hippies ‘’ come in due to Maggie Thatcher’s strong view on dismantling the welfare system and the coal mines.
Europeans were becoming unhappy with the drive for mass production on land and regulations.
We in The Shed were a beacon for a lot of these alternative types.
It was there that I met Martin Naughton first in 1992/3. With my mobility becoming an ever increasing issue, it was suggested a few of us who had disabilities in the area come together and look at what we could do together. That was when the Disabled People of Clare was born. We had the support of other folks who were part of ‘’The Shed’’, which was made up of many varied groups, like the Shop, School, Quarry Group and Land managers, as well as environmentalists.
We all agreed with one main thing: people with a disability should and could be very much part of any community. This coincided with views of Ann Marie Flanagan, Donnach Rynne, Declan Conscidine, Thomas Connole and many others who I was fortunate to have met on the long road to where I am now.
The only big intuition that existed in Clare was known as the ‘mental hospital’, where hundreds were send behind walls, particularly if you were seen as odd, awkward, difficult, or blocking someone getting their hands on a farm.
Children and young adults who were deaf, blind or had a learning disability generally children and young adult were sent out of the county, usually to Dublin.
Fortunate that Donnacha knew of Jana O Bowe who had visited Spanish Point in West Clare where they had a hostel and restaurant.
The years between 1992 and 1995 were critical in building up a profile of the group, a challenge in an age before social media.
We were determined to expose the idea of people with disabilities attending workshop training with no regard for actual jobs, or qualifications. This body was run and managed by the now debunked National Rehabilitation Board.(NRB).
We managed to get media coverage to say the very places that placed people with a disability in services were not accessible. We got this highlighted in Dail Eireann, and the media picked up on this. From that point when we met Martin Naughton, we remained comrades through thick and thin.
The group met almost weekly, spreading the messages of this new language of Independent Living and freedom and choice. After a torturous 12 months of going through the Constitutions of the Forum for People with a disability line by line, we finally adapted and signed up as a Legal Company. We altered the Forum’s ones to suit our views, wrangling over words like should, or could. We succeeded and learned a lot from the exercise together.
Directors of the Company were the now deceased trio Peader McNamara, Jermone Finucane and Tony Coogan, as well as Ann Marie Flanagan, Declan Consicidne, Thomas Connole, Sean Leamey, Donnach Rynne and I as Company Secretary. We were of various ages and views, and we all had a disability. I was elected among my peers to be the Manager.
We set up in the middle of rural Clare. It was a lovely office with tiny rent.
I remember Joe T [Mooney] came down and felt at home in the alternative lifestyle we were living. Others came from around Ireland to see us living in our community. We had a kitchen/canteen there which all the entire Shed community shared – not always the most hygienic place to be!
By 1995, we heard through CIL office in Dublin that we could get involved in a Community Employment Scheme. So we did – with the big help of Martin as they were the sponsors on paper. We were part of a satellite of CILs who benefit from a national guarantee of sponsors running a CE scheme. That gave us staff and funds, along with the funds we received from others bodies, like the NRB before it closed, Council and People in Need. By the end of 1995 we were reaching for the stars.
During that local build up we were heavily influenced by what was going on in the Forum and CIL nationally. Minister Mervin Taylor was persuaded to do a detailed consultation with a people with a disability, and all relevant bodies involved. DPOC managed to get this touring civil service body to visit Clare twice. It was very exciting!
Jerome Finicune was a Kilrush man living in Ennis and had a wild reputation for drinking and driving. His songs were legendary, the use of wheelchair never stopped him, he lived his life as a fast pace. Jerome and others of us would set off to events around Ireland between 1994 and ’96. We met and enjoyed a lot of hospitality in various part of Ireland while CILs were growing. He was one of our CE staff. He died as the result of injuries sustained in a car crash in 1999. He must have been in his mid-fifties.
Geraldine Keane was another west Clare woman who moved to Ennis; in fact she was my next door neighbour in our new Council estate. When she joined DPOC in 1997, she took to Independent Living like a duck to water. She worked for the Brothers of Charity and was also a member of the IWA. Geraldine played an active part in the DPOC. She was a good Leader and managed her Personal Assistance well in a very managerial way. (RIP November 2005.)
She was Treasure of the DPOC for a period. Like many of us in the DPOC, Geraldine got involved in the acting project we took on. We travelled to Belfast, and Dublin as well as around the county of Clare. That was an amazing time. She died too young at 45 after a long illness.
Martin Slattery was a conservative man who found it hard to accept his disability in midlife. He had been a garage owner and knowledgeable man around issues of transport and minding funds. His biggest love was betting at the bookies and he always maintained he came out even from the betting, which was a weekly ritual. He was genuine in his study of the horses, riders and owners. He proved his readability when it came to spending money. Those of us who wanted to spend; Martin would be strong on ethics and durability.
I found that he was a good sounding board when issues arose, especially after a tough meeting. Martin was also a CE participant. We never worried about conflict of interest. The Sponsors of the CE scheme meeting often met before the DPOC Company meeting or after. There was a lot of overlapping in personnel.
Martin slipped away after a short illness during Christmas 2008.
Michael Chambers was another west Clare man. He was in full flight when he had a car accident, leaving him using a wheelchair to get around. He then set up business from home: design and printing. This was way before social media and DIY printing! Michael became a user of Personal Assistance, and while he never was active with the DPOC, he was a member. Michael, another member and I attended a critical meeting in the Mid-Western Health Board in October of 1998 which laid the group work for Personal Assistant funding – our first in fact. Michael was known well politically as steady hand and had great knowledge. Michael passed away after a long illness in 2010.
Patricia Kelly was well-loved and a bright woman who went through a lot of family pain and anguish, having lost her sibling Helen in her mid-thirties, and then her mother. Patricia loved to come to Ennis from twenty-five miles away, and she attended the Enable Centre weekly. She was a regular feature in the DPOC and active in the sense of questioning systems and events that were not to her liking. One she skydived. Hard to visualise now, as Patricia has a significant disability, but she had the will of a lion in full battle! A poem was written about the experience, by a local poet. She died in the autumn of 2016 after a short battle for life. She was far too young; she was only in her late forties.
Pat Carey was a quiet country man in full health, until MS took hold and he had to use a wheelchair. He adapted well to his new surroundings. He was a separated dad, with three daughters who adored him. Pat loved the social life of the DPOC, and to the best of my knowledge was bagged for drinking and driving! He was a solid companion and was also on the CE programme in the DPOC.
His death too early in life saw his three young adult daughters coming of age and making their way in the world. This was testimony to the steady guidance he gave his three girls. Pat died in 2014 after a short illness.
Bernie Carmody is a lady I only got to know a short few years ago. Bernie had spent time in Baldoyle, Dublin where she got to know Martin Naughton. Bernie came back to Clare in her early twenties. She got a nice job in Shannon Free Zone. She stayed there until the company closed thirty years after. Bernie joined Clare Leader Forum in 2013 and was a great addition as she had a great personality. She was up for was game for all kinds of shenanigan’s we got up to. Sadly she passed away after a battle with recurring cancer in June 2016.
Pauline O’Loughlin is worth a mention. She had a very tough life. She was involved in the DPOC. Her PA was her sister which, as it turned out, was not the ideal situation. She died in 2004 after a long illness. She was a friend and family friend of my bigger family.
Tom King joined the DPOC in 2000. He acted as Chair and Treasurer, and appointed to sit on the CIL Board when CIL was looking for people to be involved. Tom was a complex man. He oversaw the closure of the Disabled People of Clare Ltd. His political believes were well known. He was a regular to Lourdes and died after a long struggle with his Cystic Fibrosis in November 2016.
To put a tail on this it is worth it. Suffice to say, I met a lot of great people in this journey so far with in the disability sector. Mountains we thought we never get over we got over them. Places we thought would never change have changed.
We went to Strasbourg on a number of occasions to raise the flag of freedom along with our comrades all over Europe.
People with a disability from Clare protested more than once outside Dail Eireann.
Taboos that were held in the seventies/ eighties have been challenged. People with a disability got married, had babies, and drove cars. What a change.
We have a regular voice on the local radio stations.
In recognising that we have made progress, we have a long way to go yet, particularly in terms of access to jobs, housing, education and ratification of the UN Convention. We are not happy being second class citizens.