Niamh’s work for autism to be honoured by star

Actor and ex-Boyzone star Keith Duffy is to travel to West Cork next month to unveil a memorial to a teenager who worked tirelessly for autistic children.

Niamh Cadogan, 17, lost her battle with leukaemia last month but school friends at Mercy Heights Secondary School in Skibbereen are planning to mark her short but productive life on May 15.

Before her death, Niamh helped lead a major fundraising drive for local autistic children through one of the school’s Transition Year companies.

They collected hundreds of old mobile phones which they exchanged for 11 iPods, two iPads and two laptops, which were given as teaching aids to autistic children attending the local Rossa College and St Patrick’s National School.

In addition, they also helped supply applications for picture exchange communications systems (PECS), which are particularly useful learning tools for autistic children.

The selfless teenager, whose younger brother Stephen has autism, won a number of awards for her charity work. She won a Garda Youth Achievement Award and the National Lions Youth Award.

Days before she died, she was supposed to take part in the international Lions competition in Birmingham in England.

Niamh’s mother Jean said her daughter became friendly with Mr Duffy after meeting him after he performed in a play at the Everyman Theatre, Cork, last Christmas.

Mr Duffy is also patron of Irish Autism Action, and he will be accompanied to the memorial opening at Niamh’s former school by Kevin Whelan, the autism organisation’s chief executive. The school will unveil a special bench and plant a cherry blossom tree in Niamh’s memory.

“The bench will have Niamh’s name on it,” said Jean. “It will also have a heart, which signifies her love of school, and a jigsaw which is the symbol of autism. It will also have pictures of cows. She had a fascination with them.”

Mr Duffy and Mr Whelan plan to visit Niamh’s grave before going to the autistic units at the local schools.

Jean said her family had received tremendous support from the staff and pupils of Mercy Heights after her daughter died, and felt it was fitting that the memorial would be unveiled at the school.

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