Keith Duffy, the actor and ex-Boyzone star, has opened a small memorial garden in West Cork to honour a young woman who worked tirelessly for autistic children even though she was terminally ill with leukaemia.
Duffy, who is patron of Irish Autism Action, opened the garden in memory of Niamh Cadogan at Mercy Heights secondary school, Skibbereen, where she had been a pupil.
Before the 17-year-old died on Mar 19, she had led a major fundraising drive for local autistic children through one of the school’s transition year companies.
The selfless teenager won a number of awards for her charity work, including a Garda Youth Achievement Award and the National Lions Youth Award.
Duffy, whose daughter Mia, 12, has autism, said he met Niamh in Cork when he was appearing in a play at the Everyman Palace last year and was impressed with the work she had done.
“She was an inspiration to me. I heard a lot of great reports about the work she was doing for autistic children. I was delighted to come here and to congratulate her friends on continuing the work she was doing,” said Duffy yesterday.
Earlier, he had visited the town’s St Patrick’s national school and met Niamh’s younger brother Stephen, who also has autism. He was accompanied on the visit to Skibbereen by Irish Autism Action chief executive Kevin Whelan.
Niamh’s mother said it was an emotional day. “I know Niamh was looking down on us,” she said as Duffy unveiled a special bench in the garden which has a plaque on it to Niamh’s memory. It was made at the local Whooley’s forge.
Mercy Height pupils presented the Cadogan family with a special album of pictures and writings of Niamh and sang three songs dedicated to her memory.
Principal Anton O’Mahony said Niamh was an inspiration to everybody who knew her. He said that as the years pass by, students who didn’t know her would look at the bench with her name inscribed and ask who Niamh Cadogan was. “They will be told of her kindness, determination, cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and of her great desire to help others. This will ensure that Niamh will continue to act as an inspiration to all long into the future.”
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