“You don’t volunteer for this kind of job — you do it when you have to,” said octogenarian Peter Riordan, Ireland’s National Carer of the Year.
Peter, 81, a father of 10 from Naas, Co Kildare, cares for his sons Bernard, 51, and Ronan, 36.
Bernard was left brain-damaged and is a wheelchair user following a car crash in 1978 in which his brother, Stephen, who was 15 at the time, died. The brain damage has left him with poor co-ordination and balance, double vision, and sporadic memory loss.
Ronan has Down’s syndrome and is non-verbal, but Peter says he is full of devilment and great at helping his dad.
“Ronan is a very caring man. If he sees anything that needs doing, he will do it.”
At 56, Peter took early retirement from his job as a field engineer in the army to help wife Eithne care for their sons.
Eithne died in Dec 2006 following an operation, having herself been cared for by Peter at home for the previous two-and-a-half years.
Peter became tearful when he told of a promise he made his wife 50 years ago to look after her when she became ill.
He also got upset recalling a tragedy when two of his sons walked with a friend to a house where a birthday party was being held. As they neared, the trio were hit by a drunk driver. Stephen and the friend were killed instantly. “It’s still a bit difficult to talk about it.”
Peter’s day starts at 7am and ends at 11pm. He suffers from diabetes and has to be careful in managing and monitoring the condition.
“I am fit and healthy but I do feel tired sometimes. I don’t fool around with my health. If I go down, we all go down.”
He described winning the top award as a humbling experience. “We don’t volunteer for the job, we just get on with it.”
Peter thanked the Carers’ Association, who hosted the event sponsored by Tunstall Emergency Response in the Westbury Hotel in Dublin.
He also acknowledged the HSE staff who have supported him. “The HSE is criticised widely but the people they gave me were fantastic.”
‘We absolutely love them’
* Amanda and Sam Norris, have a lot more to cope with than most children of their age but they never complain.
Amanda, 19, and Sam, 14, from Finglas, Dublin, help their mum Antoinette care for their sister, Demi, 15, who has Cohen’s syndrome — a rare genetic disorder affecting motor skills, mental development, and behaviour — and Adam, 6, who has autism.
Antoinette, a single mum of five, nominated Amanda and Sam for the Young Carers of the Year award.
“It is a lot for young children to have to cope with. Indeed it is a lot for me to cope with but these two children never moan. I’ve never met children who are so dedicated to their brother and sister and I know for a fact that I could not cope without them.”
However, it was clear that for Amanda and Sam, caring for siblings is a labour of love.
“We would not change them for the world because we absolutely love them,” said Sam.
Sam, a first-year student, looks after Adam, while Amanda, who has just completed a childcare course, looks after Demi.
Sam said they regarded their roles as a normal part of their everyday life.
“It is not a big deal for us because we are so used to our situation. We grew up in it.”
Regional award winners included Deirdre Horan, 49, a widow and mother of four from Tralee, Co Kerry, who cares full-time for her daughter Rachel, 15, who has Rett syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes physical and intellectual disability.
Deirdre also provides part-time care for her father Ned Sheehy, 85, who uses a wheelchair.
The Dublin regional carer is Linda Yourell, 54, from Ballyfermot, who provides full time care to her parents who are in their mid-80s. Her father has Alzheimer’s and her mother developed serious mobility problems after surgery 20 years ago.
— Evelyn Ring
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