World Down Syndrome Day: Five mums talk about how their little superheroes save the day

Ciara McDonnell talks to five Cork mums who have come together to create an event to show that an extra chromosome makes you extra special.

World Down Syndrome Day: Five mums talk about how their little superheroes save the day

Ciara McDonnell talks to five Cork mums who are celebrating World Down’s Syndrome day, an extra chromosome makes you extra special.


When Orla Brassel found out she was expecting a baby with Down syndrome, her world opened up. Thanks to a supportive medical team and a slew of journals and studies relating to children born with trisomy 21, the extra chromosome that Harry carries, the social media manager quickly became overwhelmed with the sheer volume of medical information. In the most unlikely of places, Orla found support and hope.

“Instagram turned out to be my saviour,” she laughs. “All the medical information was so clinical and everything was worst-case scenario, which was, I felt, really limiting. On Instagram I was seeing real life and in real time, these insights into people with Down syndrome’s lives. These families who were so happy, the love was nearly pouring out of the phone. It was amazing. Their lives were so beautiful and focused on the kids and the joy they brought.”

Orla is one of a group of Cork mums who had planned to come together to raise awareness this World Down Syndrome Day (March 21) with a superhero-themed evening at Crawford & Co in Cork’s city centre. It was going to be MC’d by Kieran Corrigan, with the aim to raise awareness of their little superheroes as well as hard cash for much-needed service providers, Down Syndrome Centre Cork and Down Syndrome Cork. This has now been cancelled due to the Covid-19 restrictions but that’s not going to stop them getting their message out there.

With a four-year-old sister to show him the way, Harry Brassel is taking life in his stride, says Orla. “My daughter is Harry’s biggest cheerleader. She is the best physio, the best occupational therapist, the best speech therapist he could have, because she is incessant with him, wanting to teach him all she knows.”


Claire Foley found out her son James carried the trisomy 21 chromosome when he was born, two-and-a-half years ago. In the face of health difficulties that resulted in James undergoing open-heart surgery in Crumlin hospital at four-and-a-half months old, Claire says the diagnosis of Down syndrome was never really a big deal.

“I have felt, since day one, that Down syndrome isn’t something to be gotten over — James is James and he is perfect as he is,” she points out. “James has strawberry-blonde hair and blue eyes and yes, he has Down syndrome, but it does not define him. We see our children as superstars and the future is theirs for the taking. We hope we can pave the path and teach people our kids as much as any others can reach their full potential in life.”

In a world fraught with political correctness, Claire wants people to ask the questions they hae.. “We didn’t know anything about it until James arrived, so we understand. As parents we are here to educate and we try to let people know more about our kids, so ask away!”


Niamh McKenna calls her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Lily her little pocket rocket, saying she slotted into place with her two older brothers as though she had always been there, bringing her own brand of rough and tumble to the previously male-heavy household.


If Niamh had a soapbox this World Down Syndrome Day, she would use it as a means of reassurance for those parents who have recently received a diagnosis of Down syndrome. “Pick up the phone and ring the Down Syndrome Ireland, because they’ll put you in contact with these wonder women who have been through it all before.Suddenly you have this whole new life surrounded by fabulous people. There is no negativity, we are all enjoying the ride together.”

Jean Foley says her two year old daughter Emma is all that she could wish for, and she hopes this World Down Syndrome Day, everyone sees what she does. “She is strong, brave and has the most infectious smile that not only lights up her face, but the whole room,” says Jean. “She is known for her cuddles, great smiles and of course her hair.. She is the same as any other little girl. We hope people see that. Life is so much better with her. I am so proud to be her mum.”


Joan McCarthy is mum to two year old Donal and her mission is to teach people to see beyond the diagnosis to these extraordinary children. “Donal is an amazing, loving, cheeky, funny, happy boy who has added so much to our lives . I want people to see beyond his diagnosis and see him for the toddler that he is. He is everything to us, we wouldn’t change a thing.”

The Down syndrome community is worldwide, and thanks to social media it is more accessible than ever, says Orla Brassel.

When five mothers come together in the name of their children, something powerful will always come out of it.In this case, a bonus is a jaw-droppingly cute poster of five superheroes, all ready to use their superpowers for good.

For Orla, the message is simple. “I want people to know how amazing these kids are. They are no different to other kids, they just have an extra chromosome — that’s it. They are just different, they are not less.

“Life with these kids is absolutely amazing. Having a child with any additional needs doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

  • The very special superhero photoshoot will be revealed on tomorrow’s front page of the Irish Examiner, don’t miss it!
  • Join the families raising funds for Down Syndrome Centre Cork and Down Syndrome Cork. Search ‘Celebrate our Superheroes on WDSD’ on

More in this section

Send a special message, and a
festive Irish Examiner eCard, to the people you love this Christmas. 

Send Here

In the Kitchen with

ieFoodLogo   Video Series

Join Darina Allen for Stir It Up Sunday and cook along with her as she makes her mother’s plum pudding recipe. She also makes Mrs Hanrahan’s sauce - a recipe that is so delicious that Darina says people ask for more plum pudding just so they can have more sauce!

Join Darina Allen as she makes her mother's plum pudding with Mrs Hanrahan's sauce.

Watch Here
Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up