School Daze: Actor Mark Smith says 'school showed me I could be great'

Actor Mark Smith (39), who has Down syndrome, says his teachers always believed in him
School Daze: Actor Mark Smith says 'school showed me I could be great'

Actor Mark Smith (39), who has Down syndrome was an ambassador for HB Ice Cream Sunday,

I went to school in St Marys National School in Maynooth, but I didn’t go there for very long. After a while, I went to St Raphael’s Special School in Celbridge and stayed there until I was 21.

My friends Cormac, Padraig and Maurice, are a part of all of my school memories. We were together from Holy Communion, to Confirmation and then Graduation. We used to have great fun together, there was a pool in St Raphael’s and we didn’t do much swimming, we’d spend our time wrestling!

I was the smallest of the three and I still remember when one of my teachers plucked me from the shallow end like Simba in The Lion King and dropped me in the deep end. Just like that, I learned to swim. I am still friends with most of them, but some have passed away, so it’s great to have so many memories of our school days together.

As we attended a special school, everyone had different needs — it was a real mix. Some of my friends needed to use a wheelchair, and everyone had their own things they needed help with. The classes were smaller, and we got a lot of time and attention from the teachers — there were only 13 in my class. There was a lot of focus on learning you might not get in a mainstream school, like for example, we did swimming, arts and crafts, cooking and life skills.

My Mam worked very hard to make sure I had all of the opportunities I needed when I was going to school. She had to fight for a lot of things for me and she is a woman of steel and power! I wouldn’t be where I am without her. 

She was the first woman to go to one of the TDs and put in a request for seat belts to be put on the buses for the special school to keep me and my friends safe on the journey.

During secondary school in the summertime, there was a camp called Camp Rainbow that we would go to one for a week or two in the summer. We used to have a lot of fun, we’d do a big show at the end of the camp, on Friday with a barbecue and face painting and Rice Krispie buns. I remember those — they were heavenly! My friend Yvonne’s Mam used to make them. I have great memories of that camp.

I was a brat at home! A pup sometimes! I remember that! Sometimes I’d kick up and give the teachers a hard time. And my sisters. One time I tried to tie my sisters up with my Dad’s ties and threatened them with a water gun. But they’d get me back. They dressed me up in a bridesmaid's dress once and used my Mam’s makeup on me. And they used the good stuff! I was mostly well-behaved in school though, but I did like to have fun. I was definitely one of the class messers.

I was really good at maths and of course, performing. I often got the lead role in the school play. I played Pavarotti in one of them. I loved acting from a very young age. Reading was definitely a struggle, I still find reading difficult today, I prefer to learn from hearing and seeing, that’s what works for me. I can learn whole scripts from listening back to them but reading I have always found a bit hard.

I got my first taste of fame and limelight at my school performances and my love for singing too. I was in the school choir too and I loved it. I had to audition to get in. It was in school that I realised I wanted to be a performer, but there weren’t many opportunities for actors with Down syndrome so I feel very lucky that I have had the chance to put myself out there and follow my dream with all my theatre work.

I learned in school that I could go far in life. My teachers always believed in me, especially John Fox. He saw my potential and encouraged me to follow my dream of being on stage. He suggested that I go to Speech and Drama. My teachers made me believe I could do great things, and I am, and I have.

  • Mark was an ambassador for HB Ice Cream Sunday, which took place yesterday in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland’s (DSI) See and Learn language development programme. Mark, who has Down syndrome, showed his support in order to help children with Down syndrome receive the educational resources they need. You can support DSI’s See and Learn programme by making a donation at

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