Because no official State help was available until a baby was four years old, Jack’s parents, Jonathan and Mary-Ann, set up the Jack & Jill Children’s Foundation to provide home respite care.
Six years on, it employs six full-time paediatric nurses and has a €317,000 Government grant assisting its €1.6 million yearly outgoings.
Jack, who was the Irwins’ youngest child at the time, almost died from cot death after 36 hours. As a result he had no sight, no hearing and could not swallow. He died aged 22 months in December, 1997.
His parents were advised to abandon him in the hospital, being told the tragic event would probably break up the family and damage their other children. However, the trauma only helped to spur Jonathan and Mary-Ann to do something about the plight of similar families.
Two weeks ago Taoiseach Bertie Ahern presented the foundation with the Children of Ireland Award for their “outstanding contribution to the welfare of children”.
Jack & Jill Foundation, Ellenborough House, Dublin Road, Naas, Co Kildare. Phone 045 894 538 and www.jackandjill.ie