Real heroes at carer awards

TIPPERARY woman Anne McGrath was named the national Carer of the Year in a ceremony that blew away the gloom of recession, at least for a while.

Anne, from Fethard Street, Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, had already won the Munster title when she was presented with the national award for caring for her 10-year-old daughter Tamara, who has a very rare neurological disorder called Canavan Disease, which has left her severely mentally and physically incapacitated.

Anne and her husband James had already lost Tamara’s twin brother, Mark, to the same condition three years ago and another son, David, also to Canavan disease, in 1989. They have three other children.

Speaking about Tamara, who was at the ceremony in Dublin’s Westbury Hotel, Anne said: “She is the light of our lives.”

She was nominated by her friend Bridget Ryan, also from Mullinahone.

The awards ceremony seeks to praise and reward carers who sacrifice their lives to help others.

The Young Carer of the Year award was won by 13-year-old Kelley Farrell from Daingean in Co Offaly, who began caring for her mother, Nuala, when she was aged nine.

“She has a sore back and I have to do a lot to help her,” Kelley said.

She gets up at 7am and makes her mother’s breakfast and ensures she’s comfortable before going to school. On returning home she again looks after her mother, while her father is away at work.

Kelley, who said she wanted to be a riding instructor when she grows up, said she did not mind all the work and sacrifice.

“I love doing it, it’s for someone I care about and someone I love,” she said.

The Regional Award winner in Leinster was Joan Baldwin from Newbridge, who cares for four people in her home: her daughter Patricia, who has cerebral palsy, her son William, who is autistic, her daughter Linda, who is epileptic, and her husband William who lost his sight six years ago.

“I have no other choice – I have to look after them day and night,” she said, adding that she does not have any free time to herself.

The Dublin winner, Carolyn Akintola, was not present as she is herself a wheelchair user and had to attend hospital for an operation on her knee. She is the sole carer for her mother, Elsie, who has a number of ailments, including Parkinson’s Disease. Elsie was at the ceremony and said her daughter, who is 46, was “gutted” to have missed it. “She is my life and my love and I love her,” she said of Carolyn.

The Connacht/Ulster winner Niamh Simon cares for her son Tommy, 4, who has a terminal cardiac and neurological illness. She cried as she spoke about “the reality” of caring for her son, whom she described as “a little rogue”.

“You feel cheated I suppose really, that life has thrown this at you, but the love he gives us is unbelievable,” she said, adding that while she does not have any free time, she prefers being with her son, as does her daughter Lydia, who helps with his care.

Minister of State with responsibility for Older People Aine Brady was present at the awards ceremony and told the recipients the Government would help carers “as much as we can”.

The Carers Association said 160,917 family carers provide 3.7 million hours of unpaid care each week and save the state more than €2.5 billion. It warned against cuts in the budget affecting carers, a point echoed by Anne McGrath.

“Leave the carers alone, they work hard and they are saving the state a lot of money.”

* www.carersireland.com

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