Deputy Michael Lowry with members of the local Tipperary Down Syndrome Committee at the group’s facility on Abbey Road in Thurles, which is being renovated Picture: Robert Healy
When this project is finished it will be state of the art, declared Deputy Michael Lowry as he led a tour of the new Tipperary Down Syndrome Unit in Thurles.
“ I have no doubt that it will be the best Down Syndrome Unit in all of Ireland, not just in Tipperary,” said Deputy Lowry.
It is estimated that there are about six weeks of work still to be done on the facility at Abbey Road in Thurles to bring the project to completion.
Its opening will be realisation of a dream for the dedicated committee, the children and adults from across the entire county who will avail of the facilities, parents and carers and a host of volunteers who have transformed the house into a ‘nurturing, accepting and fully inclusive environment for all who will use it.
It was in September 2019 that the local Down Syndrome Committee approached Deputy Lowry for help.
Major fundraising, supported by the generosity of Tipperary people, had enabled the committee to buy a house on Abbey Road, which was a significant achievement for this dedicated group of people.
The committee identified several different programmes that they felt should be put in place at their new facility, but there was a major additional cost required to do this.
Deputy Lowry recalled that he was contacted by committee members Catherine Cleary, Siobhan Ryan and Sandra O’Halloran who told him they needed his assistance.
He visited the house at Abbey Road with them and agreed that, in its state at that time, it could not meet the needs of the 60 members who would use the premises.
“I sat with them, listened to them, heard their story and immediately it was clear that they needed help and support,” said Deputy Lowry. “The message I was getting loud and clear was that so much can be done for a child born with Down Syndrome if there is early intervention with the required services.”
The committee had a plan drawn up at an estimated cost of €300,000 – it was just not possible to do that with grant aid which is very limited - so Deputy Lowry suggested that they would effectively use a DIY SOS approach and involve as many people as possible on a voluntary basis.
“We put the idea out there and we got an incredible response,” he said.
Then Heart to Hand became involved. They are a charitable organisation that carry out a lot of work outside Ireland in disadvantaged and deprived areas.
“Suddenly, we had everyone on board - builders providers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, heating contractors and tradesmen and helpers for every job,” he said.
Deputy Lowry was full of praise for the neighbours.
“Ned Corneally could not have been more accommodating, while the O’Mahony family donated a piece of land that allowed for the provision of an all-weather play area for the children. We were blessed with neighbours and the support we received from the residents and community on Abbey Road and Collins Park,” he said.
"The important thing about this facility is that it is for all of Tipperary. People can come here, they can get advice, they can get support and, above all, they can talk to the girls here who have the knowledge and experience to help,” he said.