“Loyalty to your country always. Loyalty to your government when it deserves it.” – Mark Twain
At the moment I don’t think our government deserve much loyalty. The unfair way in which money is spent and wasted in Ireland, and the depressing news every day since the recession began is sickening. I feel sorry for the Irish government in a way, and I wouldn’t want their job in a million years. But some of the cutbacks, particularly those affecting vulnerable people, children, the elderly and people with disabilities are just shameful.

All over the country the department of education are cutting classroom assistant jobs in schools, and children with special needs are suddenly expected to manage without them. A parent wants to feel that their child is safe and being looked after when they leave them to school every day. This can’t be guaranteed when there isn’t enough assistants to care for the children who need them. Education is a human right, and these children are being denied it. It is not their fault that they have a disability, so why should they have to suffer because our country is in a complete mess financially. The need for classroom assistants creates jobs for people who would otherwise be joining the extremely long dole cue.

My mum teaches teenagers with a variety of disabilities. There are six students in the class, with three full-time and a part time assistant to help. Last week they were told that they can only have one classroom assistant. That’s two people looking after six children. Her class, and the school where she works isn’t the only one. The people who make these decisions obviously have no compassion, and have no idea what it is like to work in this kind of environment. Unfortunately nothing will probably ever be done, until there is a serious accident in school. Then it is already too late.

Before the days of special schools, people with severe disabilities were hidden away, never seen, never talked about and never understood. Not so long ago people with disabilities were being encouraged to attend mainstream school in order to help integrate them fully into society. I have seen the benefits of this for myself. Children participate in the same activities as their friends. People see them as part of the community, and realise that they are often more capable than expected. People are aware of disability and are no longer so afraid to approach somebody. Now, with less staff to help the children, it will be impossible for teachers to teach them daily living skills and take them out of their classroom. My mum will not be able to easily take her children shopping, on the bus, out for lunch and anywhere else they might go. Everything will require careful planning and caution. It might even put some people off venturing out with so many children. This seems like a leap backwards to me.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have an assistant for 20 hours a week, but it wasn’t easy getting this. People who were supposed to help were telling me after I finished college that I needed to get a job and be independent. I didn’t know where I could find a job, and I was still waiting on my guide dog. I was never confident using the cane and I was made to feel like I should be using it on my own by now. It took an unfortunate incident on a bus journey to work, to a work placement in a building I had never been to in my life, to convince them that I was unable to do certain things on my own. I got my hours trebled the very next day.

I live a couple of miles outside town and work four days a week. My PA collects me from home and drives me to the bus stop, and home from there in the evening so that my parents don’t always have to be around. I leave home before eight A.M and get home just before 7 pm. I have Fridays off, but I usually use my time to do jobs like volunteering, do shopping, go to the vet or record interviews that are outside work and difficult to get to. It isn’t possible to get public transport everywhere, and even though OJ makes life much much easier he can’t drive!

When I got OJ i was convinced that my hours with my pa would be cut. So far so good. I can’t help feeling guilty though, because I know there are hundreds of people having hours and assistance cut, who need help much more than me. I am always preparing for the worst, and if my hours are cut I will manage. It’s not the end of the world, and I know my family will help if I really need it. I feel angry that anyone, especially the parent of a child with special needs is being denied the help they need. I will always be thankful for what I have, and have decided not to complain about the recession until it affects me directly in a bad way. I think too many people, who actually have little to complain about use the recession as an excuse to whinge about everything. No matter what happens, there is usually always somebody worse off than you.

Taking away our independents

Very soon, the music shop Road Records on Dublin’s Fade street will be closing its doors for the last time. This is a great loss, particularly to the independent Irish music scene. The shop was special to many people, and you can check out their excellent website
Unfortunately I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been in Road Recs, all the times I’ve been in Dublin in the last eight years. I know from talking to people, particularly on the Frames message board that Dave and Julie know their stuff, and provided a great service to bands, musicians and music fans alike. Hopefully they can put their musical knowledge to good use in the future.

Cool Discs in Derry is, i imagine, the Northern Ireland equivalent of Road Records. Opened since 1996, it has done a lot to promote Irish music in the area. Its owner, Lee Mason was responsible for bringing many well-known artists to Derry, and promoting their work by telling any customers who might be even slightly interested.

I remember my first time in the shop. I was 10, and really starting to love REM. I was obsessed with their song ‘stand’ (probably because of the silly lyrics) and needed it on CD. I bought their album Green for £6.99, and saw it in Virgin the same day for a pound dearer. I loved cool Discs right away!
I started liking the Frames in 2001, beginning my love of Irish acoustic, folk and alternative music. I tried to buy as many albums as possible, and would save for weeks for a particular album. This was when I was in school, with no money, but buying an album then was a big deal. I bought many albums, singles and gig tickets in CoolDdiscs. I remember buying the frames album ‘dance the devil’ with birthday money my granny gave me, and when I went to Pay, Lee changed my copy for a copy that Glen had signed when he visited the shop previously. Needless to say I was very impressed, even though I can’t even see the signature!!

It’s a pleasure to buy music from people who know what they are selling. The staff in Cooldiscs recommend albums and discuss the ones I bought the next time I come in. They always tell me about upcoming gigs and bands who will be playing in their shop. Unfortunately I have not been able to attend as many instores there as I’d have liked too, but seeing musicians play there has always been special. I’ recorded a 40 minute gig Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova aka the swell season performed there in 2006, and listening to it brings back great memories. I can go into Cooldiscs the day an album I like is released and the staff nearly know what I’m looking for before I ask.

Trips to Cooldiscs have become more frequent since I got OJ, because I can find the shop myself. It is conveniently located beside the bus depot, and I am usually too early for the bus home from work. OJ finds the door and walks straight up to the counter, where he waits patiently until I have finished talking about music and finally decided what I want.

I dread the day that Cooldiscs follows Road Records and closes down. CD sales are decreasing rapidly everywhere due to the Internet, music downloads, and people who rob the industry by not paying for music anymore. I’m not a fan of downloading, preferring to have a physical copy of the music I buy. I’ll admit I have bought albums from stores like Tesco’s and HMV, because they are often cheaper, but these people are only interested in making money and couldn’t care less about the music they are selling.

From now on I’m going to make more of an effort to avoid the multi-nationals and support independent retailers like Cooldiscs. I know I can’t exactly keep them in business forever, but they appreciate the custom more than others do. If you happen to be in Derry and want some new music, call into Cooldiscs and give them your support. I’m going in next week to buy the Fleet Foxes and new Bruce Springsteen albums, and who knows what else i’ll find.
“Food for Thought: Music Junkies,Please support all independent record stores where ever you are in the world, in general we provide a much better service in terms of knowledge and expertise, we are all music junkies and we don’t sell cans of beans!!!And if you are ever tempted to buying a copy-just stop and think for a minute, the only person you are helping is whoever you are buying from, and all they are after is your money-no interest in the music whatsoever-ultimately you are contributing to the downfall of all good Independent Record Stores/Labels who work very hard at providing a service to the general public.Thank you for taking the time to visit us and where ever you are in the world, remember, the real stars are underground and nothing beats the real thing!!!”

Blog Watch

I want to post a ‘blogwatch’ post every so often to mention some posts that I’ve enjoyed reading recently. I will post links to new blogs that I have found, and hopefully you will discover some you like as well.

I’ve mentioned
Darragh Doyle’s blog
here before, and probably will many more times because it’s great. He puts a lot of thought, time and effort into updating it, and is a real genius at the art of story-telling.
Recently I’ve enjoyed reading his posts about
the day he met Bosco’s mammy for coffee
coming out to his mother
He also posted about the people who follow his blog, describing their blogs and what they write about
You should add the ‘follow’ link to your blog to enable other people to stay in touch, find your blog easily and read what you’ve been blogging about.

I recently found
Pete the vet’s blog
While I was researching books for children who are blind for a project at work. There I found a link to a young vet who blogs about her work at
vet in harness

Selina Litt blogs about her life, her search for work and her wait for her first guide dog among other things on
Selina’s world
Her post reflecting on
ten years of blindness
Was particularly honest and emotional. She is a keen athlete, and hopes to participate in the 2012 olimpics. She also keeps a
training diary
To document her progress.

Kolby Garrison from North Carolina blogs passionately about life, university and her first guide dog Sunny on her

The animal rights organisation
PETA has problems with the idea of training dogs as guide dogs. Read more about it and Kolby’s
response to PETA here

I’m back!

I thought i’d steel Jen’s computer again when she’s not looking. Come to think of it, that isn’t hard to do!
We’ve been busy this weekend. We went to Derry to do some shopping on friday. I don’t really like shopping unless we’re in the pet shop. Jen spent ages in Zavvi because they are having a closing down sale. I heard a whole Bruce Springsteen album and about 20 other songs when we were there. None of the cds were in order so it took ages to find anything. I don’t think Jen knew what she wanted anyway she was just buying things because they were so cheap. I wanted to sleep on the floor but I kept having to get up every few minutes and move. I was soo bored!
We stopped at the pet shop on the way home to get food for me and Dougal. I wasn’t allowed to come because I sniff too much in there.

I had to go to Belfast on saturday. I’ve only been there twice and I like it. The bus from Derry to Belfast had lots of space, but the air conditioning was on and it was freezing. Cold air was blowing into my face it was horrible! There were two guide dogs waiting to get on the bus when we got off in Belfast. One of them barked at me. I don’t know why.
We met Jen’s friend Fiona. She’s the one who went to Christy Moore with us. She has a funny accent but I like her because she always pets me. They drank some coffee in a nice warm cafe. then we went for a walk and ended up in Zavvi again! We didn’t stay long this time thank god. Jen bought a cd by Mundy called ‘jelly legs’ it sounds silly to me but I don’t know much about music. There was an album buy a band called The Ojays. She should have bought that instead.
We went to another lovely warm pub and I lay under the table and slept. I scared the men sitting across from us because I was so quiet they didn’t even know I was there.
I didn’t want to go home but the bus this time was a lot warmer and more comfortable. I was starving when we got home and couldn’t wait to get my dinner. I was tired as well because I have to concentrate very hard when I’m working in Belfast. There are more people on the streets and I have to make sure Jen doesn’t walk into anybody. She says she would love to live there again, because she went to university there before I was born. I wonder will we ever move there? That would be exciting!

Today is very windy and wet. I’m glad because it means I don’t have to do any work. I just get to play with Dougal and sleep in my lovely bed in the kitchen. I must have been very good these days because I got another new bed for Jen’s office. Its so soft and when I sleep in it I don’t want to get up. I get to go back to it tomorrow morning. yay!
Woof woof x

My School Days

A child’s first year at school is an anxious time for any parent. You hope your child settles in well, makes new friends and doesn’t get bullied. You want them to enjoy school and be happy there, as education is important and the environment in which they learn is equally so. Having a child with a disability brings additional challenges regarding education, and parents have to choose carefully which school they think is right for their child.

In September 1990, when I started school at four years of age, mainstream school for blind children in Ireland wasn’t a popular option. Boys and girls went to separate schools for the blind in Dublin. They were residential, and my dad didn’t like the thought of me travelling four hours on a bus to and from Dublin every weekend. My mum was, and still is a primary school teacher in Scoil Iosagain in Buncrana. She asked if I could attend the school with my friends who I had met in play school the previous year. I was to be a pupil there until I made my first communion, and then I would move to Dublin. I never did move to Dublin, and was the first completely blind child to complete both mainstream primary and secondary education in Ireland.

I never had a full-time classroom assistant in primary school – it just wasn’t an option. During the last few years somebody came for an hour a day to help me during maths. I was always able to work at the same pace as my classmates, and no exceptions were made because of my blindness. I participated in P.E (even though I hated it), art, playground activities and classroom tests. I did all my work in Braille, which then had to be read back to my teachers as most of them never learned to read it. They taught me the same way they taught the other 29 girls and boys in the class and I never felt any different.

I never used a cane in school. I learned my way around the school and was usually guided by my friends. I was quite shy about starting conversations when I met people for the first time, but didn’t find it hard to make and keep friends. My friends helped me when I needed it, but were never overprotective. They reacted naturally to blindness, as did the other children in the school. If curious children did ask questions I would explain that I couldn’t see, rather than being offended by it. When I was younger I hated when the visiting teacher for the blind or the mobility officer came, because I felt different. These people were drawing attention to my blindness, something which was never considered otherwise.

I went to Scoil Mhuire secondary school along with my best friends. I didn’t have a full-time assistant until second year, when I used a laptop with a screen reader instead of the Braille machine. The assistant sometimes had an impact on how I interacted with my friends in class, but it never interfered with our friendships. I had so many new subjects and teachers, moving classrooms every fourty minutes, so it was impossible to work without one. There was lots of scanning to be done so that I could read the material, and taking notes in class by listening to a talking computer and a teacher wasn’t always easy.
I did one subject less than my classmates for my junior cert, and seven the same as everybody else for my leaving cert. Teachers didn’t view my blindness as a barrier to education, so they expected the same high standard from me that they did from the other students. I didn’t expect anything less of myself either, and worked as hard as I could.

School wasn’t always easy. Because I was the first blind pupil in both schools, the teachers were sometimes unsure how to teach me. Some were more helpful than others. It was a learning process for all of us. Scoil Iosagain now has its own excellent special needs department within the school, integrating children with various disabilities into mainstream education. I enjoy visiting the school often with OJ, and I am proud of how it has evolved over the years. The school is currently teaching its second blind child, who I’m sure will also have a positive experience there.

I am very thankful to my parents for making the decision to send me to school in my home town. They were very brave, as in many ways sending me to Dublin would have been an easier option. I made many great friends, and some of us are still very close today. I wouldn’t have had the same relationship with my friends if I went to school in Dublin. They would talk about things that happened during and after school which I was not a part of. Similarly, I would be involved in a community of blind and visually impaired people who they would know nothing about. I don’t think they would have the same natural understanding about disability as they do now, and this has benefited them in their careers and their daily lives. Most people know me in our town, something which probably wouldn’t have happened if I went to boarding school.

Growing up with sighted people has made me more determined to do what they do. I am familiar with life in a sighted world, and never expect everything to be easy. There is usually always a way around doing something that might seem difficult at first. I never waste time wishing I could see, just so I could fit in more easily.

I’m not saying that all blind children should be educated in mainstream education. It is not a suitable option for everybody, and it largely depends on how supportive your family and school is. There’s no point in putting your child in mainstream education for the sake of it, even though you know he or she is going to get a better education in a special school. I’m sure I would have learned many valuable skills in a school for the blind in Dublin, and possibly had an equally good education. I know I definitely would have learned better mobility and cane skills, as I wouldn’t be taken around by sighted guide so much. I might not be so shy about asking for help. I would probably have better daily living skills (I’m a terrible cook!) You never know, I might even have a slight Dublin accent! I’m not saying I’m smarter or better than anyone else because of my education, or that my parents made a better decision than anyone else’s. After all, it is up to the individual to make the best of their education wherever it takes place.

The girl’s school for the blind in Dublin has closed down, and more and more people are choosing mainstream education as an option. There are a lot more resources for teaching than there was when I was at school. I can only hope that blind and visually impaired children today enjoy their school days as much as I did.


I’ve been trying to come up with a good fundraising idea for Irish guide dogs for the blind for ages, but I’m not getting very far, mostly because I’m too fussy, and I want something unique.

It costs approximately 38,000 euros to train and support each guide dog over its lifetime. As well as training guide dogs, the centre of excellence in Cork trains assistance dogs for children with autism, and provides mobility and daily living skills to adults and children. Clients who stay at the centre for any of these courses pay just 10 Euros a week for their own room, breakfast lunch and dinner, laundry service and entertainment a few evenings a week. There is a very homely atmosphere, which makes it much easier to adjust to your new surroundings and to do the work you are there to do.
Obviously all this costs a lot of money. The government only fund about 15% of this, and the rest is raised through donations, collections and hard work from fundraisers and volunteers.

I have helped out in church gate and supermarket collections to raise money, but I hate collecting money this way. I’d rather do something fun, where people feel they are getting something for the money they give. So far I have raised over 8,000 euros by doing a cycle for Irish guide dogs in 2003, and organising a second hand shop when I qualified with O J in 2007. My family and local people have always been very supportive and generous, and they say they feel even more proud to help when they see people working with guide dogs in their home town. Local guide dog owners collect during shades week and flag day every year, and sell calendars and Christmas cards in the supermarket. While all these raise a lot of money, it’s all a bit repetitive.

I want to organise a special fundraiser in 2009. I know I could do something like a night at the races, or bowling or a sponsored event. I thought of a head shave, where people who volunteer to have their head shaved have it done by me. Would you let a blind person shave your head?
It shouldn’t matter what the event is, as long as it does what it’s supposed to – raises money. However I want to do something really special, that I’ll enjoy organising and being a part of. Something that will appeal to a wider variety of people, not just those family, friends and local people who get involved religiously every time there is a fundraiser in our town.

I am very passionate about music, and my ideal fundraiser would be a music event, particularly a gig from musicians I really like. This may sound selfish, but I want something that I will enjoy planning, I know would sell well and fans of the particular band, and who are the people supporting the charity would enjoy. I have made contact with some people, but an event like this isn’t possible to organise at the moment. They were very nice about it, and I fully appreciate their busy schedules and the fact that there are hundreds of deserving charities in the country, who desperately need funding.

I know many musicians who do annual charity gigs which raise vital funds for charity. I wonder do enough bands do this. Could people in the media be doing more charity work, or do they do enough already? Surely doing a charity gig once in a while isn’t impossible if your job involves attracting an audience anyway? You are sure to sell out a particular venue and raise a certain amount of money, and it creates awareness about the particular charity.

Ok so maybe, for me anyway the gig idea is a bit ambitious. I’m just an ordinary music fan with a guide dog. I’ve never organised anything like this in my life. I’m not close friends with any musicians who I could persuade to do a gig for charity, and I sincerely doubt that any musician I admire would agree to do a gig just because I ask them. I like challenges though, and it was worth a try. Maybe I’ll organise something more simple, and keep the dream of my ideal charity event alive for another while. Who knows, someday it might actually come true!

Post me a comment if you have any fun ideas.