Saturday, July 22, 2017

a horse
  • Interaction with horses is recognised globally as a powerful and experiential tool that quickly breaks down barriers and changes behavioural patterns.
  • It’s a fun, interactive and highly-effective way to work on specific issues, experiences or challenges.
  • Eileen Bennett tells how horses connect people to their true value and full potential in a unique and powerful way.

Including one or more horses as part of a treatment team may seem very 21st century, but the concept has been around for a very long time. In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’ spoke of the horse as a healer, and throughout history we find many references to the physical and emotional benefits of having horses in your life.

Therapeutic horse-riding has been around since the mid-19th century and is now widely accepted as a valuable means of providing a range of physical and other advantages. For example, a walking horse transfers 110 multidimensional swinging movements to the rider every minute, which naturally increases core strength, body control and balance.

However, the ways in which horses can enhance our lives is not limited to sitting on their backs. Equine-assisted Learning (EAL) is a ground-based method of utilising horses as a catalyst for positive change. It is a powerful and fun way to nurture life skills, and develop social and emotional core competencies. The aim is to promote self-awareness and development through specific interactions, activities and games with horses, under the guidance of a trained Equine-Assisted Learning facilitator.

another horseFor the EAGALA model of Equine-Assisted Learning, the treatment team always includes a Mental Health Professional, an Equine Specialist and one or more horses. EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) is a non-profit professional organisation with over 4,500 members in 50 countries. EAGALA sets the standard of professional excellence in how horses and people work together to improve the quality of life and mental health of individuals, families and groups worldwide.

Horses are particularly suited to EAL work because they are prey animals; hard-wired for millennia to tune in to anything that could pose a threat. Their very survival depended on knowing whether that predator in the bushes was sleeping or eyeing them up for lunch.

Because of this, horses live only in the present moment. What happened 5 minutes ago or what might happen tomorrow is never in their consciousness. So, when you are with a horse, the horse is not seeing a person with a disability, or a child with a problem. The horse is just seeing – and reacting to – a person.

Horses are mostly non-verbal. They communicate with each other by means of a highly sophisticated language of subtle body movements. The flick of an ear or the swish of a tail is sending a message to the rest of the herd. Most of us are unaware of the messages we are sending out through our bodies, but the horses are reading them loud and clear! Horses reveal their thoughts and feelings with their body language and behaviour. They do not ask, demand, or expect anything from us. They simply want to feel safe, comfortable, and to get along.

EAL sessions can be run for individuals or groups. A typical individual session lasts an hour, and a group session is 90 minutes. Sessions are always tailored to the needs of the participants, so no two will ever be the same.

EALThe very nature of a horse means that EAL work is a perfect fit for improving the social and emotional core competencies of Self-awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationships skills and Responsible decision-making. The horses respond to each individual in the present moment, just as they are.

Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) is a unique way of enabling people to learn a wide range of skills through interaction with horses on the ground. It works on many levels and can be adapted to meet the needs of an individual or group. When a person can understand and be understood by a large animal, communication with people becomes easier and more rewarding, and the horse becomes a tool for emotional growth and learning.

In collaboration with other professionals (e.g. Physiotherapist, O.T. or S.L.T) EAL sessions can also be adapted to help with Literacy and Numeracy, social or verbal skills, Executive Functioning and much more.

Interacting with horses is a rewarding experience that can help develop a sense of responsibility, feelings of love and nurturing, and better coping strategies.

Author Bio

09 - Eileen BennettEileen Bennett is co-founder and CEO of Horses Connect Enterprises, a social firm based in Galway designing and deliver equine-assisted programs.

As well as an experienced horse-person and coach, she is also qualified as a Therapeutic Horse-riding Coach, Equine-assisted Learning Facilitator and an EAGALA certified Equine Specialist. She holds qualifications in Mindfulness, Leadership and e-Business and helps run the Horses Connect Special Olympics Equestrian Club.

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Con Lucey of CoAction West Cork is an avid road-bowling enthusiast, and gives us a flavour of this fast-paced and exciting sport that is peculiar to parts of Ireland.

  • Road Bowling is a rural sport where people throw bowls along roads.
  • Coaction is situated right where they hold the bowling games.  There is lots of fun to be had.

Road bowling is an Irish sport, in which competitors attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball along a predetermined course of country roads. The sport is mainly played in the Counties of Armagh and Cork, although there are other small strongholds in Mayo (Aughagower) & parts of Louth.

CoAction West Cork is situated right in the middle of Road bowling territory and are the founding members of the first Unlimited Road bowling club in Ireland back in 2002 which was quickly joined by the Borders bowling club (Monaghan, Armagh) and members from Mayo and Mid Cork.

Bol Chumann Na-hÉireann helped organize the 1st All-Ireland Unlimited Road Bowling Championships which are now held annually in either Bantry, Westport or Armagh/Monaghan.

Every September a team of Competitors & supporters from CoAction attend the event. Even though it is a sporting event, there are also opportunities for ‘relaxing & pampering’ for the lads and other leisure activities.  The delegation checks into a ‘fancy’ hotel for the week of the Championships and enjoys all that the Hotel has to offer in the way of food, drink, luxury, swimming pool & sauna, steam room, bar music etc.

The lads who are on the committee help to plan the trip from the beginning, and this would involve research on the ‘places of interest’ and local amenities and obviously the best shopping locations. Local cafés & pubs are frequented in the evening time and short walks organised (for instance, in the foothills of Croagh Patrick, or a stroll through Monaghan town).

It is a great opportunity to meet up with friends from other clubs and also to meet new people.

The week away, although expensive, is looked forward to for months beforehand and you are assured that everybody who attends have fun and crack and good humour throughout.

Author Bio

Con Lucey works in CoAction West Cork.

Veronica Crosbie and Ana Wardell review a striking theatre experience at the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, involving service users from St. Michael’s House, Dublin.

The play centres around a young lady and her struggle from darkness into light. Lost in a depression she battles many demons and is helped by teachers along the way. A play not to be missed!

Poignant, beautiful, lyrical: these are words that come to mind when recalling Love | Loss | Life, an ensemble piece which ran in early November at the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, Dublin, starring users of St Michael’s House Service Dublin, and directed by Nicola Kealy of Rhythm Room, whose mission is making theatre accessible to all.

The play opens in darkness, tuning the audience into the frequency of the set piece by having us listen to a series of voices aging in range from very young to old, musing whimsically on the meaning of the titular three words. These thoughts become embodied once the lights go up, to reveal a scene in a restaurant with a young broken-hearted woman (Sandy O’Gorman on the night in question) coming to terms with loss, and being comforted by a waitress (Norah Chawke), who begins to narrate the story of The girl with the broken heart (illustrated graphically by Jane Lee’s artwork). The narrator’s voice then switches to Kealy, who draws us gently into the fable, which, in archetypal fashion, begins a journey of discovery. This is no ordinary story, however, as we embark, together with the characters, on a voyage through the main vein (vena cava) towards the heart. Our senses are beguiled en route by trippy, psychedelic artwork projected onto a backdrop screen (courtesy of Mike Winkelmann) and plaintive and playful music by a quartet of musicians on saxophone, guitars and percussion (Mischa Langemeijer, Lee Frayne, Terence Tau and Alexis Nealon).

The girl is lost in a deep, dark depression, which grounds her, literally, as we see her pinioned and flailing on the floor. However, in time she is slowly drawn out by a light, which leads her down a tunnel towards discovery, and ultimately transformation, aided on the way by five Heart Keepers, characters that challenge and galvanise her into action. The first one, Warrior Man (John Mahon), emboldens her by teaching her how to fight, helping her thus to win back the first piece of her broken heart. However, she soon succumbs to the darkness again, aided and abetted by The Platelets, clad ominously in giant white coveralls, clogging and blocking the life force. Her mother (Sandra Healy, a memorable Juliet for the same company four years ago, who is also assistant director here) comes to the rescue, reminding her of her unconditional love, and reassuring her that she is on the right road. Next, she meets, in turn, a joker (Aidan Gouldsbury) and a dancer (Andrew Murphy), who teach her to laugh at herself and help her regain her composure and passion. The final character, the Lover (Alan McHugh), woos her gently, restoring her confidence and belief in herself; and we see them move together towards a happy ending as her heart is fully restored to itself-

What we witness here as the story unfolds is a case of capability expansion as Kealy expertly, and with care, draws out the talents of her diverse cast, supporting them as they embody the characters and thus embolden themselves. In Frontiers of Justice, Martha Nussbaum writes that care is one of the hallmarks of a decently just society and that capabilities are ways of realizing a life with human dignity. This entails the ability to form affiliations and provide stimulus for senses, imagination and thought. The support and camaraderie between the ensemble cast on stage is evidence of this heartfelt care-work, evoked in particular through subtle hand gestures, smiles and bodily integrity.

Love, Loss, Life plans to tour nationwide in 2016. Miss it at your peril.

Nussbaum, M. C. 2006. Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership, Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press.

Author Bio

Dr. Veronica Crosbie is Lecturer in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, Dublin City University. Her research interests include the capabilities approach, intercultural dialogue, cosmopolitan citizenship education and migration studies. She is co-convener of the Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA) Education thematic group and vice-chair of the International Association of Language and Intercultural Communication (IALIC).

Ana Wardell, a student attending Mount Temple Comprehensive School, Dublin, is the assistant writer for this piece. She is interested in art, imagination and geography. She is a member of Green Schools and Amnesty International. She has studied drama in the past with Dublin Amateur Dramatic Association (DADA) and is currently reading Romeo and Juliet for the Junior Certificate examinations.

Deirdre Spain, a person with a learning disability tells how technology has helped change her life in many ways.

Deirdre-Spain at desk
Technology has changed my life and has helped educate me a long time after I have left school. I started off with a TV in my bedroom but then I got a laptop in 2003 and nowa smartphone and tablet. These items helped me to learn how to read and write and keep my interest up in what is happening in the world.

My first experience of technology was when I got a TV for my bedroom.  Of course my family’s TV was in the sitting room, but this was my own to look at whatever I wanted.  My parents were against this as I might be lonely in my bedroom and spend too much time on my own.  Like many of my friends, I love watching soaps such as Fair City, Home and Away, and Neighbours.  These are my favourites.

I was given a present of a laptop computer in 2003.  At first I was afraid of it as I am not very good at spelling, and I found it hard to look up sites which interested me.  Lots of times I went into dodgy sites, and I had to ask for help from my sister.  She made sure by getting security insurance for my computer.

I then attended literacy classes where I learned how read, write and to use a dictionary.  I don’t think I would have bothered with this course, if it wasn’t for my interest in using my computer to follow up on what was happening in my favourite TV programmes and finding the latest news on pop stars, like Take That and at that time, Westlife.

I now have moved on with my use of Technology and media with my smartphone and iPad tablet,  which goes everywhere with me.  Like many of my friends in the day centre I attend, I don’t go out much at night so I suppose my iPad is my friend.

While I know it is sad to say that my iPad has become my friend, and yes know I have friends in the day centre I attend, but like myself I know many of them don’t go out much at night and if they do it is with their families.  Talking to other people with Intellectual disability, they all think this is a real problem with them.  They say that the TV is their only company.

So what has Technology done for me? I now can read and write.  I know what is happening in the world.  I love listening to plays on BBC Radio 4 which has helped me at my drama classes.  I now play and download most of my music on “Spotify” which is great and also saves me money.  I keep up my interest in what is happening in the world by watching “What The Papers Say” each night.  If there is something in the news I am interested in I will look it up on my iPad.  I am also on Facebook.  I haven’t got many friends yet but I know I have to be careful.  As for my family holidays, I really annoy my parents by using my iPad to make sure the hotel suits me as well as them before they are book the holidays.

So as you can see technology has helped change my life, but I hope to continue to learn more and more about how to use technology to make my life more interesting.

Author Bio

Deirdre Spain attends St Michael’s House Employment Centre at OMNI Shopping Centre in Santry, Dublin. She has worked at Jury’s Inn, Christchurch, Dublin for 17 years, takes part in Special Olympics playing badminton and swimming, and has in the past made presentations as a self-advocate in many countries.

Brian Manning interviews John Byrne about his extensive travelling around the world.

John Byrne Train
John Byrne talks about his travelling all around the world. He focuses on his amazing trip on the Trans-Siberian train from St. Petersburg in Russia to Beijing in China. He encourages other service users to get out there in the world and take a look.

How many holidays have you gone on?

I’ve lost count, I tend to remember the big ones.

Do you travel by yourself or do you go with other people?

I go mostly on my own, like if I go around Europe I’d tend to go on my own.

Where is the most exotic place you’ve visited?

Well, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria and that, I was in Albania and all them places.

Do you ever go on holidays with people?

I went a few times down the country (in Ireland) with assistance, to give a dig out, give them a hand. And sometimes I go on holiday with my brother.

How do you find travelling on your own? Is it dangerous? Is it lonely?

No, not really, you get used to it. Well, maybe a bit, back in the ’90’s, when I started going to

these strange countries but when you get to know them first-hand you get a feel for where you are going.

If you get to a far-away country like Kazakhstan how do you book a room and how do you understand people?

It’s very hard when you get into places like Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan because English isn’t spoken very much. They might ask you do you speak Russian but I don’t speak Russian. Russian is like a second language in all those countries around there. But you get by. I know someone in Kazakhstan and I went to visit them.

How often do you like to get away?

A few times a year if I can but it depends on funds. I don’t drink or smoke, you know, I like to save my money for travel.

john byrne 2

Your passport must have a lot of stamps in it!

It does, and visas too. After you pass Romania and those countries you need a visa for Russia, Mongolia, China and the like. I have a lady called Hannah in Dublin who helps me get visas. She works in Visa First in Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

 Have you been through any border crossings?

I crossed a few. From Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan. It was ok. Sometimes there are armed guards. The problem is that Kyrgyzstan is so poor and Kazakhstan’s one of the richest places out that way so a lot of people want to go there.

 People reading this might imagine these places to be very dangerous.

Anywhere at all can be dangerous. Sure, Dublin City at night time can be dangerous.

You went on a big trip recently?

Yes, in 2013. Myself and my brother we flew from Dublin to Helsinki, Finland. We stayed there 2 nights and had a gander around the city.

Then we took a high speed train to St. Petersburg, where we met up with a group of tourists and checked out the canals and lakes by boat. It was the Summertime, so it was bright till about 11 o’clock. This year when they put the hour back (for daylight savings time) they decided not to change it anymore.

After 2 days in St. Petersburg we took the train to a place called Vladimir, and then on to Suzdal, and from there to Moscow. We stayed there for 2 nights and visited the Kremlin and the undergrounds. Then we took the Eastbound train to Irkutsk, which lasted about 3 days. When we got there, we went to a small local village and the man who organised the trip, his name was Eugene, showed us local life, local cooking. There was rock-climbing but my brother and I decided not to chance it so we went for nice walks in the forests.

The local people were so nice so we decided to go into the local community hall where there were discos. The kids were in there, there were no adults, the kids were very good, they played their music and all. Next we travelled back in to Irkutsk, which is beside a big lake that is so big you think you are looking at the sea!

Next, we took a train to Mongolia, to a city called Ulaan Bataar, the capital city. A nice place was the Buddhist temple in the city. Years ago, all the people in Mongolia used to live in tents called ‘yurts’ so we went to a camp to see people living like this.

yurtsIt was a really beautiful place with lovely scenery and more home-cooking again! We went back to Ulaan Bataar and were fed up eating strange food. Luckily enough a few weeks beforehand a KFC had opened up in the city! So we said we would go to KFC for a change.

Next up was a train to Beijing which took over a day. The views were amazing and we passed through the desert. At the Chinese border the train stopped and we had our passports checked. Next thing we know the wheels had to be changed on the train because the tracks or the wheels are different. So, off we went and we arrived into Beijing into one of the busiest stations you could ever see! After we got to our hotel we went for a look around. I said to my brother, “there’s a McDonald’s! I’m goin’ there.” Because I’m a little fussy with what I eat. I’m afraid I might get sick. I have that on my mind. But I tell you what I lived on…..Chinese noodles. They were nice and I bought my own tea and that.

great wall of china

The group we were with were nice. We went to see the Great Wall of China which was amazing and as we were walking down we met 2 people from County Kildare. Even though you are so far away you will always meet someone from Ireland. My brother and I went by ourselves to see Tiananmen Square because we like to see as much as possible.

Next we flew to Abu Dhabi and then home.

Do you have any plans for the future?

Yes, this year I’m just going to stay local. I’m going to Georgia in a few weeks’ time. Then just going to do an Inter-Rail in September. I’m going to Romania for a week at the end of July.

I’m going over by bus and coming home by flight. The bus goes from Belfast and travels all the way by land to Romania.

I hope to go to Australia by myself again next year. I’d like to travel from Melbourne to Darwin and see Ayers Rock. I’ll look at prices in the next few weeks. I can pay the flights off a little bit each week.

Next year I also want to travel starting off in Rosslare to Fishguard, Fishguard to London, London to Brussels, Brussels through Austria, Hungary and Romania, spend 2 days in Romania, from there go into Moldova, Ukraine and into Russia. I’d like to travel by myself, not with a group – on to Irkutsk, then Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia, then down to Beijing. Then I want to extend my trip down to Vietnam and into Cambodia and into Thailand. From Thailand I want to go down into Malaysia and then into Singapore. Then I want to take a flight to India for a few days to see what it’s like. Then on to Abu Dhabi and then Dublin.

That’s my plan for 2016, Please God.


Would you encourage other service-users to travel?

Well, I would but not everyone has the same spirit as me. It’s not for everybody.

Do you think your travels have changed you?

Well, you see different countries and the way they look at life, their lifestyles. Some of the healthiest people you could meet.

Cormac Cahill of Inclusion Ireland shows us a little of what can be achieved in purpose-built, accessible accommodation for people with physical disabilities.

Accessible facilities 1
Muscular Dystrophy Ireland (MDI) have a ‘Home from Home’ apartment in Dublin. It is available for short-term stays for people with a physical disability and their friends and family members.

Muscular Dystrophy Ireland (MDI) is a voluntary organisation that provides information and support to people in Ireland with muscular dystrophy and allied neuromuscular conditions, and their families, through a range of support services.

The MDI ‘Home from Home’ apartment is located in a new purpose-built, fully accessible self-contained building in Dublin. It is available for short-term stays for people with a physical disability and their friends and family members.

The apartment consists of four bedrooms, a kitchen and a lounge area and can accommodate groups of one to six people.

Guests are asked to make a voluntary contribution of €25 per room, per night to stay in the apartment.

Accessible facilities 2

The apartment is equipped with aids and appliances, including ceiling and standing hoists, shower chairs, grab rails, an intercom system, emergency call buttons, emergency evacuation chairs, an adjustable kitchen counter and air mattresses.

Three of the four bedrooms in the apartment are fully accessible and contain Hi-Lo electric profile beds and ceiling tracking hoists.

Each of the bedrooms has its own bathroom, all of which are also equipped with a ceiling track hoist. The bathroom and shower can be accessed directly by use of the inter-connecting ceiling track hoists between the bedroom and bathroom. All visitors to the apartment are advised to bring their own slings.

Please note that the twixie clip slings do not work on the hoist system. The fourth bedroom contains a standard single bed and is primarily used by personal assistants and family members.

The kitchen is equipped with an adjustable motorised work top which enables the work surface height to be adapted to a suitable level for all users. It contains all modern appliances and laundry facilities.

Availability throughout the year varies, but the MDI is more than happy to accommodate anyone with a disability and their friend and family members when they can.

The ‘home from home’ has been used by people going to concerts, international visitors, as accommodation during or awaiting a hospital appointments and by people who wish get experience of Independent Living.

MDI provides information about how to use equipment within the apartment and other necessary information to help you to make the most of your stay.

MDI also provide you with information about services available in the local community, places to visit in Dublin and details about local public transport and other ways to get around Dublin.

Accessible facilities 3

To book the apartment please contact MDI on (01) 6236414 (from 9.00am-5.00pm) or email

Further details about the apartment and MDI can be found on

For more information, please follow this link:

Author Bio

Cormac Cahill, Communications & Information Officer

Inclusion Ireland, Unit C 2, The Steelworks, Foley Street, Dublin 1

Office: 01-8559891  Mobile: 086 837 3394  Fax:  01-8559904

Mei Lin Yap’s latest column details her ambitions for the Open European Swimming Championships in November, her greatest inspirations, and what motivates her drive for success.

Mei Lin Yap’s latest column. She talks about her love of swimming and tells us where she gets her inspiration from. Her family and her Mother are very supportive of her. She knows it will take a lot of hard work to be a champion swimmer but she is determined.

My ambition is to become a champion in swimming. I haven’t competed in a few years now so I am just coming back to the swimming again. This ambition is the motivation that I need to keep me driven to achieve this goal; I know this is a really big goal, but I am prepared to put in the hard work to achieve it. At the moment I am trying to find balance between my training, my working life and my personal life.

The Irish Down Syndrome Sporting Organisation had their National Swimming Championships in Derry, in Northern Ireland in May 2015. I won a gold medal in the women’s 50 meter butterfly and a silver medal in the 200 m freestyle. This competition is a qualifier for a place on the Irish team going to compete in Loano, Liguria, Italy in November in the Open European Swimming Championships. I have qualified for a place on the Irish Team, to compete and to represent my country. I am really excited. I now need to train even harder, because the standard is really high. So, over the coming five months I will be training really hard. It is a great opportunity to travel and to meet new people and make new friends.

“EVERY JOURNEY BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP”, said Maya Angelou. I have started on my journey to compete in Italy and through this page I will take you with me every step of the way. I am going to share it all with you in these columns – every step that I take, everything that I face, the challenges and difficulties, the successes and failures. My success in Derry has inspired me to push and challenge myself to train even harder to prepare for the competition in Italy. I believe that if you work hard, you can achieve anything that you want. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have”.

Where Do You Get Your Inspiration?

My family are my inspiration. They are strong individuals, successful, determined, kind, and well educated. They have supported me and encouraged me over the years to be the best I can be. My brother and sister are two people I admire. I would like to have what they have – to work, live independently, to be in relationship, to be able to get married, to have an active social life. I try to stay involved and create opportunities to meet people by keeping up my hobbies and interests, and developing my working life.

The most important person in my life is my mother; she is the number one person that I can share just about everything with. She is the one that helps me, provides for me, supports me, encourages me. She is also a very hard-working, strong woman and she is always there for me through everything. She is my mother, my friend, my soul mate, she means a lot to me.

I am also inspired by the music that I listen to; it makes me feel good about myself and helps me feel connected. I like to listen to popular, well-known artists but I also listen to little-known artists in different genres of music. Like most young people, I love to connect with people, that is why I love being on social media like twitter and facebook – it helps me engage with the world.

I know I have a lot of hard work ahead if I want to achieve my goals and hopefully I will have the motivation to train hard. I will let you know next time how I am progressing.

Until then keep following your dreams and remember what Walt Disney said:

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them”.

Author Bio

Mei Lin Yap lives in Dublin, and is a Reception Greeting Co-ordinator. She was formerly Rollout Support Officer/Ambassador for the Certificate in Contemporary Living at The National Institute for Intellectual Disability, Trinity College Dublin. Her passions include Special Olympics and inclusion for everyone.

On 29th September 2014 Irish Distillers, under the leadership of Denis O’Reilly of Difference Days, arrived at Rosanna Gardens to undertake a garden transformation. Difference Days was founded in 2009 to facilitate corporate socially responsible events, whereby staff from organisations experience an ‘alternative day out’ and give their labour for one day to benefit others - basically a team-building day with a difference! The Sunbeam Times spoke with Denis to ask how the process works and what the experience was like…

Difference Days team
  • Irish Distillers gave up a day of regular work to team up with Sunbeam House Services.
  • The goal was to get the 2 staff teams together and build a large garden in Ashford for the Sunbeam service-users.
  • The project was organised by Difference Days.

How did it come about that you undertook a garden renovation project at Rosanna?

Having done two previous Difference Days in Sunbeam House – one at Killarney Road, Bray (deck, football pitch and gym), and the other in Ballyraine, Arklow (woodland trail), both with staff from – I contacted John Hannigan and Bernard Fitzsimons to see if we could help with other requirements, as I had to find a suitable project for Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard who wanted to do a Difference Day with 250 of their staff.  Once I have a requirement I go and find a project – I knew how well we had worked with Bernard and all at Sunbeam before, so I knew we could work well together again.

What was the next step?

Bernard introduced me to the guys at Rosanna and showed me the overgrown rear space, and immediately I could see that it could be transformed and make Rosanna an even better place for the men and women that live there. I then got some feedback from Seamus Murphy and Bernard on what Rosanna would like.

Our landscaper Maurice Byrne and I then inspected the site with Bernard and we started to put together the proposed design – Maurice came up with some great ideas like redirecting the stream so we could make the island/memorial garden. The idea was to have a space that could be used by all the residents at Rosanna and other Sunbeam sections.  The raised beds would allow vegetables to be grown, the exercise trail would be used for fitness, and the BBQ area for having fun!  We then priced up the costs to implement the transformation of the space, and I arranged for Rosemary Garth – Communications Director, and John Carroll – Irish Distillers, to inspect the space and meet the residents.  They just loved the plans and the guys from Rosanna.

Once the project was approved by Irish Distillers we had a meeting with Bernard and planned the timescale for the preparation work to be undertaken by Maurice and Adam Rankin from Difference Days and supported by Bernard and his team.

How much preparation was required?

Maurice and Adam did around four weeks of preparation work (with Bernard’s team assisting) so that the shape of the garden was framed, ensuring that the Irish Distillers 250 strong team could complete the garden on their Difference Day.  In addition we had all materials delivered and tools ready.

On 28th September we had a site meeting with all the Sunbeam team that were assigned to help on the Difference Day, along with our Difference Day team, so everyone knew what their tasks were for the next day.

Tell us about the day itself-…

On the day itself, 29th September, DJ Ed (a resident of Rosanna) had his music pumping.  The Sunbeam team came together to welcome the Irish Distillers team as they arrived, and there was tea and pastries for everyone. We subdivided the teams into 15 projects and off we went and built the garden in 3 hours!   It was fantastic to have all the residents of Rosanna and many other clients from Sunbeam on site to help and to meet the Irish Distillers volunteers.  The support and camaraderie from staff and clients from Sunbeam was amazing.

We managed to get everything completed in the three hours – the Irish Distillers staff worked like mad and were truly amazing.  The garden came out better than anticipated and the feedback from the Irish Distillers crew was exceptional – they just loved meeting everyone, particularly the residents from Rosanna and other centres.  Irish Distillers were so proud of what they achieved on the day and what they left behind for the guys from Rosanna.  Rosemary Garth (Communications Director from Irish Distillers) stated that some of her colleagues commented it was the best team building day they had ever done!

rosanna project


225 Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard Staff

15 projects completed.

12 ton of beach cobble placed along the bed and banks of new stream.

110 ton of hardcore.

60 ton of Ballylusk dust used for wheelchair-accessible paths.

Equivalent to 4 tennis courts of rolled lawn laid.

49 wheelbarrows, 106 shovels, 39 rakes, 14 hammers, 24 spirit levels,

12 handsaws and 200 ear protectors provided.

Garden built in 3 hours.


Project 1 – construct/plant stream bank

Project 2 – build 7 metres x 2.4 metres barrel style screen

Project 3 – build tree seat surround

Project 4 – build main roadway/circular section

Project 5 – construct exercise zone (8 zones)

Project 6 – construct picket fence 13 metres x 1.2 metres

Project 7 – build central pathway/boundary pathway

Project 8 – memorial garden (Joe Nolan)

Project 9 – construct bridge 4 metres x 1.6 metres

Project 10 – BBQ area – construct circular Ballylusk base and build equipment

Project 11 – bamboo screen 6 metre

Project 12 – old stream planting team and move to turf lawn project 3 & 13

Project 13 – construct gazebo/veg. planters/turf lawn area

Project 14 – screen/ballylusk rec. court 7 metres x 2.4 metres high

Project 15 – erect glasshouse.


It’s a beautiful garden and I like it very much and I really enjoy it – Sean Sheekey.

I want a swing in the garden – Christopher Doyle.

It’s excellent – Martin Byrne.

For Joe Nolan – Fintan Finnegan.

From the start it looked like a swamp, and now the way it is, is fantastic – Edward Byrne.

A good place to sit down on a sunny day – William Gregory.

The majority of clients would use the garden on a daily basis for exercise or even just sitting out or walking around.  Even though it’s cold at the moment, they wrap up and go out.  They are much more interested in using the garden now than they were before – Staff at Rosanna.

rosanna project 2

Bernard Fitzsimons:-

We took a garden that was very barren, and financially we could not achieve what was achieved by Difference Days.   Irish Distillers paid for everything and funded it all – Sunbeam House didn’t have to put their hand in their pocket for anything.

For two weeks before Difference Days arrived, a lot of preparation work was carried out by TÚS workers from Ballyraine, by Maurice and Adam of Difference Days, and by Rosanna staff and others.

The whole garden is called the Joe Nolan Memorial Garden, in memory of Joe Nolan who was a staff nurse at Rosanna but who sadly passed away last year.  Irish Distillers did not want any mention of themselves in the garden, as they were doing the work in the total spirit of giving back and didn’t want any undue publicity.  The local Red Cross were there in case of accidents, but thank God they weren’t required.  They donated their services free of charge.

When the work was finished, Irish Distillers provided a hot lunch via a catering company whom they had used before.  The food was amazing, and included two pig spit roasts!  Sunbeam then presented a cake to Irish Distillers.  Irish Distillers staff got back onto their buses and headed off to a conference, where I’m sure they had a chance to recover from their activities.

The TÚS workers couldn’t believe the change in the garden when they saw it after it was finished, and the garden was used that very first night for one of Sunbeam’s Rosanna staff who was celebrating a birthday.

I want to thank Denis, Adam and Maurice from Difference Days, Rosanna staff who helped out in advance (particularly the weekend beforehand), the Red Cross, Sunbeam staff and clients, and anyone who showed up and gave a hand in any way.

Bernard Fitzsimons

Author Bio

Bernard Fitzsimons is a staff member in Sunbeam House Services.


Denis O’Reilly founded Difference Days in 2009.

Eilish King shows us an innovative idea for recording, keeping and showing your treasured life experiences in electronic form…

  • We need to remember the important stories and memories of our lives.
  • You can collect pictures.
  • You can collect important things in a box to store your memories.
  • You can also use software to create a Life Story Book.
  • If you have an iPad, you can use some apps to help you create your Life Story Book.

Have you ever noticed that as we grow older it becomes harder to remember important stories and information about our lives? These memories hold lots of information about ourselves, and the way we like to live our lives. Life stories can be a good way of gathering up the stories and information about ourselves, so that we can make sure we continue to live our lives as we would like.

Life stories can be made in lots of different ways. One way is to make a collection of pictures, or collage, by gathering your favourite pictures of special events in your life. Another enjoyable way is to make a life story book.   Examples of a life story book, and a template for making your own, are available from the dementia UK website at Memory boxes are another good way of collecting important things that relate to special events in your life and store what is important to you in a special box.

You can also use an iPad to record your life story in lots of different ways, using photos, pictures, videos, music and voice recordings. Our team works with older people to help them create life stories using iPads, and we found a few apps that are easy to use and helpful, even for people who have never used iPads before.

This is how you do it:

Firstly, you may need someone to help you if you are new to working on an iPad. It can be very enjoyable to work with someone on making your life story, and share your life story with others.

  1. Gather together important and favourite photos, videos, and music. If the photos are not digital you can use the iPad to take pictures of them. You may have to edit them using the iPad so that they won’t be shiny.
  2. Download these free apps from the app store:
    1. “Our Story” app by the Open University (Free)
    2. “Niki Music” app by Alessandro La Rocca (approx. €0-88)
  3. The Life story book template has lots of headings and you can choose the ones you want to include in your life story. Examples of headings could be: About Me, My Home, Working Life, Important People, Special Events, Likes and Dislikes.
  4. Add whatever headings you like to your life story on the “Our Story” app.
  5. You can add photographs, words, videos and voice recordings to each heading. The app gives you more instructions on how to do this.
  6. Niki music app is easy to use, and instead of using the album title you can choose a picture for each song so that you can easily find your favourite music.

What I discovered when I worked with people who were working on their life story was that they really enjoyed doing it, and found that it increased their confidence in what they could do. They told me that it was a fun way to look back over important events in their lives, and that they enjoyed sharing them with others. For staff working with people with intellectual disabilities, it is a great way to get to know one another, and helps to make sure that in time staff will have a record, made by the person, of the important things in their lives.


The author would like to acknowledge all the advice, support and opportunities for learning on this topic provided by Dr Carolyn Shivers, Pamela Dunne, Stephanie Lynch, Ferrilyth Louw, Evelyn Reilly, Prof. Mary McCarron and Dr. Siobhan MacCobb.

Author Bio

Eilish King is a graduate of the Discipline of Occupational Therapy at Trinity College Dublin. She has worked with older people with intellectual disabilities to create life stories using iPads, as part of an interdisciplinary team project investigating the use of iPads to create life stories.

Lucy Blake and Darragh’s excellent adventure comes to a thrilling climax at Waterford’s dance spectacular…

Lucy and Darragh dancing
After weeks and weeks of hard training and worn out dance shoes, Darragh and Lucy enter the competition Strictly Let’s Dance. The night was a blur of great music and an even better atmosphere as they won the trophy for most improved dance couple.

Well, the big day had arrived, after 8 weeks of intensive dance training Darragh and I were ready.  The Strictly Let’s Dance Waterford in aid of The Solas Centre, South-East Cancer Foundation, was finally here. We had our routines practiced to perfection, our costumes bought and altered, our props sorted and the hair and make-up professionally done (well for me, not Darragh obviously!)

The lights went up, the music began and we made our grand entrance, the atmosphere in the hall was electric, the cheers and shouts from family and friends gave us a real boost! There were approximately 700 people in the audience that night, which was fantastic.

Darragh is a huge sports fan, so for our entrance routine we wore hurling jerseys, Darragh in Waterford colours and myself in Galway colours (borrowed from my husband Paul), Waterford had just beaten Galway in the league quarter finals that very afternoon so Darragh was pretending to beat me with a giant inflatable hammer, which went down very well with our Waterford audience!

The opening dance was great fun and really got the crowd going, we all danced to ‘I’m Sexy & I know it’ the audience got a great kick out of it with us all shaking our stuff and wiggling our backsides around!

Our own individual dance was to “You ain’t never had a friend like me” from Aladdin, for which we were dressed as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. Our routine went really well, the audience and the judges loved it. We got very positive feedback from the judges and scored 9-9-10, so we were over the moon with that and thrilled that all our hard work had paid off. We then performed in our group dance to Glenn Miller “In The Mood” which we really enjoyed too, although there was a slight blip as the music started before we were all on stage, but that didn’t phase Darragh one bit, like a true professional he just took my hand and kept on dancing.

The night went by in a blur of dancing, music, spotlights, costume changes and fun and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t win unfortunately, but we were awarded with the trophy for The Most Improved Couple which we were delighted with.  The winning couple were brilliant; they were Sean Connolly and Ciara Grant who performed a fantastic high energy country routine.

We have really enjoyed the experience of Strictly Let’s Dance, hosted by Vesper Events and I have to say that I feel very lucky to have been partnered with Darragh; he is an absolute gentleman, a lovely person who is kind, genuine, and generous, he has a great sense of humour and is always the life and soul of the group. It goes without saying that he is a fantastic dancer and I am delighted that I got to dance with such an amazing partner. He said he found it tiring at times but that didn’t stop him giving it his all and keeping up with the rigorous training schedule and complicated steps. I will miss training with Darragh as I feel we have become great friends over the past few weeks and I know that we will definitely stay in contact, as we will with many of the new friends that we have made during Strictly. In fact we’re meeting up with all the dancers for a meal this Saturday night. We had great support from Darragh’s family who helped us out with props, costumes, fundraising and also the use of their sitting room for dance practice!

Overall participating in Strictly was a great and unforgettable experience and we are delighted to say that the event has raised over €62,000 for The Solas Centre, a fantastic facility open to all cancer patients and their families free of charge in the South-East. Many of the Solas staff and volunteers gave up not only their whole weekend, but many days and nights previously preparing for and working towards the event and their support was greatly appreciated by us and all the dancers.

The Solas Centre is the finest cancer support building in the country and the people of the South East can be proud in the knowledge that this is due to their support and generosity. Without them, the Solas Centre would not be here.

We aim to provide the best possible cancer support services to the people of the South East of Ireland. With the counselling, relaxation therapies and group support services on offer at the Solas Centre we endeavour to provide cancer patients, their families and carers with a safe place; a place to talk things over, to relax and express emotions.