Eithne Clarke (1923 – 2011) & Declan Costello (1923 – 2011)

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Eithne Clarke (1923 – 2011)

Intellectual disability was not an easily understood, or comfortably discussed, subject in 1955, when Eithne Clarke’s third child, Mary, was born with Down Syndrome. Eithne searched for advice, even reading Angel unaware, a book published in 1950 by Dale Evans Rogers (wife of the cowboy singer-star Roy Rogers). While Mary was still a baby, Eithne began meeting with Patsy Farrell and others at the Irish Country Women’s Association Country Shop in Stephen’s Green, and at the Mansion House—where the idea for St Michael’s House was born.

Eithne maintained her work with St Michael’s House throughout her life. She and her husband Judge Gerard Clarke served on the board of the organisation over several years. She was also on the board of Cheeverstown House, in its transition from convalescent home to residential service for people with intellectual disability. Eithne had a special concern about suitable residential care for persons with intellectual disability as their parents aged (see Frontline, Issue 19, 1993). In 1990, when St Michael’s House was still primarily providing day-services, she led a small group of parents in purchasing ‘The Bungalow’ in Goatstown, Dublin (see Frontline Issue 7, 1990, and Issue 28, 1996.) Developed in cooperation with the Department of the Environment, the local health authority and St Michael’s House, the Bungalow provided a home in their community for Mary and five other service users.

In 1996, Eithne Clarke was one of eight Irish women who received the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Award from Jean Kennedy Smith, then US Ambassador to Ireland. Mary Clarke lived at The Bungalow until 2007, when she moved to Cara, the St Michael’s House centre for Alzheimer care. Mary died (aged 55) in April 2010—just over a year before her mother’s death. At Mary’s funeral, Eithne honoured her daughter by reading ‘Welcome to Holland’ (by Emily Perl Kingsley, see http://www.our.kids.org/archives/Holland.html), the much.quoted allegory to describe the experience of having a child with a disability.

Declan Costello (1923 – 2011)

As a young TD in 1955, Declan Costello chaired the public meeting of parents in the Mansion House in Dublin, which launched St Michael’s House. He served as the organisation’s President from its early days, until his death last June. He also helped to found Ireland’s national organisation for intellectual disability, NAMHI (now Inclusion Ireland), becoming its first president in 1961. Declan championed the rights of children with an intellectual disability to be educated as equal members of society, and he successfully lobbied then Minister for Education Dr Patrick Hillery to formally recognise and fund Ireland’s first school for children with a moderate intellectual disability (St Michael’s House school on Grosvenor Road).

Universally known across Ireland, Declan served as Attorney General and President of the High Court, and he was the author of Fine Gael’s ‘Just Society’ policy document in the 1960s. In later life, Declan said: ‘Of all the things that I in my life, being associated with St Michael’s House was the one I regard as the most important of all. The story of St Michael’s House is an example of how opinion and people working together changed public attitudes.’

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