My life since moving into the community

This article describes the life story of Mary McCormack, a 64 year old lady with an intellectual disability. The differences between living in a congregate setting to her own community house are highlighted through Mary’s own words. Mary is a happy and smiling lady who enjoys meeting with people as spoken by Mary, herself to Eleanor Finnegan.


Support services for people with an intellectual disability were limited in Ireland in the 1940 and 1950s. Research shows that people with disabilities were not included in the local communities at this time. Congregate settings from religious organisations offered supports to families and people with in intellectual disabilities.

Mary has little memory of her early childhood. She recalls her Mother, but does not remember her Father.

When people ask me, I tell them my Daddy is in Heaven. When I was little, about that size (holding her hand out to her knee) I moved to a place in Kilkenny. That was after my Mammy died. I was fostered by a woman there.

Mary then moved to a residential setting at Southhill in Delvin, which was established by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. The Sisters offered supports and services at a time of need for Mary.

When I came to Southhill I was very young. I had no Brothers or Sisters. Sure when I went there I couldn’t do anything for myself, I couldn’t tie my own laces or make my bed. I stayed in a big room with a lot of other girls. We would sleep upstairs. We used to play in the playroom and come in for our drinks. I used to ride a bicycle. Our dinners were made for us beyond in the kitchen. We used to scrub the floors with our hands. The Nuns looked after us.

Over the years, Mary met lots of different people. She saw a lot of big changes. Mary lived in a smaller bungalow on the campus of Southhill. Mary shared her home with other ladies. She had her own bedroom. Staff working at St Mary’s prepared her meals. While Mary is grateful for the skills she learned at Southhill and the people she met, Mary was curious about what life would be like for her in the community.

Mary wanted to live outside in a local town. She wanted to be part of the community and experience life outside of Southhill.

I wanted to go and live in a new house. I would ask DM and keep asking him. Then he said he would have something (a new house) for me in the New Year. The staff told me that I had a new house. It was great.

Mary was supported by staff to move to her own place this year.

I picked my own curtains. I bought a lovely table and chairs for my new house, one of the staff helped me do that and I paid for it myself- I have my own car and the girls can drive me wherever I want to go. I have been to Knock with my keyworker. It was great.

Mary spoke about feeling sad leaving people she grew up with.

I felt sad leaving but I got used to it. I don’t miss it at all now. I still go in to see people.

In Mary’s new house in the community, she has supports from visiting staff. She enjoys new independence and feels more a part of the community.

I go shopping now with the girls. I am able to get my own bits – orange juice, brown bread, cheese and yogurts. I have my own little basket and I put it on the trolley. I pick my own yogurts. I buy credit for my mobile phone myself in the shop. I go out to a girl in Athboy to have my haircut in the hairdressers. I went bowling and to the cinema. I saw Cats & Dogs at the cinema. It was great. They were really funny. I go out for coffee and to the hotel for my dinner. I like the staff in the Hotel. I know the Manager now and he is funny. I like meeting people and talking to them. I say hello to my neighbours. One of them said he hadn’t seen me for a while, when I was in hospital having an operation. I told him about my knee.

I go for walks now from my house. I walk on my own and I keep on the footpath. I have a panic button in case anything happens to me, I can press it. I go to Mass now in Athboy. It’s great. I like going to the pub and sometimes I have a glass of baileys.

Mary can make more choices for herself now too.

If I don’t want to do something I will make a horrible face! If I don’t need any shopping I tell the girls I don’t want to go. I go shopping more often now than before. I have nice frocks and I got lovely trousers.. I pick out my own clothes.

Mary has happy memories from her time living at Southhill. She learned independence skills and made meaningful relationships with people. Her new house in the community has been a big change for Mary. She has seen positive changes since moving in making her own choices, her independence and her presence and participation in her community.

In Mary’s words: I am as happy as Larry now!