On Wednesday 16th November, Family Carers Ireland hosted its 10th annual Carers of the Year Awards. Sponsored by Tunstall Emergency Response, the awards celebrate the dedication and commitment of the 200,000 family carers across Ireland.
Twenty-five regional family carers were presented with special awards and Dorothy Meaney from Dooradoyle, Limerick was announced as Ireland’s Carer of the Year 2016. Dorothy Meaney, Ireland’s Carer of the Year, provides full time care to her daughter Zondra (31 years old) who has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which affects all the systems of the body. Zondra’s illness has progressed in the past three years, and Dorothy gave up work to look after her daughter and Zondra’s 9-year-old son (Dorothy’s grandson). One of the most difficult things about Zondra’s disorder is the fact there are no specialists in Ireland who can treat her, and so Dorothy and Zondra travel to the UK every 12 weeks for treatment. Dorothy was also caring for her own mother, who whose passing unfortunately meant the family could not attend the ceremony. Laura Fitzgerald, who is a friend of the family, collected Dorothy’s award on her behalf.
For the first time, four regional Young Carers of the Year were chosen, Craig McSweeney (16 years old) was awarded Munster Young Carer of the Year, Sean Collins (13 years old) awarded Ulster/Connaught Young Carer of the Year, Seunfunmi Solanke (16 years old) awarded Leinster Young Carer of the Year and Úna Mc Nicholas (17 years old) awarded Dublin Young Carer of the Year. They were each presented with their awards by broadcasters and patrons of Family Carers Ireland, Mary Kennedy and Marty Whelan.
Munster Young Carer of the Year was Craig McSweeney from Wilton in Cork, he has three brothers, and his oldest brother Cillian (26 years old) is severely physically disabled. Craig’s Dad passed away in 2015 and since then Craig has been an amazing support to his Mum, Angela, and has taken over the role of helping her with Cillian’s care. Craig is constantly at Cillian’s side, and has become his mother’s right arm so to speak. Angela said without his help life would be so much more difficult. Craig has had a tough year since his dad died, and he also has Tourette’s syndrome, but has an amazing attitude towards it as he tries not to let it interfere with his life.
Ulster/Connaught Young Carer of the Year was Sean Collins from Smithboro, Co. Monaghan and he helps his parents Annette and Donal care for his sister Catherine. Catherine has profound intellectual disabilities; she is a member of Special Olympics Ireland and Sean attends the club each week to assist her with the activities. Sean’s mother, Anette, is currently undergoing cancer treatment and Sean is a wonderful support to both his parents even finding time to fundraise during the summer raising over €2000 for Catherine’s school.
Leinster Young Carer of the Year was Seunfunmi Solanke from Slane, Co. Meath and she provides care for her younger brother Moyo who has Down Syndrome. She is always helping her brother in all aspects of life from speech lessons, Special Olympics training, advocating for him and educating family and friends about Down Syndrome. Seunfunmi has great patience and kindness.
Dublin Young Carer of the Year was Úna Mc Nicholas from Lucan, Co. Dublin and has been caring for her older sister Elizabeth for over 8 years. Elizabeth is living with severe brain and spinal injuries and has developed a sleeping disorder and Adrenal Insufficiency which is a life-threatening condition. Úna has learned how to manage these conditions. As well as caring for her sister Úna also cares for her Dad who has been very ill after having several heart attacks. What makes her even more special is the fact that Úna herself is living with a serious disability which not only affects her mobility but also causes her a lot of pain.
Speaking at the awards, Catherine Cox, Head of Communications at Family Carers Ireland said “We’re delighted to announce the 2016 winners of the Carers of the Year awards. This is the tenth year of the awards and once again we received a huge volume of entries. Throughout the past ten years we have been touched by so many remarkable people and while it is only a small gesture in comparison to the work they do, it gives us great pride to be able to honour carers from across the country.”
Following the Awards, the four regional Young Carers of the Year made an appearance on The Late Late Show on Friday 18th November, where they discussed their caring roles and how it impacted on their lives as teenagers.