AIMEE Richardson likes to tell the story her dad recounted at her 30th birthday party. "It's when I was a baby, I was in his arms for the first time when he saw me open my eye – my left eye – and dad was so happy. From that day on, we have always been really close and very comforting."
Peter, smiling at the memory, chips in: "I do remember very clearly holding her in my arms, a tiny little thing, and it was always her left eye that opened first."
He has probably told her the story hundreds of times, but Aimee still loves hearing it.
Grinning away at each other across the coffee table in a Dun Laoghaire hotel, it's abundantly clear that father and daughter are close.
Aimee, 31, is an actress who has Down syndrome. She has just finished working on the next series of Punky for RTE, a children's animated television series. The character's creator, Lindsay Jane Sedgewick, has described Punky, made by Geronimo Productions, as "feisty, fun, frustrating and loveable. She lives in the moment and also happens to have Down syndrome." Not a million miles away from Aimee, then.
Aimee's dad, Peter, is a builder, softly spoken and gentle. Aimee's parents separated 20 years ago, so she lives half the week with her dad and half with her mum, Natalie. Aimee and Peter spend their time together going to the cinema and swimming and he reads aloud to her at night, a ritual from childhood that stuck with them through the years.
Getting to this point has been a journey for both of them. "You don't want to repress the first memories really, I suppose," says Peter when asked about Aimee's birth. "There were a lot of tears when we heard that Aimee had problems ... there was Down syndrome and there was the heart defect. It was the heart defect that was the worrying aspect.
"I remember saying she needs us all the more now ... because she has difficulties . That's been my feeling all the way through."
At 22 months, Aimee had open heart surgery. Peter says he watched her disappear down the corridor on "what seemed like a huge trolley, a tiny little baby on the top of it". But she pulled through.
"Right from the start she seemed bright, responsive, receptive, co-operative," says Peter. "All of these things that suggested she would be able for mainstream school."
She flourished at the Dalkey School Project. "The great thing about primary school is that it's integrated but also open to having people of any ability," Aimee says. "It was a great mix and I had a lot of friends and some of them used to invite me to parties and things."
Secondary school was a little harder. While Cabinteely Community School welcomed her in and her teachers were extremely supportive, she did have "one or two difficulties".
"I won't say who said what or anything, but it wasn't nice and it certainly didn't feel very nice either," she says.
Overall, she had "good school friends" but they didn't always include her in their after-school socialising.
Aimee generously suggests that the other pupils may not have been used to having someone with Down syndrome in their class.
But luckily, she had a warm, loving and inclusive family life. Apart from her parents, she has two older half-sisters, Julie, who lives in California, and Rachel, who lives in Carlow. Both were very involved in her life when she was growing up.
Peter says he and her mother were always open with Aimee about Down syndrome.
"I am aware that I am a little bit behind most people, with learning and catching up with other students or class mates," Aimee says. "But that didn't stop my abilities, or [stop me] from doing what I want to do in school or in college or whatever."
Aimee passed her Leaving Cert Applied and then did courses in arts and crafts teaching and childcare. Her classmates included other people with Down syndrome. She felt less of an outsider. "I had different friends, with different disabilities, taking part in different courses within the group," she says.
Then acting beckoned: "This (acting) job more or less came out of the blue, didn't it?" Peter says, turning to Aimee.
"It did," she says.
The producer contacted Down Syndrome Ireland about the role, and invited people to audition, including Aimee. She was in a restaurant with her mother when she got a call to say she had got the part. "I was absolutely over the moon, I was so excited," she says.
Aimee says she has more friends now than she used to. But what of romantic relationships?
"I do have a romance sometimes, yes," she says. "I don't mind you asking, of course," she jokes, with more than a hint of sarcasm.
"Well, you've had boyfriends," Peter says. "Yes, but it hasn't always gone very well for me," Aimee replies.
They joke about how she cries on his shoulder "when I get rejected".
She would like to meet someone but on her terms: "If I could meet someone who can appreciate the fact that I have Down syndrome and who can see me as who I am, you know, be loving and caring, that is all that matters to me."
As for Peter, he feels naturally protective and doesn't like to see Aimee get hurt. "But I do want Aimee to have an independent life and to have her own relationships," he says. "Although we have lived together for the past 20 years or more, I don't want Aimee to be over-dependent on me. In fact, when Aimee has had boyfriends, I've liked it. I've enjoyed it.
"It's quite satisfying for me to see Aimee enjoying another person's company, because over all, I think that is something that she's lacked."
He adds: "I want to protect Aimee but I also want her to have her own life and her own independence. It is just finding the balance."
His own loving relationship with Maureen (Collender) is very important to him and Aimee is very accepting of Maureen and gets great benefit and enjoyment from her company.
Aimee is a busy woman. As well as acting, she attends a performance arts course in Rosslyn Park in Sandymount. She sits on the national advisory committee of Down Syndrome Ireland and is on the youth committee of the European Disability Forum, which has brought her to Brussels on occasion. She has also contributed to anti-bullying campaigns, and has spoken publicly about disability issues.
Peter says it's great to see her "stretched". "It seems to me that if someone like Aimee is given back up and support, this is what can be achieved."