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Saturday 23 August 2014

Margaret Killoran: the girl who awoke a town

Michael Moran

Published 20/05/2014 | 05:40

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Annie Killoran and her daughter Margaret surrounded by photographic memories of the development of Gallagher House.

IT started with an advertisement in The Sligo Champion.

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A public meeting was called for Killorans Restaurant.

Annie Killoran mooted the idea of a locally-based Resource Centre for those with intellectual disabilities.

She did so to help her daughter Margaret and many like her.

Margaret Killoran was born in October, 1973. She had Downs Syndrome. In time, she became the girl who awoke a town.

Margaret was the sixth child of Annie and Tommie Killoran.

Caring for a child with special needs was a new experience for them.

Annie had a far-sighted idea.

She said: "The only suitable schooling for Margaret involved a 65-mile daily journey to Cregg House, Rosses Point.

"There was a total lack of services in the South Sligo area.

"We decided to do something about it.

"We wanted our own centre in our own community."

The rest is history.

Gallagher House Resource Centre celebrates the 25th anniversary of its opening on Saturday.

Since that memorable day in 1989 it has provided an invaluable contribution to those with special needs.

Annie said: "Margaret is just one of them.

"I remember when she was born, Dr Brian McDonagh consoled me by saying "she may never win scholarships, but she will give you great love.

"How true that was. Together we have achieved so much. She was really the beacon for Gallagher House.

"We wanted Margaret to grow up in Tubbercurry. We knew she would be supported there by her family and friends.

"I wanted her to be one of the children of her home town."

Annie wasn't sure how many would turn up for that initial public meeting. Thirty-three did so.

The seeds for an ambitious and far reaching project were sown.

It was November 22nd, 1981.

Annie said: "I really didn't know what to expect. The response was encouraging."

So too was that of the late Fianna Fail TD, James Gallagher. He frequently dined in Killorans.

Annie "pestered" him about her plans – and the need for a building to turn them into reality.

The TD donated an old courthouse to her, shortly before his death.

Annie said: "James Gallagher made our ambitions possible."

A committee had been formed and fundraising begun.

These efforts included a fashion show, dog show and a 'Sale of the Century' in 1984.

Sligo's legendary footballer, Mickey Kearins, donated his boots to the event.

A total of £135,000 was raised over a number of years.

With the support of the former AnCo training centre, the building was renovated.

Annie said: "We got fantastic support from everyone. Our bank account is still up and running to this day. People have been great.

"For example, Manchester-based Joe Kennedy and his family, originally from Doocastle, and the Irish abroad donated four 14-seater buses to us down through the years."

Annie also had help from former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey.

She recalled: "He came to Sligo one time and I pleaded with him to give money to the Health Board to ensure Gallagher House was opened."

When former Health Board CEO Donal O'Shea cut the tape in 1989, Annie wasn't finished her efforts.

She quickly recognised the need for a Respite Care facility. She had another building in her sights. It was owned by the Mulholland Family.

Annie said: "I negotiated a deal with a member of the family in the US.

"FAS helped to redevelop and refurbish the building."

The North Western Health Board was also persuaded to fund the house and arrange management.

The Gallagher House Garden Centre completed the jigsaw.

Annie said: "There are now three units on the main street of our town.

"There aren't too many places in Ireland who can lay claim to something like that.

"Gallagher House is a fitting memorial to the generosity of James Gallagher and his family and all those involved in its development."

Annie Killoran and her "very special" daughter played a key role in it.

Sligo Champion

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