Saturday 17 August 2019

A joyful variety: The wisdom of Cope

Cheers to 60 Years, Tuesday, November 14, 7.30pm, Cork City Hall

Making Moves dancers Chelsea O'Callaghan, Clodagh Kilcullen, Sofiat Shobak, Mariah Couch, Aaron O'Connell, Ellie Sheehan, and Christina McSweeney
Making Moves dancers Chelsea O'Callaghan, Clodagh Kilcullen, Sofiat Shobak, Mariah Couch, Aaron O'Connell, Ellie Sheehan, and Christina McSweeney
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

A moving evening at City Hall in Cork gave real meaning to the word inclusion.

A joyful variety show, a merging of communities and a celebration of that particularly Corkonian sense of inclusiveness - all of these elements came together magically on the stage at City Hall in Cork this past Tuesday night, as the Cope Foundation marked Cheers to 60 Years. It was a night which seemed to mark another progress in the way we deal with those on the peripheries in Irish life.

Under the careful direction of Eoin Nash, performers, both from Cope and local performing arts groups, including CCCahoots, blended with each other seamlessly to produce rousing dance numbers, wittily acted performances and spellbinding choral numbers.

Throughout the concert, the audience also heard contributions from family members whose lives had been touched by the incredible work Cope does for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The fruits of those efforts were reflected in the sheer variety of the performances. It began with a dramatisation of the short story My First Confession by Frank O'Connor, which was performed by Ciaran Bermingham and Suisha Inclusive Arts theatre group. This was followed by a rousing version of Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile performed by the Scoil Bernadette choir and renowned Cork singer John Spillane. At one point the audience were told that they had an Olympian in their midst - in addition to Rob Heffernan, who would parade with Cope's physical education department. A sporting-themed skit, The Three All Irelands, the punchline of which was two guys blagging their way into the All Ireland final, seemed to underline the fact that, for all the hard work and supports, coping is also about having a sense of mischief about whatever life throws at you.

A song and dance medley from the musical Grease mixed performers from Cope with mainstream dancers and was a particular highlight for many people. Other highlights included Bleeding Love sung by Karl Murphy and Lucia O'Neill, and Flowers of Hope sung by Ger Wolfe, accompanied by west Cork inclusion group Gamelan Spreacha Geala on haunting Indonesian instruments.

Pat Kinevane read a moving letter from the noted potter Stephen Pearce, who had written to the Cork Examiner after Stephen's sister, who had been in Cope, had died. The letter was entitled Unconditional Love. It was one of many moving contributions from family members, some of whom have lived through our country's changes in perception of what exactly disability means for us as a society.

The poet Theo Dorgan read two poems and said his brother, Pat, who has Down syndrome, had two families - their own family and the Cope family. Theo's aptly titled poem, On Coping, juxtaposed the helpless desolation his family were once faced with, with the practical and optimistic figure that his brother grew into. The doctor's notion of coping was "a burden that you will manage" but Pat always had a better idea of what the word meant, Dorgan wrote:

"Little the doctor knew of coping, but Pat

had it sussed from the start,

He had the measure of it. When the hawks

came down, he trimmed their talons with a smile;

when the grief came, the hard blows of loss,

he knew how to seek comfort, and how to give."

Hope With Cope was written and performed by Blarney woman Susan O'Sullivan, whose extraordinary story speaks of resilience and love in the face of unthinkable adversity. Her first baby, Aoife, was born with a heart defect. While pregnant with her second, she witnessed the collapse and death of her husband, Gerad, in the kitchen of their own home. She gave birth to Ciara Jane, who has Down syndrome, seven months later. She said she only made it through the difficult days that followed with the help of her family and the Cope foundation.

Throughout the night montages of photos of friends, family members and service users played on a screen behind the stage. The actor Stephen Fry once defined wisdom as the ability to cope, but perhaps joy, which was so palpable on the night, is also an element of coping. The spectacle and the moving performances gave evidence of the great strides that have been made and gave real life to the truisms of inclusion.

Perhaps most telling of all on this score, mixed in with the dignitaries' speeches which rounded off proceedings, were remarks by the very people who live in Cope. Paddy O'Sullivan, who is the same age as the organisation itself, spoke with confidence of the impact it has had in his life. Like all of the evening's performers, he seemed to represent a triumph of the human spirit and just what is possible - with a little wisdom.

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