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'There's nothing I really want to do that I'm not allowed do'


Dan Connolly at home in Mountshannon, Co Clare

Dan Connolly at home in Mountshannon, Co Clare

Brian Arthur

Dan Connolly at home in Mountshannon, Co Clare

Dan Connolly is a 16-year-old boy living near Mountshannon, Co Clare, with his sisters Siun and Roisin and parents Niamh Ruiséal, who works in the home, and Mark Connolly, a lecturer.

Dan is something of a gentle giant, standing over six feet tall and looking down benevolently on what goes on below head height.

He is in third year at Villiers School in Limerick city, a 50-minute bus ride from a nearby village.

His day revolves around the journey to and from school, his school day and some after-school sports events. At weekends, he meets up with friends in Scarriff or Killaloe to play ball and hang out.

Dan gets a say in decisions and rules at home; in fact, Niamh left the question of whether to do this interview and have his photograph taken entirely up to him.

One of the rules is to do with time spend using devices. "When I get home, I can't use the phone or anything until I have done my homework. Sometimes that could be 10 minutes, or it could be a couple of hours," he says.

"There's really nothing that I want to do that I'm not allowed to do. If I want to do something, we can discuss it, and if they can see where I'm coming from, and it's reasonable, then they'll allow me, as long as I have a good argument."

Dan says only one or two of his peers have girlfriends, but that more of the girls - "about a third in my class" - have boyfriends.

"I'd usually have a soccer match on Saturday. Rugby matches are during the week at school and I have sailing on Sundays. I'm doing a course at the University of Limerick activity centre to become like a sailing instructor, so I could work there and teach other kids how to sail."

He doesn't have a part-time job, but some friends of the same age around Mountshannon work at weekends "with their dads, or with other people's dads". He doesn't get pocket money any more, but asks for money as and when he needs it for social outings.

Dan moved to Clare from Dublin some 10 years ago - a reversal of the journey many other children make as more families move to Dublin.

"When we lived in Dublin, in a cul de sac, Dan and Roisin could go outside and play with other kids; friends were on tap," says Dan's dad Mark.

"In the country, there's rarely another set of kids very near. It's nearly always the case that you have to drive your kids to someone's house. It's less spontaneous that way. There are way more miles clocked up in the car."

Mum Niamh cites technology as the main difference between her childhood and Dan's. "These days, technology is huge. When we were young, if you made an arrangement to meet someone, there were no mobile phones, so you had to be there when you said you would.

"We had so much freedom. We were allowed to roam. They're chauffeured places now. I'd love for them to have more freedom, to do things that have risk but not danger. It's important that they learn to assess risk. We have stifled that."

Irish Independent