Monday 17 December 2018

Dream is real

The dream of two sisters to live independent lives has become a reality

Mairead, Mum Kathleen, Aoibheann, Aine and Dad Hilary Mitchell. Pic: Donal Hackett
Mairead, Mum Kathleen, Aoibheann, Aine and Dad Hilary Mitchell. Pic: Donal Hackett

Sorcha Crowley

The Mitchell sisters Mairead and Aoibheann threw open the doors of their new homes to the public last weekend to thank the people of Sligo for their generous fundraising.

That €242,500 was raised within the space of just 12 weeks is testament to the spirit of generosity not only among Sligo people, but throughout the country.

News of the sisters' debilitating condition, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), touched the hearts of people "the length and breadth" of Ireland, according to their parents Kathleen and Hilary.

Their daughters needed specially adapted and 'future-proofed' homes to cater for their growing needs into the future.

A fundraising campaign began on September 26th to help the Mitchell family raise money to build two new separate living spaces close to the family home overlooking Ballisodare Bay on the southern slopes of Knocknarea.

As both sisters sat in their respective new homes last Friday, built by Kilcawley Construction contractors, the comparative speed at which their goal was achieved didn't escape them.

"We didn't think it would be this soon but we were looking over it last night and it was actually a year and a day since we started planning," Mairead told The Sligo Champion.

"I'm lost for words," she added. "We really didn't expect so much goodwill. At the beginning it was hard to actually decide to go out there and talk about our disability, to get it out there," she said.

"All my friends know about it and they wouldn't pass a bit of heed of me. We go to town on night's out and I always have my wheelchair with me anyway so it wouldn't matter to me," she said.

Their new building shares a front door and then diverges into two identical units, allowing the sisters security but also their own private space.

It was designed by their oldest brother Aonghus who took their wishes on board in designing a wheelchair-friendly but stylish home.

There are extra wide doors, specially adapted wet rooms off their bedrooms, floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking a joint rear terrace with panoramic views to the south of Ballisodare Bay.

The two kitchens are bright, modern and spacious with everything at their level to ensure they can cater for themselves long into the future.

"It's really going to help. We can live downstairs while carers and friends and family can move upstairs in time or stay the night. It will be brilliant," said Mairead.

"I'm very happy," said Aoibheann, surrounded in her new kitchen by well-wishers coming and going.

The family and friends were "up all night" baking scones for the two Open Days last Friday and Saturday.

Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish and Sligo County Council Chief Executive Ciarán Hayes attended the official opening ceremony at 3pm on Friday.

Sligo County Council approved a grant of ¤29,000 to the Mitchells which will be paid to them once they move in.

The majority of the cost of the new build was raised through over 30 separate fundraising events in Sligo, Westport (their mother Kathleen's native town) Cork and through their GoFundMe online campaign.

Speaking to The Sligo Champion in between welcoming guests, Kathleen couldn't contain her delight: "We are very proud. We are so delighted to have got this stage, we're over the moon," she said.

"We have been overwhelmed and heartened by the generosity of people in the community and across Ireland - they have just lifted our spirits," she said.

Their decision to go public wasn't easy: "We knew going into the build that we didn't have enough money for to finish it. Lots of people advised us to fundraise and it was very difficult thing for Hilary and I because we were always independent people. But Mairead and Aoibheann were the catalysts in this because they said 'this is for us' so we eventually relented. For the first four weeks it was hard, we felt naked, it wasn't a nice feeling at all," said Kathleen.

"And then this fantastic committee was set up here in Sligo along with a small committee in Westport. The whole community came on board and they just lifted us up," she said.

"All you could feel from there on was just positivity and goodwill and understanding and generosity and it was a great feeling. without all those people we just would not be here today.

"We say a massive thank you to all of those people and everybody who has come on board and helped us," she said.

For her girls, Kathleen says the new units are "a safe home."

"A place where they have everything at their level on the ground floor. They don't have to do stairs anymore. They don't have obstacles to get into showers. They have their kitchen and all their appliances set up.

They have everything that will make them as independent as possible - their washing machine, their tumble dryer, fridge and freezer, everything within their reach and they will be fit to look after themselves. It's going to give them a great independence.

I know because of their condition they're going to need some kind of supported independent living but this home is the best that's out there. They will not get better than this. No matter what sort of a disability you have, you will not get better than this," she said.

"A huge thank you to Brendan Henry of Kilcawley Construction and to all the talented tradesmen who came in here and created those fantastic spaces," she said.

Kathleen also paid tribute to Mairead and Aoibheann's occupational therapist Sinead Duffy: "Sinead was one of those people we couldn't have done this without either," she said.

Her husband Hilary, who is the girls' full time carer, joined her side: "It's mission accomplished. It's great. Hopefully it will see them for many's the day," he said.

Mairead and Aoibheann will move into their new homes in the next week or so. "We're telling them we're coming down for the dinner," laughed Kathleen, before turning to welcome more well-wishers.

Sligo Champion