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Thursday 22 March 2018

Eithne Clarke

Unsung hero who helped found St Michael's House, writes Dermot McMonagle

Eithne Clarke, who died recently, was for more than 50 years an unsung hero of those with intellectual disabilities. She dedicated her life to family and those with special needs.

Born into a prominent medical family in Dublin in 1923, Eithne O'Farrell was educated in Tunbridge Wells in England and at Mount Anville convent. She married Gerard Clarke, a barrister who became a Circuit Court judge.

After their much cherished daughter Mary was born in January 1955 with a disability, Eithne and her husband Gerard responded to an advertisement placed in The Irish Times in June 1955 by Patricia Farrell of Gigginstown, Mullingar, the mother of a young boy with Down syndrome who was unable to secure schooling for her son.

The ad read: "Association for Parents of Mentally Backward Children. Lady wishing to form above would like to contact anyone interested. Box Z 5061." The result was a public meeting in Dublin. From this grew St Michael's House -- established to develop community services and change in how people with intellectual disabilities were viewed. Today, St Michael's House supports 1,585 adults and children with intellectual disabilities in Dublin. The Clarkes were founder members.

Cheeverstown House, Templeogue, was her next project. Eithne was asked to seek an alternative use and the redevelopment of the new Cheeverstown commenced in 1980 to provide services to persons with intellectual disabilities. It now has 17 respite and support houses in Dublin. Eithne was its first chairperson.

As parents of an adult child with disabilities, Eithne and Gerard Clarke wanted independent living for their daughter. Eithne cashed in a family heirloom to provide seed capital for Lorrequer House, a home for ageing adults with special needs.

She is survived by David, Esmay, Liz and Gerard, Fr Joe SJ and her extended family.

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