COOTEHILL'S DRUMLIN HOUSE WELCOMES PRESIDENT HIGGINS

28 February 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

By MICHAEL McDONNELL
michael@northern-standard.ie

TUESDAY last was a memorable day for over 60 people with intellectual disabilities who attend the various courses, work and recreation programmes at Cootehill’s Drumlin House Training Centre, when they had an opportunity to meet up with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

The presidential entourage visited the centre’s busy Print and Craft Shop premises at Market Street, where they were given an extensive tour of the various workshops, and had a chance to meet the trainees and their tutors at their work, before moving to the main Drumlin House premises at Cooney’s Row/Fair Green, where President Higgins spoke in praise of the efforts being put in by all involved.

In the course of his address, the President noted that Drumlin House had provided services for only six people with intellectual disabilities when it was first established in 1982, but was now offering “an invaluable resource” for 65 adults, giving them a chance to reach their full potential and make a unique contribution to their communities.

Indeed, what was achieved at Drumlin House was now a model for what could be achieved elsewhere, he said. Caring for others was the highest and finest form of work, and it was inspirational to see so many people helping those with a disability to participate fully in life.

Drumlin House had played a significant role in improving services and opportunities for people with disabilities, but there were still barriers to be overcome in terms of changing some of the attitudes and prejudices that persisted, President Higgins said.

WORKSHOPS TOUR
The President’s tour had begun at the Print Shop, where Gerald Kearns and his team of eight trainees were producing business cards, letter heads and so on, as part of the ‘New Directions’ programme.

The President and Sabina were taken upstairs to the computer suite, where Ursula Cosgrove was working with another group involved in rehabilitative Fetac Level 2 communications training for school leavers aged from 18 to 22.

The centre’s day activation group, where 16 trainees are working in a building to the rear of the print shop known as “The Stables” was then visited by the presidential party. The participants in this module of Drumlin House are carrying out a light programme of craftwork and recreation in the upstairs section of the building.

President Higgins was shown the downstairs craft room, where instructor Geraldine Carragher was working with eight trainees on crafts and personal care. One of their specialities was pottery, and they had created a specially engraved plate that was later presented to the President.

The visiting party then called in on the ‘Step Right to Work’ group, which employs two job coaches, Jenine Smith and Marie Carroll to carry out work with trainees under the Department of Social Protection’s Disability Action Programme. This group is working with the New Directions programme in seeking to find part-time work for trainees working with the print shop, kitchen and garden in Drumlin House. To date, three people have been placed in part-time work since that programme started in December 2012.

President Higgins was subsequently taken to the theatre at the Drumlin House Centre, where he spoke to a gathering of all the trainees and tutors and spoke very positively about not only Drumlin House but all organisations involved in providing services for people with disabilities.

Having been welcomed by the chairperson, Mr Hugh O’Brien, the President said he was delighted to have this opportunity to visit Drumlin House, and he gave thanks to Mr Robin Toner, the manager, for this kind invitation to meet everyone at the centre. He also gave thanks to all present for the generous welcome he was being shown.

GENEROUS COMMITMENT
President Higgins paid tribute to all concerned, staff and trainees alike, for the work that was being carried out. Caring for others was the highest and finest form of work, and it was inspirational to see so many people enabling others to participate fully in life. Those involved in providing services here were giving “a great human and generous commitment”, he said — a commitment that was both professional and going beyond the bounds of professionalism.

It had been most enlightening to meet personally with some of the trainees today and to be shown around this innovative centre, which was making a real difference to the lives of people with a disability.

It was also inspiring to know that the emphasis in Drumlin House had always been on “learning by doing”, and on bringing the philosophy of the centre out into the community and making it an integral part of the local society.

Drumlin House had played its own significant role in the much-changed landscape that had emerged for citizens with intellectual disabilities in recent decades. Sadly, there was a time when members of society with disabilities, whether intellectual or physical, were excluded from many aspects of everyday life and unfairly stereotyped due to ignorance, prejudice or misinformation.

But when meeting with citizens like some of those he met here today, he never failed to be impressed by their determination, their energy, their courage and their resolve to participate fully in society. He was also humbled by the range and variety of their achievements, which were inspiring to those with fewer obstacles to surmount.

While many of the obstacles had been reduced or eliminated, it was still true people with an intellectual disability continued to be under-represented in many walks of life. Facilities like Drumlin House were critical, therefore, in seeking to eliminate unnecessary barriers.

It was also greatly inspiring to know that Drumlin House was a FETAC accredited centre, where everyone’s achievements were recognized through regular awards ceremonies, thereby acknowledging the right of those with intellectual disabilities to have access to further education and to achieve qualifications which realised and celebrated their individual strengths and interests.

All of those who had taken part in training programmes at Drumlin House and worked so hard to make it a success should be very proud of themselves, President Higgins said.

Drumlin House had grown impressively since its establishment in 1982, he noted. Looking around today, it was difficult to believe that this was an organisation that provided services for just six people in its first year.

INVALUABLE RESOURCE
Today it offered an invaluable resource for 65 adults with intellectual disabilities, and it had made an immeasurable difference across the years to many citizens who aspired to reach their full potential and make their own unique contributions to their communities.

What was achieved at Drumlin House was also a model for what could be achieved elsewhere, he said. It was important to find the barriers that could exist between a person’s full participation and exclusion.

What was also very important was the opportunities being provided in society would be provided to everybody, and that there would be as many outlets as possible for expression. But again, changes in attitude were needed to achieve this, and there were barriers of ignorance that still had to be broken down.

Commending everyone at Drumlin House, he wished the centre well in any new extensions it would be making in the next year or two, and every success and blessing in everything it was doing for the future.

PRESENTATION
Two of the trainees, Sarah Jane Crosbie of Bailieboro and Lee McMahon from Monaghan town presented the President and his wife with an engraved pottery plate and a bouquet of flowers to mark the occasion.
A final thank you and farewell was given “as Gaeilge” by trainee Luke Cribben of Ballyjamesduff.

The centre’s manager, Mr Robin Toner, later told local newspapers that it was a great honour to have welcomed President Higgins and his wife Sabina, and to have had the opportunity to show all the facilities Drumlin House had, both at the print Shop and theatre.
He was delighted to have had the chance to show the President the theatre at Cooney’s Row, which was established in 1995 and was providing a great space for the centre’s Christmas shows as well as for other groups using it, including the taekwondo club in Cootehill and local amateur drama groups.

Mr Toner said everyone had also been happy to show President Higgins a property the centre has recently acquired from Cavan Co Council, and is next door to the Print Shop.

 He noted that this was known locally as the former residence of the late Dr Brian Gallagher.

The Co Council would be officially presenting this building to the Drumlin House Training Centre at a handover ceremony in 11th March next, and it would be known as the Gallagher Building in memory of its former resident.

Drumlin House was now looking forward to making use of that building, Mr Toner said. It might need substantial interior refurbishment, but the fact that it had a shared yard with the present Print Shop and the Stables meant that it would be ideal for the centre.

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