FERN the four year old female German Shepard/Retriever is helping Limerick Suicide Watch (LSW) save lives.
Owner Mike O’Mara said his four legged friend has proven a valuable asset to LSW and has been involved in numerous interventions and has helped many people in distress.
Mike who has been a trainer for the Irish Guide dogs for the Blind for many years often thought while patrolling the Shannon over the last five years, how he would like to introduce a dog to see if it would help people in distress to interact with the patrol more quickly through the dog.
“I did a lot of research through other Therapy dog groups and got a lot of expert advice from people working within the mental health area. The response I got was incredible and so Fern was introduced to patrols on a trial basis, and two years down the road she has proven a valuable asset to LSW after being involved in numerous interventions helping people in distress.
“She is very calming when she interacts with people and has a natural ability to pick up on a person when they are low, and just approaches them and looks for a hug, and snuggles in to them. The response from these people is amazing to see and they usually open up to us much quicker while hugging or rubbing Fern.
“We believe she is the first dog to do this kind of work and we are all very proud of her. As you can imagine she is very popular with all our volunteers and gets spoilt by everyone,” said Mike.
Fern was a pup that Mike was training for the Irish Guide dogs for the Blind but was withdrawn from advanced training as an Autism assistance dog two years ago because she was too friendly, she wanted to greet every person or dog she met while out training.
Mike has trained pups for the Irish Guide dogs for about 9 years and has a number of dogs now working in full time roles with both visually impaired and Autistic clients around the country.
The process in becoming a puppy trainer involves an Irish guide dogs supervisor coming to your home to access your suitability to take on the role. Then training is done on an ongoing basis through classes with other puppy trainers in group and individual situations.
“A pup will remain with me from eight weeks for about 14 months before returning to Cork to be accessed for suitability for either Guide Dog or Assistance Dog and then continue on to advanced training in the center.
“As you can imagine letting the pups go after such a long time training them is extremely difficult and is the part of the experience I dreaded every time it came around. They became a part of the family very quickly even if you tried not to get too attached,” added Mike.
Since early 2017 Fern has also become a Therapy dog with Brothers of Charity where she calls to their center in Bawnmore and visits a number of clients who are intellectually challenged.
“She gets an amazing response from all the clients and staff alike in the center. The staff have told me that it is the highlight of the week when she arrives on site. She also does individual visits to houses in the community,” said Mike.
Fern also remains an Ambassador dog with The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and does many events such as school and business visits and supports many fundraising events around the country.
“She is a very busy lady but loves all the attention and fuss she gets in all the work she does,” added Mike.
Author Patricia Byrne delves into on of the darker chapters of Irish history for her latest book, ‘The Preacher and the Prelate: The Achill Mission Colony and the Battle for Souls in Famine Ireland’.
It recounts the story of an evangelising colony established by Edward Nangle on the slopes of Slievemore, Achill in the nineteenth century. The colony became infamous during the Great Famine with charges of enticing people to change their faith with promises of food and material benefits known as ‘souperism’.
“I have a special affinity with Achill Island and its stories. Over the years, in visiting Achill, I came to realise that within its shores were packed some extraordinary stories, none more so than that of the Achill Mission Colony.
“The colony is a microcosm of nineteenth-century Ireland, famine, emigration, landlordism. I became engrossed in the story and could not let go of it. It was as if, by researching and writing it, I was walking through my own history,” said Patricia.
Born in County Mayo, Limerick became Patricia’s home in the 1980’s when she relocated to work in Shannon Development, where she worked on regional and economic development in the mid west.
Patricia has a BA from Maynooth University, an MBS from University of Limerick and in 2006 she completed a Masters in Creative Writing at National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, and since her retirement has been writing full time for about ten years.
Patricia has already published a poetry collection, ‘Unstable Time’ in 2009 and her book ‘The Veiled Woman of Achill: Island Outrage and A Playboy Drama’ which was published in 2012 tells another Achill story, about a notorious island crime of 1894 committed at the Valley House in north Achill.
She most enjoys writing narrative nonfiction, “I research my stories but write them using fictional techniques to read like a novel. I also like to write memoir essays where aspects of my own life are intertwined with other material as in my essay ‘Milk Bottles in Limerick’”.
Patricia was included in last year’s list of ‘Notables’ for Best American Essays for her piece ‘Milk Bottles in Limerick’ which linked her life in Mayo and Limerick, “through the prism of Heinrich Boll’s essay on Limerick in his Irish Journal”.
“I find that when I am immersed in research and writing a story it becomes an obsession. Even when not directly involved in the work, it never seems to leave me.
“I find I feel compelled to visit the places where the story takes place. So there have been many trips to Achill Island, to Dugort and Slievemore, to the Deserted Village and other wonderful places in Achill”.
Preferring to write daily and in the mornings, Patricia’s favourite spot is at a desk on the first floor of her house that catches the morning sunshine, from where she can admire a horse chestnut tree in her garden and a neighbouring cat that crawls along the top of the wall to keep her company.
For more information see www.patriciabyrneauthor.com
I Knew You, the debut album by Mary Barry, will be launched at Dolan’s Warehouse at 8pm on November 1.
Limerick Lady Mary, is a singer songwriter who, after many years of thinking about it, finally put pen to paper and composed nine original songs over the last year and a half.
“My inspiration comes from a combination of my two loves which, apart from the people in my life, are music and philosophy, and also learning from songwriters I admire, and writing what’s true to me,” said Mary.
The seed of this album began when Mary finally used a gift she had received, an hour in a recording studio in Dublin, three days before the voucher was due to expire. There she recorded her first song, accompanying herself on guitar. That was the start of her creative journey that eventually led her to Red Door productions in Limerick, where she met Dave Keary.
“Luckily for me, Dave has a very busy schedule, which meant there was time between meetings to write more songs. So, what started out as one song became nine. It has been an amazing journey, and a privilege to work with Dave and the amazing calibre of musicians he brought together in the making of this album,” added Mary.
Having always loved singing, Mary originally took guitar lessons so she could accompany herself as a hobby. Inspired by song writers such as Kris Kristofferson and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary’s main influences are folk and country music. She writes philosophically about her life experiences and hopes she is conveying thoughtful and uplifting messages through her songs.
“When I’m singing I think about the lyrics and what they mean to me. I love the way music brings out feelings and helps summarise otherwise complicated scenarios. I also feel deeply grateful and spiritual. The songs mean all I’ve ever felt but never thought I would have or need to explain, if that makes sense,” said Mary.
On the night Mary will be accompanied by Dave Keary on guitar, Danny Byrt on Drums, Eoghan O’Neill on Bass and James Hanley on Keyboards.
“Other than singing a couple of songs in a pub the odd time, I’ve never done anything like this. In one way, I can’t wait. In another way, I’m terrified,” added Mary.
Tickets are €5.00 and can be bought from
Castletroy and District Lions Club are holding a table quiz in aid of Cliona’s Foundation at the Castletroy Park Hotel at 8.30pm on Friday April 21.
Cliona’s Foundation is a Limerick based charity, established in 2007 by Brendan and Terry Ring, that provides financial assistance directly to parents of children with life limiting or chronic complex care needs throughout Ireland, to help with the non medical expenses related to caring for their child.
Following the death of their daughter Cliona, from an inoperable brain tumour, Brendan and Terry set up Cliona’s Foundation, in honour of their daughter. Since its launch, the charity has raised in excess of €1.25 million euro over the past 10 years and provided assistance to over 400 families in 29 Counties.
“We were delighted to get the call that the Castletroy Lions Club had selected Cliona’s Foundation as beneficiary of their Annual quiz.
“Cliona’s Foundation relies solely on fundraising events and private and corporate donations, so this event and the monies generated from it are very important to us, to enable us continue support families who need it,” said spokesperson for Cliona’s Foundation Phil Deegan.
Phil said events like this are important for the foundation, not only for benefitting from the money received but also for the opportunity to raise awareness for the work the foundation does, such as being the only charity in the country to provide this type of support across a broad range of conditions, from birth up to the age of 16 years
The money raised from this event will go directly towards providing assistance to a family of a child with a life limiting illness, to help alleviate the pressure and stress associated with the non medical costs, such as car parking charges, accommodation, travel expenses, childcare costs or specialised equipment.
“This week we were able to send out cheques to 8 families. For one of these families both children have a life limiting illness and are travelling abroad for treatment with one of them. Both parents have taken leave from work and will be incurring significant costs at home and abroad.
“Each year is a challenge in terms of fundraising, and while we are delighted our profile has increased significantly over the past 2 years, that has also meant an increase in the number of applications we are receiving on a weekly basis. Ideally we want to be in a position that we do not have to refuse any family that meet the criteria our support.
“It is the many thank you letters we receive back from families that reinforce for us the need that’s out there, the impact that our support has and the drive for us to continue on our journey,” said Phil.
The Castletroy and District Lions Club is a volunteer organisation that organises fundraising events with every penny raised going directly to good causes in local communities All members of Lion Clubs International are committed to serving local communities.
Tables of 4 are €40 and there will also be a raffle.
With the second annual Further Education and Training (FET) Fair having taken place on Wednesday April 5, as part of the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival, I recently chatted with some adult learners to see how they have benefitted from returning to education.
Kevin, Jay, Ann and Kim are studying on the Personal Effectiveness, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) Level 3 course at the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board’s (LCETB) Further Education and Training Centre at the O’Connell Avenue Campus, and they attended and displayed some of their work at the FET Fair.
The fair gave the learners an opportunity to find information about education and training options in Limerick, to meet and chat with the programme providers and learn more about the full and part-time courses from QQI Level 1 to Level 6 that are available.
Kevin, who left school aged 11, returned to education when he lost his job and found himself on the dole, “I worked my whole life, always lower paid hard jobs. I had no education. I felt it always held me back. When I was going to school the teachers were the bullies, so how are you supposed to learn anything in that environment?”
Kevin met with an Adult Education Guidance Counsellor at the O’Connell Avenue Campus, and decided to undertake the Return to Learn, 6 week Programme. Since then he has attended other day and evening courses and by the end of the summer he will have achieved 5 minor QQI awards and two Security Licences.
“I was nervous at 46 going to school but I found that everybody in the class was in the same situation, early school leavers. If you need a bit of help there’s extra classes here to do, the Guidance Counsellor and tutors are always there to help out if you have any problems.
“I don’t want to ever be in a position again that I have to get up out of bed and hate going to work, I want to educate myself enough so I can pick a job that I don’t mind going to work,” Kevin added.
The class project that was on display at the FET Fair was a traffic light poster, devised by Kevin and each member of the class worked on it as a team building exercise. Red represents the learners feelings before beginning their studies, being stuck in a rut and that life is over. Orange symbolises their discovery of information about courses and going back to school, and the green light represents the learners as they are now, feeling more confident having taken their courses and learned so much, happy, confident and ready to start on a new career path.
Jay, who is in Ireland for International protection, already has a degree in Information Technology, “I needed something to get my mind busy. I find the experience was incredible. I have learned lots of things. If my circumstances haven’t changed I might take in some more courses.
“It’s very friendly from the classmates to the staff. They work with you and check in on how your course is going, if you need any help and lots of extra supports. No matter the level of the course, you are going to learn something. My long term plan is to do a tech start up.”
Ann’s father was unemployed due to a serious injury he received while working on the Docks and later died in his fifties. Ann is from a family of 10 who all left school early to in order to support the family. Having worked since the age of fourteen she is now a carer for her husband.
“Last September I decided to get up the courage to come in and see what they had on offer, that was very difficult. I was scared. It was Maths I wanted to do and spellings. I decided to do three courses Communications, Personal Effectiveness and Maths,” said Ann.
Ann has two children who are college graduates and are working in their chosen careers as a dental nurse and financial advisor and with her son in second year in college she felt it was time to do something for herself.
“We came from the wrong side of the track as they called us in school, in school we never got a chance to develop. My biggest thing to my children is never look down on anyone unless you are helping them up, cause we were looked done on growing up.
“I’m really enjoying it. I’ve got the confidence back. The staff here are very good to us, the tutors are easy going and calm. I’m glad I got the chance, I’m loving meeting everyone else, you begin to share things and see that you are not the only one here that had a difficult upbringing,” said Ann.
Kim also an early school leaver, always intended returning to education but working full time in Tesco’s while rearing a family of four left little time for her to follow her dream.
“I finished up my job last year then I said I wanted to up skill myself. A couple of years ago I did my Junior and Leaving Cert in English. I’m doing 4 courses here now also and I’ve loved it.
“You’d be a bit nervous coming back but you see they are all ages, all levels, they are very friendly in here, they are dedicated to what they do and so obliging the supports are very good,” said Kim.
Kim hopes to continue studying and eventually have a career as a Special Needs Assistant, Healthcare or Childcare Worker.
“I’ve made great friends, you miss that from work. It’s different to going to school, because you decide to come back to education, you want to do it to help yourself and make yourself feel better. I’m delighted I took the step in coming back I plan to stick to it, I’m sorry I didn’t do it years ago it’s a great service,” Kim added.
Limerick Musician and Actress Mary O’Sullivan and her students Heather Small (11) her sister Rachael (9) and Gráinne Lynch (14) from the Redemptorist Centre of Music, were featured in the Ken Wardrop documentary, The Piano Lesson, which premiered at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) Dublin, as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (ADIFF) on Monday, February 20.
Internationally acclaimed, Multi-award winning director Ken, interviewed and filmed a number of Piano teachers and their students throughout Ireland for this unique production, and received an extended standing ovation at the end of the screening from a sold out venue.
“The way it’s shot and the moments that Ken catches are stunning, I think he has got an amazing talent, an amazing eye, he’ll let you see things and then it’s for you to judge how you felt.
“He captured people’s personalities. There’s really funny moments, where there’s the interaction between pupils and teachers, so many different characters, and it was interesting to see how involved parents are at different levels. As a teacher I’ve never gotten to see pupil’s at home, to see the part that music plays and how it slots into their life,” said Mary.
Though this is Mary’s first time seeing herself on the big screen and in a documentary, she is no stranger to the limelight and over the years has combined teaching piano with a flourishing acting career.
In 2015 while completing a Masters in Education and the Arts at Mary Immaculate College, she played Little Voice’s mother, in the College Players Theatre production of, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, at the Lime Tree Theatre.
Mary has studied at the Gaiety School of Acting, and worked as a professional actor in London. In 2010 she won Best Supporting Actress at the All Ireland Drama Festival, toured with Mirage Theatre playing the title part in Educating Rita, worked with Island Theatre, Shoestring Theatre, performed at the Riverside Studios, Edinburgh and London Fringe festivals, toured with College Player’s ‘Metamorphosis’ which won the All Ireland Drama Finals and then went on to represent Ireland at the International Drama Festival in Japan in 1995, and was Musical director when they represented Ireland at the International Drama Festival in Monaco. Mary has also worked on radio and television and composed music for an RTE documentary.
“I don’t like watching myself but you actually saw the real Heather and Gráinne, I was very proud and delighted for them. Heather was so excited, Gráinne so laid back, very natural in the film, they are both fantastic and really talented,” said Mary.
Growing up in a musical household as her mother was a piano teacher and a member of a well known band the Therant Sereneraders, Mary’s first piano lesson was when she was 8years, but from an early age she would have been curious and tinkled on the piano in the family home.
“I hope my students get enjoyment out of the lessons. There is the side where you can decide you want to achieve something at the end of the year which is the certificate, at least you have targets, but at the end of the day it’s a hobby and it’s a talent. The exams are an achievement but also, it’s nice just to be able to go away and relax and play the piano. That they look forward to going to the lessons,” added Mary.
Produced by Andrew Freedman, The Piano Lesson examines the special bond between piano teachers and their pupils, with over 30,000 students in Ireland preparing for exams each year, this funny, sensitive, touching film shows the students as they practice and prepare for exams, their struggles, and their teachers’ dedication.
Ken who studied filmmaking at the National Film School (NFS) at the Institute of Art, Design & Technology (IADT) Dún Laoghaire, has had his films screened at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, the Cork International Film Festival, and at festivals in the UK, Croatia, The Netherlands and Scandinavia.
In 2008, his work received the Grand Prix Award at Sapporo International Film Festival in Japan. His short film Undressing my Mother, won a European Film Academy Award, Special Jury Mention at Sundance and an IFTA for Best Short Film. His Documentary on Circumcision Ouch and Bongo Bong, were both nominated for an IFTA. Farewell Packets of Ten won Best Short Documentary at Toronto. His & Hers, his first feature debut won the Audience award at the Dublin International Film Festival, the Feature Award at the Galway Film Fleadh, an IFTA for Best Feature Documentary and the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2010.
“It was a joy to be involved with this, these are really nice guys and so professional. He is fantastic, with all kens achievements he is such a nice down to earth genuine guy.
“I am really looking forward to the gala night in April, because it was lovely to go to the screening. We will get to talk to the people afterwards and maybe get to know the people a little bit better, because there were some really interesting characters in it, some fantastic kids,” added Mary.