One of the great success stories to come out of Athy in recent decades was that of the Irish Wheelchair Association Branch founded in 1969. Its later development necessitated the involvement of many locals, all of whom willingly gave of their time and expertise to Athy’s branch of this fine organisation. One such person was Peadar Doogue whose name over the years has become synonymous with that of the Irish Wheelchair Association. The genial banjo player from Avondale Drive first came to prominence locally after he picked up the rudiments of banjo playing from the late Percy McEvoy of Carlow. As a young lad while working in Perry’s, Peadar was a guest player on the Asbestos Factory Show put on in St. John’s Hall in the early 1960s. Fr. Joe Corbett, the local curate, organised annual Shop and Factory Variety Shows as a fundraiser for the new St. Michael’s Church and by all accounts these shows were enjoyable and important cultural events in which there was huge involvement by locals, young and old alike.
Peadar, who now admits to having been able to play only three tunes on his banjo at that time, sufficiently impressed the late Denis O’Donovan, Pat Hannigan and Maurice Shortt and he was asked to take part in a K.A.R.E. concert which they were putting on in the Grove Cinema. He protests that his performances had nothing to do with the subsequent demolition of St. John’s Hall and the Grove Cinema!
Peadar’s musical talents were soon thereafter harnessed for the benefit of the local Wheelchair Association branch members and from then onwards he was forever to be linked with the Wheelchair Association. As a volunteer worker he joined the numerous other local volunteers who helped Sr. Carmel Fallon in her pioneering work for wheel chaired persons. Fundraising was Peadar’s major contribution to the Association and he recalls with justifiable pride his involvement in the Árd Rí campaign of 1984 when he was elected to represent his native county of Kildare in the National competition. Sponsored walks held a particular interest for Peadar and he organised local groups throughout Leinster and beyond to meet the ever increasing financial needs of the Association. These very successful events in which radio personality Donncha O’Dulaing participated were later extended to include an annual international sponsored walk. The first trip abroad was in 1986 and Peadar participated in the following year’s event and in every subsequent annual overseas walk. The list of countries in which he has participated in sponsored walks over the last 24 years is highly impressive and ranges from Brazil to China and almost every country in between.
The charity fundraiser extraordinaire worked for 29 years in John Perry’s Garage and in September 1992 took up full time work with the Irish Wheelchair Association. As a fulltime fundraiser his abilities were thereafter to be wholly devoted to the cause of the Association to which he had committed as a volunteer for the previous 20 years or so.
Peadar was initially responsible for fundraising in counties Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford but over time his remit extended to all the South Eastern counties, as well as the Midland counties as far north as County Longford. Organising local groups and supporting them in their work was a key element of Peadar’s role and his marked success in that regard was a major contribution to the growth of the Irish Wheelchair Association. The local branch opened its Day Centre, Teach Emmanuel, in April 1988 and its ability to cater for upwards of 20 wheelchair members each day owes much to the work of its wonderful staff and the many volunteers who help the Irish Wheelchair Association in so many ways.
Peadar has played a major part in the continued success of the Irish Wheelchair Association and especially its Athy branch. The very first fund raiser, a draw held at Christmas 1969, brought in the sum of £190 for Sr. Carmel’s dedicated team of workers. Today the annual turnover of the Irish Wheelchair Association which operates 65 centres throughout Ireland is in the region of €60 million. The drive, initiative and pleasant persuasiveness of Peadar Doogue and his colleagues have made the difference to an organisation which provides such important facilities for wheelchair bound persons.
Peadar Doogue, now aged 65 years, has reached retirement age and will now be reverting to the voluntary role within the local Wheelchair Association which has been so much part of his life for the last 40 years or so. To mark his contribution to this great organisation the members and staff of the Irish Wheelchair Association have organised a retirement party for Peadar which will be held in Athy Golf Club on Friday, 1st April. Contact Catherine Conlon at Teach Emmanuel if you would like to attend what will surely be an enjoyable night. Peadar promises to bring his banjo and assures me that he has extended his musical repertoire which however will always include his all time favourite - “The Sash”.