Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sr. Carmel Fallon and Athy's Irish Wheelchair Association

In this the centenary of the 1916 Rising it is a privilege to celebrate another centenary, that of Sr. Carmel Fallon who on 5th February became a centenarian.  I have written previously of the gracious lady, small of stature but big of heart who for the past 81 years has been part of our lives here in South County Kildare.

The future Sr. Carmel was born Carmel Fallon in the parish of Kilchrist, Co. Galway a few miles south west of the town of Loughrea.  She entered the Convent of Mercy here in Athy in August 1935, as did many others from the west of Ireland from the time the Convent opened in 1852.   Sr. Carmel took her triennial vows on 16th February 1938 and three years later her final vows.  Following the completion of her training as a teacher in Carysfort College, Dublin she returned to Athy to teach in Scoil Mhichil Naofa.  Her subsequent teaching career was spent between the girls primary school and St. Joseph’s Boys School. 

Before Sr. Carmel retired from teaching in 1980 she had secured a remedial class and the services of a psychologist for Scoil Mhichil Naofa.  Outside of school hours Sr. Carmel founded a youth club for local girls with the assistance of Sr. Dolores and Sr. Alphonsus.  However it was following her retirement that Sr. Carmel fulfilled perhaps her most important role outside her religious life with the development of the Irish Wheelchair Association here in Athy. 

The Irish Wheelchair Association was founded in 1960 by a small group of wheelchair users who had participated in the first Paralympic Games held in Rome.  In September of that year the inaugural meeting of the Irish Wheelchair Association took place in the Pillar Room of the Mater Hospital Dublin, attended by several members of the Irish Paralympic Games team as well as a number of interested individuals.  It is noteworthy that the founding meeting was held in the Dublin Hospital established by Mother Mary Vincent Whitty, who came to Athy in 1852 to take charge of the new Convent of Mercy and the nearby convent schools. 

The Irish Wheelchair Association was founded primarily to improve the lives of people with physical disabilities by securing equality and access for wheelchair users.  Providing employment and housing for wheelchair users as well as encouraging social interaction were also further aims of the Association. 

The Athy branch of the Wheelchair Association was founded in 1969 when Sr. Carmel and the late Sr. Alphonsus came together with a number of local people.  The local branch provided a range of activities for wheelchair users with socials in Mount St. Marys and summer holidays spent in boarding schools operated by the Sisters of Mercy.  None of this could have been done without the help of volunteers, both male and female, who from the very start devoted their spare time and energies in helping Sr. Carmel in her determined effort to provide services for the disabled.  Amongst those who were involved in the early days of the Wheelchair Association in Athy were Leo Byrne, Lily Murphy, Mary Malone, Mary Prior, Michael Kelly, Bridget Brennan, John Morrin, Tommy Page, Paddy Timoney, Dinny Donoghue, Phoebe Murphy, Caroline Webb, Peadar Doogue, Fr. Lorcan O’Brien and Fr. Denis Lavery. 

The Athy branch of the Wheelchair Association under the leadership of Sr. Carmel was the first branch of the provinces to provide a Day Centre.  The only other such facility in the country was in the Association Headquarters in Clontarf, Dublin.  Teach Emmanuel was developed within the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital and represented a partnership between the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Health Board.

In 1992 Sr. Carmel was appointed President of the National Organisation of the Irish Wheelchair Association and she held that position for 10 years.  Her appointment as National President of the prestigious organisation was a recognition of her pioneering role in the successful development of services for the disabled in County Kildare.  Sr. Carmel retired as National President in 2002.

Looking back over the work of the Sisters of Mercy here in Athy and elsewhere over the years I am struck by the enormous debt we a community and as individuals owe the religious sisters.  Apart from their role in education and their charitable works amongst the needy the inspiring work of Mercy nuns such as Sr. Carmel, Sr. Consilio, the late Sr. Dominic, Sr. Joseph and so many others must surely ensure that the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy will never be forgotten.  Best wishes to Sr. Carmel from a grateful community on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

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