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May 2019
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2013-06 Surely you should care&

James column for the Sligo Weekender

When Phil Coulter penned "Remember Me" especially for The Celtic Tenors in our founding year, it spurred me on to further explore his treasury of songs&"The Town I loved so well", "My Boy", "Steal Away" etc. However one song in particular stood out above the others for a variety of reasons, and had a huge impact on me when I absorbed the lyrics "Simple child, he looks almost like the others but they know he's not the same  Scorn not his simplicity but rather try to love him all the more".

North-West Parents and Friends Association (Charitable Status CHY 7369) may not boast the catchiest or most memorable of names, but I challenge anyone to question the indelible mark the organisation has made in its forty year existence across the north-west, and its immense impact on adults and children (pre-school to end of life) with intellectual disabilities and special needs in the Sligo/Leitrim area.

The Celtic Tenors were more than happy to be a part of a fund-raising concert next month (July), and in so doing further raise awarness of this inspiring organisation, founded in 1963 thanks to the sole determination of one mother desperately searching for help for her `special-needs' son. "NWPF is a voluntary organisation providing person-centred services for children and adults with special needs and their families" (Mission Statement).
"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear, and the blind can see". (Mark Twain)

To my shame, I was unaware of NWPF until just a few months back, and entirely unaware of the extensive day-care and pre-school services, community group homes, special schools, vocational trading units, and special-needs workshops.

Speaking with Evelyn Carroll (NWPF's Services Manager) over a relaxed Americano at Sligo's "Great Southern", I was quickly made aware that for many service-users the several specially-fitted and expertly staffed residences in Sligo and Leitrim have become a true `home' for the residents. Bedrooms even become personalised. In some cases it is just not possible for some special-needs service-users to reside in their own homes, and so, essentially these NWPF `homes' become their life.
While NWPF costs are partially funded by the HSE, much much more is needed on a daily basis in order to enhance their second-to-none services, to provide transport, upgrade existing buildings, to say nothing of supplying social activities, day-trips and holidays.

Almost without exception these structures have been entirely built thanks to tireless voluntary fund-raising. Fund-raising is also responsible for two new fully-equipped classrooms at Sligo's Holy Family Pre-School, all-weather playgrounds and multi-sensory rooms.

Sixty-seven staff (caring, nursing, psychiatric, teaching, admin,and drivers) look after the medical, educational, recreational, social and emotional needs of around 200 service-users. Activities include arts and crafts, music, organic farming, computers, woodwork, cookery, horse-riding, swimming,etc.

"Every child is gifted, they just unwrap their packages at different times".(Anonymous) There are residences, special schools and care centres in Ballytivnan, Cleveragh, Rathedmond, and Strandhill Road in Sligo, as well as in Carrick-on-Shannon and Drumshanbo.

In Baltinglass in Wicklow (where I actually live) there is a wonderful day-centre called "The Lalor Centre", again which almost entirely depends on fund-raising in order to exist. For the services-users in Baltinglass and the surrounding area I have witnessed first-hand how the day-centre has become a vital daily lifeline for them.

I wonder how many people in Sligo are even aware of the inspirational work done by Evelyn Carroll and her vast dedicated team at NWPF. Due to the present climate, and in order to protect the identity of the service-users and their families, sadly I am unable to share with you any individual stories, but suffice it to say there are forty years-worth of endless moving life-changing testimonials. Check out some of the personal testimonials on or call on 071-9143358 or email

Then again, you could always come along to the Radisson Blu in Ballincar at 8pm on Saturday July 27th and hear The Celtic Tenors singing for NWPF, thus supporting this great local cause. Tickets are available from the hotel, the Record Room (Grattan Street), Toolans Newsagents (Ballisodare), Tighes Newsagents (Ballymote), Mulvey's Newsagents (Carrick-on-Shannon), or at the R.S.W. in Cleveragh (the NWPF Sligo HQ).

Funds from this concert will go towards constructing a purpose-built respite facility in Carrick, for kids and adults with special needs. We need a full house in order to help this local cause in a real way. "He won't ask for your pity or your sympathy, but surely you should care". ("Scorn not his simplicty").