The Offaly Association for the Mentally Handicapped as it was then named was formed in 1966 by the initiative of three south Offaly men, Peter Campion and Eamonn Stafford of Shinrone, and Paddy O’Reilly of Moneygall.
In the course of their daily business in their own areas, and throughout County Offaly, it had come to their attention that there were many families in great need of help and support. Services of any kind were non existent except in larger centres of population such as Dublin Cork and Galway. They were mainly residential and catered mostly for the severe/profoundly mentally handicapped children/adults, while others with varying degrees of disability had to be cared for by their families in whatever way they could.
As Peter Campion remarked, “we will have to do something”.
The first meeting to set up an association of parents and friends was held in the Marian Hall, Birr on the 23rd March 1966. There was a very large attendance of parents and friends which made it obvious, that there was an interest in, and a great need for the setting up of an organisation to represent people with disabilities and their families.
The meeting was chaired by Jim Dooley Chairman of Birr U.D.C. The guest speaker was Dr Tony Reeves, Co Medical Officer of Health, who gave invaluable assistance to the association in its formative years.
The meeting supported the election of a committee,
Chairman Peter Campion
Vice Chairman Dr. Bridgit Taffee,
Secretary Eamonn Stafford ,
Treasurer Paddy O’Reilly,
Jimmy Byrne Dunkerrin, Mamai Hanley Coolderry and John Lucey Birr were also among the founder members.
In 1966 branches were formed in Shinrone/Coolderry, Moneygall/Dunkerrin, Birr, Kinnitty, Tullamore, Boher and Clara. Coolderry later became an independent branch. Kilcormac branch was formed in 1969 followed by Rath branch in 1974.
The Offaly Association immediately became a member of N.A.M.H.I (National Association for Mentally Handicapped of Ireland) with Mrs Goodbody from Clara being the first delegate to represent Offaly.
Successive delegates have been actively involved with the National Organisation ever since, which is now known as “Inclusion Ireland”, the umbrella for organisations representing people with an intellectual disability.
One of the first ventures of the newly formed organisation, was the setting up of a successful Saturday afternoon play school in the Citeaux Hall which was attended by children from Shinrone, Coolderry, Kinnitty and surrounding areas. Following that, toy libraries were set up in Tullamore and Birr. In time many voluntary recreational activities were provided such as discos, outings, horse riding, swimming and so on.
From the beginning the association built a good relationship with the service providers and the health service; they in turn have provided a good service for people with an intellectual disability throughout Co Offaly.
In the intervening years the association have been successful in lobbying for the provision of educational facilities in primary and post primary schools, also activation centres and community housing. This means that people can live independantly and safely in close proximity to their families and community with the appropriate supports.
It was the vision and sacrifices made by the founder members which laid the foundation for the acheivements of the past forty five years, but there are many challenges and issues to be faced going forward especially in the present difficult economic climate.