My name is Áine Mc Donnell, I was born on the 9th of June 1976. My parents were very young when they married, I came shortly after – a much anticipated and looked forward to new baby, and the start of a new generation for my parents. I was their first born and the eldest of five children. I live in Belmullet, Co Mayo. which is a very rural, isolated area in the West of Ireland. I live with my parents at the moment but I am hoping in the near future to move into my own purpose built home in my local community.
I was born in Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, and I have Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. This came as a huge shock to my parents, especially my Mother. There were very few scans in those days so it wasn’t known until I was born that I had a disability, my Mother was a young woman and although she trained as a nurse, this did not prepare her for a new baby born with a disability.
I was immediately transferred to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. My Mother often reminisces about my first few months of life and how sick I was. She vividly remembers that she did not see me for two weeks after I was born because of the distance between Mayo and Dublin. I spent many months in Crumlin in that first year undergoing the start of a myriad of surgeries that would be performed throughout my life. My parents have told me I had over one hundred surgeries by the time I was three years old. They have also told me that my story is a story of survival against the odds.
My childhood was one of many hospital visits and medical procedures, but it was also one of happy memories and the knowledge that I was surrounded by a family who loved and cherished me for who I was and for who I have become. I have parents who always wanted the best for me and encouraged me to be the best I could be. My Dad was a teacher in the local vocational school and my Mum was a nurse.
It is because of them and their unwavering support and encouragement that I was educated in the local primary and the vocational school. At 18, I went on to achieve 5 honours in my Leaving Certificate, despite being out for many months due to surgery. School life wasn’t easy and I had to work very hard and had many challenges to face along the way including being bullied for most of my school life, but I strongly believe that as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I had some amazing teachers including my wonderful Dad who encouraged me and brought out my potential. I always loved reading and my parents remarked that I was “reading the newspaper” before I could talk!
I have always had a thirst for knowledge and when I was twelve I found my flair for writing and have been writing since. I first attended college in University of Ulster, Coleraine and then in UCD, Dublin. These attempts at a college education unfortunately did not work out for me for many reasons, however I am also of the believe that there is a calling for everybody and I finally found mine at the age of thirty eight. In April 2014, I participated in a Job Shadow Programme in conjunction with the Irish Association for Supported Employment in the head office of Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA). I worked for a week in the Communications Department with Anita Matthews who is the Public Relations, Communications and Marketing Coordinator with Irish Wheelchair Association. I loved every minute of it and it was then I realised I wanted to work in Public Relations, it was because of this week and Anita’s encouragement that I tentatively decided to give further education another go.
I enrolled in a Diploma in Public Relations with Event Management, it wasn’t without it’s difficulties and there were many times when I became very discouraged and I honestly thought I would never complete it but, I am proud to say that I have now successfully completed my Diploma. I hope to undertake a postgraduate in a few months time, but haven’t quite decided what I will do it in yet.
My family and friends and the wonderful teachers and mentors that I have met along my path of life have shown me that with determination and hard work anything can be achieved.