Image credit: Anna Buday

Young family carers honoured at national awards ceremony in Dublin

Young carers from across the country have been honoured for their commitment and sacrifice to their families at the Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Awards, held in Dublin on Thursday.

The national awards ceremony was held in The Westin Hotel in Dublin, and was hosted by broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan. 

Colette O’Shea from Lisnagry in Limerick was named the Family Carer of the Year at the awards. Colette is carer for her husband Kieran who has Motor Neuron Disease and frontal lobe dementia. The awards heard how Colette is a tireless advocate for Kieran as they navigate the stress and financial strain associated with the condition. She also cares for the couple’s son Luke (11) who was diagnosed with advanced Crohn’s Disease in 2016, which has necessitated long, regular journeys by bus from Limerick to Dublin.

Colette, also mum to Haydn (10) and Caoimhe (8) wants to ensure her husband and son receive the best care possible in the future to make life as normal and comfortable as possible as they navigate life with the extra challenges of caring for Kieran and Luke.

Four young carers – each described as “remarkable” young people – were also honoured at the event. 

C: Anna Buday

Among these were Sarah Ann Buday (13) from Tuam in County Galway, who has a baby sister with Down’s Syndrome and heart condition, AVSD. Sarah, who loves art, music, and horse riding was named the Netwatch Connacht Young Carer of the Year for going above and beyond for Esther as well as her other young siblings. 

Sarah is an active member of Family Carer’s Ireland’s Young Carer Online Support Group, and has helped the organisation with research into young carers. Family Carers Ireland highlighted Sarah’s achievement, explaining how Sarah was thrilled when her little sister was born – the only girl in the family, Sarah had always wanted a little sister. She plays and reads with Esther every day, as well as helping the 18-month-old with her speech and language therapy and physiotherapy exercises.

Speaking to Gript, Sarah’s proud mam Anna said that Sarah also helped her younger brothers while Anna stayed in hospital for several weeks after Esther’s birth. 

“Once I had to stay in hospital, she pretty much took over the role of “little mom” straight away. I spent a lot of time in the hospital. 

“Sarah was taking care of boys, doing homework’s with them, lunchboxes, and doing the whole morning and evening routine each day. She made sure all was done to end the school year, and also walked Isaac to his very first day of Junior Infants because we were in hospital again. 

“When Esther came home, Sarah was helping with NG tube feeding every day after school. She was always there for me. Now she is just amazing with Esther”.

C: Sarah and Esther with their brothers

Anna explained how she spends time watching speech and language videos so she can help her sister learn. Sarah also learned sign language to communicate with her sister, and has helped her so much with home exercises for Esther’s physio.

“It’s pretty incredible because she does these things with love and great patience”.

Other winners across the provinces included Leinster Young Carer of the Year, Hugh Hillard. Hugh (17) from Clara, Co. Offaly has taken on the role of being primary carer for his sister, Ellen, after his mother passed away in 2020 after being diagnosed with a tumour. Ellen, who has autism, requires a high level of support. Family Carers Ireland praised Huge who has since helped his dad David to get to know Ellen’s routine and how to look after her care needs. 

The Netwatch Munster Young Carer of the Year was awarded to Cara Darmody (12) from Ardfinnan, in Clonmel Co Tipperary, who helps care for her brothers Neil (9) and John (5), who both have severe autism. Ellen has made headlines for calling for improved services for families of children with additional needs and for her stellar fundraising efforts.

Cara, who sat her Junior Cert maths exam in June to raise funds for therapy services for children with additional needs. She made national headlines when she achieved an incredible 97% grade in the exam – and she now plans to sit the Leaving Cert maths exam next year to raise money for essential therapies. She will be supported by Family Carers Ireland, AsIAm, Scoil Chormaic Special School in Cashel and Ardfinnan National School in Clonmel.

Ulster Young Carer of the Year was awarded to 13-year-old Andrew McEleney from Clonmany in Donegal. Andrew helps to care for his brother Jack who is non-verbal, suffers seizures, and has an intellectual disability. Andrew has consistently been there to support and help care for Jack, who requires round-the-clock care.

While the Netwatch Ulster Young Carer of the Year is Andrew McEleney (13) from Clonmany, Co. Donegal who helps to care for his brother Jack, who needs 24/7 care. Jack is non-verbal, suffers seizures and has an intellectual disability.

Family Carers Ireland paid tribute to the teenager. 

“From an early age, Andrew always included his brother in games and activities even when it meant the games had to be changed to suit Jack’s needs,” the group said. “He helps with his daily routine and is always trying to teach him new things. Last summer, Andrew saved Jack’s life by contacting the emergency services and administrating life-saving medication”.

Andrew’s mother Jenny said the family would be “lost” without Andrew, adding that they are immensely proud of the caring young man. 

Netwatch Brand Ambassador, Mick Galwey, said that it was humbling to hear about the efforts of the dedicated young people honoured at the ceremony.

“Everyone nominated for this award has done something special, and is someone special, who goes above and beyond what is expected of them. We have been so humbled today to hear of the many examples where family carers go to extraordinary lengths to care for their loved ones and we are grateful for the opportunity to help recognise and celebrate those individuals,” he said.

Catherine Cox of Family Carers Ireland said the stories exemplify “love, kindness, empathy and selflessness”, adding that it is important that society hears the stories of young carers.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, she said: “Although these awards highlight the remarkable dedication of a few, we’re really honouring all of Ireland’s family carers who go the extra mile every day in caring for their loved ones at home. Their stories are ones of love, kindness, empathy and selflessness. As a society, we must ensure that we listen to those stories, that we recognise the essential contribution made by family carers and that they are truly supported to care safely at home.

“As a charity, we firmly believe that no one should have to care alone. We want family carers to know that they are not alone and that we are here to help them no matter where they find themselves on their caring journey.” 

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