The Tour de Munster is back in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland
Helen Kelleher meets one mum who will be saddling up in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland this week
SEVEN-year-old Caoimhe Hurley will wave her mum Aislinn and her godparents Eleanor and Kevin Fennessy off on Thursday, August 6, as they join some 120 others to participate in the Tour de Munster, a 600km, fourday cycle across the province in aid of the Munster branch of Down Syndrome Ireland. It is the 20th annual Tour de Munster, which raises vital funds and awareness for Down Syndrome Ireland as well as individual beneficiaries.
Caoimhe is Aislinn’s third child — Conor is 15 and Eimear is 13 — so it is a busy household, but despite this, Aislinn has managed to squeeze in lots of training for this mammoth charity cycle, which has raised over €3.1m for children’s charities since it started in 2001. It is her second year participating.
When Aislinn found out that Caoimhe had Down syndrome, she remembers going into “a kind of overdrive”, after the initial shock, trying to get as much information as possible.
She says Down Syndrome Cork was a huge support. “Just meeting other mums in the beginning and getting the right information and accessing the services these children need is so important,” says Aislinn.
Early intervention is the key to giving these children the best chance of going to mainstream school and ultimately becoming independent, she points out. “Thankfully we were able to get Caoimhe the help she needed early on with Down Syndrome Cork. Caoimhe attended speech and language therapy when she was just a few months old and physio classes with COPE when she was just two years old.
“We are very lucky that Caoimhe doesn’t have health issues so she has thrived as she has gotten older. I feel if we had not had access to these services early on she might not be where she is today. It has really helped her in so many ways.
Aislinn says funds are desperately needed now to keep these services going.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Munster branches of Down Syndrome Ireland have seen the majority of their funding events cancelled over the past number of months. Branches have said they are facing increased costs as they prepare to reopen their centres to enable some regular one-to-one services, such as occupational and speech and language therapies, to take place.
Aislinn says there is a huge fear among parents of children regressing. “I know there are parents in a lot worse situations than ours and I want to speak for them too. For Down syndrome children, in particular, their whole life is their routine so having that disrupted as a result of Covid-19 has been very difficult for us all”.
Caoimhe attends her local mainstream school, Watergrasshill National school. “She loves it there and hugely misses it at the moment. Every activity has obviously stopped for her and she greatly misses her gymnastics and her dance and sport, but most of all just meeting her peers. She has had absolutely no routine and no therapy and no activities since March (Caoimhe is a member of Special Olympics club Rebel Rockets, Watergrasshill Athletics Club, and Carrigtwohill gymnastics).
“The only exposure she has had was July Provision in the last few weeks, whereby a teacher comes to our house to do a few hours work each week,” explains Aislinn.
If it was not for this, Aislinn says she would have had serious concerns about Caoimhe going into first class in September.
Since 2001 the Tour de Munster charity cycle has raised over €3.1m for a wide range of children’s charities, including €2.6m for the Munster branches of Down Syndrome Ireland since they became the main beneficiary of the Tour in 2010.
Tour founder Paul Sheridan said fundraising for children in need is more important now than it has ever been.
“Like many things we were unsure if the Tour de Munster could take place in a physical format this year but no matter what, we were still going to do our very best to raise as much funds as possible for these amazing young children and adults with Down syndrome. With restrictions lifted, we are delighted to be able to hit the road again with increased safety measures in place. It’s evident how extremely difficult Covid-19 has been for those with Down syndrome and the six branches of Down Syndrome Ireland across Munster and we want to do as much as possible to raise funds and awareness.”
This year’s Tour will start in Cork City. Cycling legend Seán Kelly will once again be taking part (this will be his 14th time participating). The Tour will start from City Hall on Thursday morning and make its way through Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick, Clare, and Kerry before returning to Cork on Sunday, August 9. The organisation receives no state funding — everyone who participates in the Tour de Munster has to pay their own way, as well as raise sponsorship and pay for their own training.
It was Caoimhe’s godparents, Ellen and Kevin Fennessy, who first got involved in the Tour de Munster in 2018, spurring Aislinn to get involved last year. Aislinn said the support from her local community, friends, and family has been amazing. She raised over €3,000 last year. She is a member of The Hill Cycling Club and runs with Watergrasshill Athletic Club, but said a lot of training for the Tour was done on her own as the clubs are only now getting back together.
“It has been a tough few weeks’ training trying to get my fitness back up to get through the four days. I miss the structure of the club and it was just harder because we were training on our own.”
It is Eleanor and Kevin Fennessy’s third time doing the Tour. “It is wonderful to be a part of it,” says Eleanor.
“Each year it is wonderful to witness the reception we all get from people in the different towns. We greatly admire the work tour organiser Paul Sheridan does and obviously what Down Syndrome Ireland do. We have been friends with Aislinn and Paul for many years and we see how difficult it can be. I know they worry about the future and about accessing services.”
Eleanor says it is so wonderful to see her goddaughter Caoimhe doing so well and to see how she has benefited from the services to date.
Deirdre Saul, interim chief executive of Down Syndrome Ireland, says the fantastic support from Tour de Munster over the past 11 years has made life-changing differences to those with Down syndrome in Munster.
“We are very grateful for everyone’s support. The pandemic has meant that children and adults with Down syndrome have been unable to attend regular face-to-face appointments. Repetition is key for those with Down syndrome to enable them to keep progressing and improving their daily lives, so it has been really difficult. Having been unable to attend these services as a result of Covid-19 has been very difficult both for children and adults with Down syndrome, as well as their families.”
■ For more information and to donate please visit tourdemunster.com or find it on Facebook.
‘Fundraising for children in need is more important now than it has ever been
Clockwise from main: Eimear Hurley and Caoimhe Hurley with Maeve Goggin, Watergrasshill, at the end of the 2019 Tour de Munster on Patrick’s Hill; the Hurley family at the 2019 Tour de Munster cheque presentation; and Aislinn Hurley on her saddle in Cork City during last year’s Tour.