A young man inspired by the dedication of his sister, who became their mother’s main carer at the age of 10, is set to highlight the plight of Ireland’s young carers during an endurance test that will take in Co Donegal – and a climb of Mount Errigal.
Brendan Tonry (30) an Army private from Drumfin, Co Sligo believes there are thousands of children around the country who are part of what the Carers’ Association describe as “an invisible Army” who quietly care for seriously ill parents , with little or no outside help.
“My own sister Denise was just 10 when our father Patrick died in 2001”, explained Brendan. “My mother was heartbroken when he died and could not cope. She became very depressed and the situation was compounded by epilepsy and serious physical health issues. In her despair she turned to alcohol.”
Brendan, a civil engineering graduate from IT Sligo, returned to the Institute for the launch of the “Dare 2 Care” Challenge, a gruelling 10 day endurance test which he hopes will highlight the plight of young carers, while raising €10,000 towards providing supports like “pamper days” for them.
Tourism & Event Management students at IT Sligo have helped to organise the challenge which starts on April 1stnext when Brendan, his brother Aaron, a Limerick-based teacher, and four friends will set out on a 550 kilometre cycle through the six counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon , Galway and Mayo, climbing the highest mountain in each county on the way. “We are lucky that Truskmore is the highest mountain in both Sligo and Leitrim – so we have only five peaks to climb,” said Brendan.
The group which also includes Jarlath Monaghan, an electrician, from Coolaney, Co Sligo, Denis Flynn, from Drumfin , and Ross Barrett, from Cork , both members of the Defence Forces based at the Curragh, and James Neary, a Garda and native of Grange, Co Sligo, will camp out each night.
Rosaleen Doonan, Sligo-based area manager with the Carers Association welcomed the opportunity to highlight the issue. “It has been estimated that there are 25,000 young carers in this country,” said Ms Doonan. “What we don’t have is research into the situation in Ireland and that is badly needed if we are to properly address the issue”.
She said that while “caring” was very healthy when it involved bringing in turf for Granny or helping with the washing up, very young children can end up carrying a much heavier burden when parents, became incapacitated for a variety of reasons.
“It can affect schooling, and indeed lead to social isolation for children if they can no longer get to football training, music lessons, or meet up with friends”, stressed Ms Doonan.
Brendan Tonry stressed that parents, like his mother Mary who passed away in 2006, would never want to put the burden of caring on their children. “My mother was a lovely woman who wanted the best for all of us but unfortunately through circumstances she could not control, Denise ended up in that situation” he said.
The money raised through the Dare 2 Care challenge will go towards providing supports for young carers such as “pamper days” and the setting up of social networking outlets which will allow them to stay in touch with their friends and other carers.
After seeing the documentary “Children in Charge” on RTE television in November 2010, Brendan realized his sister’s experience was not unique and he decided to do something to help other children in the same situation.
IT Sligo lecturer, Joanna Sweeney, said the project was a classic example of students being involved in the community while also getting invaluable practical experience. “The students are delighted to help Brendan and the Carers Association on such a worthy project and by helping to market and organise the challenge they are getting invaluable experience in event management,” she added.