Irish nurse finds her calling helping terminally ill children find a peaceful ending – Irish Examiner, August 3 2017

A 23-year-old UCC medical graduate, Sinéad Keane is part of a foundation helping terminally ill children in Vietnam, writes Amy Lewis

When medical intervention is not a viable option for a gravely ill child, palliative care is key to making their final days more comfortable. Thanks to a small team of dedicated volunteers in Vietnam, hundreds of terminally ill children are living out their final days in a loving and peaceful environment.

Kerry-born nurse Sinéad Keane is one part of this group of volunteers that form the NGO Little Feather Foundation. Established in 2013 by Ella James and Kate Loring from Australia, it has grown into a team of seven who are keen to make a difference. Despite their various backgrounds and nationalities, they all have one aim in mind: To provide and advocate for palliative and hospice care for terminally ill children in Vietnam.

Sinéad, who has been involved in the group since 2016, found herself working with Little Feather Foundation by chance. Having left her demanding nursing job in Cork to travel and teach English, the Tralee native stumbled across a Facebook post seeking a volunteer nurse in Ho Chi Minh City. She landed the role and now volunteers in the foundation’s government-run centre five mornings a week.

“Most of the children I work with have a condition called hydrocephalus which is caused by the build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Unfortunately, for a lot of them, their condition has gone too far for treatment so we just provide basic comfort measures and whatever other care they need,” explains the 23-year-old UCC nursing graduate.

A typical day for Sinéad sees her providing care and company to approximately 20 severely ill and disabled children alongside another nurse from the organisation.

“We arrive in the morning after the children have been bathed by their nannies. There are bouncers for all of the kids which allow them to sit up while we massage and comfort them. We use baby oil and moisturiser to prevent their skin from becoming dry and Vaseline to keep their eyes clean. A few of them have really bad pressure sores so we also provide healing measures for them. But, for example, one child has two very bad sores and for the past eight months we have been trying to heal them. Because he is towards the end of his life and is really malnourished, they aren’t going to heal so we just have to try to prevent them from spreading,” she says.

“In cases like this, you want to think you are helping but sometimes it can be stressful.”

Advocating for the children is another important role carried out by the nurses, who must communicate with the full-time staff in the centre to ensure children’s needs are met around the clock. “If a child is in pain, has a temperature, or has digestive issues, we communicate with the nannies and nurses in the centre regarding the provision of adequate relief from the symptoms. Because children with hydrocephalus are more prone to these problems, providing relief from these symptoms is extremely important in our role as palliative care nurses,” explains Sinéad.

In November 2016, Little Feather Foundation introduced a ‘hospice from the home’ service, which sees their nurses pay regular care visits to terminally ill children in their homes. These children, who are usually living in extremely rural and poverty-stricken communities, would otherwise struggle to receive the medical care that they require.

“Our first visit came about when our head nurse was doing a trek in rural Vietnam. She told somebody in passing that she works with a charity for children with hydrocephalus and a woman in her group mentioned a child with the condition in her community,” says Sinéad.

“Since then, we have been helping to take care of her. After we initially assessed her, we brought general things like a bouncer and pain relief. We also brought a high-calorie formula to prevent her from becoming malnourished as a result of her digestive problems.

“Once a month, a nurse goes to visit to check how she is doing and also, to see if there is anything that the family needs. From the family’s point of view, it’s great that they have some support. They know that they are not forgotten about and that they have someone to talk to.”

While Little Feather Foundation is equipped to deal with a wide array of illnesses, it is predominantly working with children with hydrocephalus. The prevalence of this condition in Vietnam, which causes the head to swell and leads to a host of physical and neurological problems, is believed to be a lasting effect of the dispersion of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Between 1961 and 1972, the US military sprayed some 12m gallons of this dioxin-containing chemical across Vietnam to remove dense foliage that provided enemy troops with cover and food. It was later linked to health issues such as tumours, rashes, psychological symptoms, cancer, and birth defects, spanning generations. Vietnam Red Cross estimates that, since the war ended in 1975, around 150,000 Vietnamese children have been born with birth defects due to dioxin found in Agent Orange.

While hydrocephalus cannot be cured, its symptoms can be greatly reduced with medical intervention.

“With proper treatment, their heads do not have to grow that much. Unfortunately, the healthcare system is so behind here that the children don’t always get the necessary treatment on time,” says Sinéad.

Working with the Little Feather Foundation is a far cry from Sinéad’s previous role as a nurse in Ireland, where she felt constantly exhausted due to long hours and lack of staff.

“Since being here, I have learned that I love providing nursing care. At home, you don’t provide care, you are just running around trying to get all of the jobs done. You don’t have time to be with patients. Now I’m spending all of my time with kids, one on one, reading, and talking to them, comforting and taking care of them.”

Her role is not without its challenges. “We want to make more of a difference here but it can be very difficult when there are no palliative care guidelines or auditing in the country. There’s nothing to keep the standards high,” says Sinéad.

“The nurses here also have different views on how problems occur. Some of it is down to superstition. For example, some nurses think if a child has a pressure sore, it’s from milk falling on their head. They don’t think it is from not turning the head enough. It can be difficult to try and communicate these things with the nurses, especially with the language barrier, but thankfully we have a translator.”

In order to provide children with medicine, pain relief, and comfort devices, Little Feather Foundation relies on donations. While this can sometimes add to the pressure of the team’s daily work, overall, they have been astounded by the generosity of people around the globe.

“For the most part, our work is extremely positive and you feel like you are truly helping. There are challenges and it is an uphill battle when it comes to trying to change big things. But if you keep it simple and keep in mind that you are helping the kids, that is the main thing,” says Sinéad. “We know that we are helping when we can see them smiling. Or when they start crying and and you lift them into your arms and they go to sleep, you feel like you are helping in that moment.”

(First published in the Irish Examiner on August 3, 2017. Available online at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/irish-nurse-finds-her-calling-helping-terminally-ill-children-find-a-peaceful-ending-456235.html)

 

Four travellers who aren’t letting their disabilities stop them from seeing the world – Zafigo.com, July 26 2017

Even the best laid plans can go awry, and if regular travellers inevitably face that while trotting the globe, imagine how much more difficult it is for those with disabilities. But, as these four bloggers/YouTubers and intrepid travellers share with us, it’s no reason to not explore the world.

Dilara Earle and Justine Eltakchi @ The Pickle Sandwich

Dilaraand Justine of THe Pickle Sandwich in Madrid (Photo Credit: Instagram @ ThePickleSandwich)

Dilara and Justine of The Pickle Sandwich in Madrid (Photo Credit: Instagram @ ThePickleSandwich)

Jet-setting duo Dilara Earle and Justine Eltakchi are shining a light on accessible travel through their hilarious and thought-provoking YouTube channel, The Pickle Sandwich. The duo joined forces after meeting through AirBnB. Justine, an Australian, is legally blind while Dilara, a Scottish, is profoundly deaf. Since then, they have travelled across Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Scotland together, documenting their adventures as they go.

“We want to raise awareness through sharing our experiences and through comedy. If one person out there realises not to walk away when talking, or not to downplay our disability when we’ve explicitly told them that it’s real and it’s serious, then I’ll be happy!” says Justine when asked about their goal.

Dilara and Justine in Spain

Dilara and Justine in Spain (Photo Credit: The Pickle Sandwich)

Biggest challenges “I have to prepare my equipment really well,” Dilara shares. “I need a million chargers and adapters to make sure I can recharge all my batteries on the road. I also have to try and remember to tell reception to come and get me if there is a fire.”

Recommended destinations Though unable to pinpoint a place that ‘has it all’, Justine and Dilara find that anywhere with big signs, warnings on the walls, step railings and good lighting are easier to get around. Streets that have lots of street art and musicians playing are always going to be easy on the eyes and ears! The secret to it is the locals though. If the people are willing to help you out and reach out to make your day easier, we never forget it,” says Dilara.

Top tip “Your disability can be a healthy part of your identity! The deaf culture and community is amazing, for example. But don’t let it define you. Let your curiosity and love for the world define your experiences of life instead,” says Dilara.

Jeanne Allen @ Incredible Accessible

Jeanne at the Alpine Meadows. (Photo Credit: Facebook @ Incredible Accessible)

Jeanne at the Alpine Meadows. (Photo Credit: Facebook @ Incredible Accessible)

With limited information about accessible travel online, planning a trip can be a feat in itself for someone with a disability. Jeanne, who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 30 years, learned this prior to visiting Chicago several years ago, when it took hours of online research and phone calls to concoct the perfect itinerary. “When it was over, I was about to throw away the itinerary that I spent hours putting together and thought, this is crazy, I could share this with others. So, I decided to start a blog,” explains Jeanne.

Biggest challenges On day one of her ongoing 66-day European trip, Jeanne was presented with one of her greatest challenges yet. “Upon landing in Oslo, the plane crew couldn’t find my chair. It was eventually found but the right arm with the controls was dangling off the side and it was broken,” recalls the US native. “Fortunately, it was still drivable but I had to bend forward so it wasn’t very safe.” Jeanne quickly took action by filing a claim and making contact with the wheelchair manufacturer. “They tracked down a manufacturer in Scandanavia and miracle of miracles, things were set into motion. A day later, the repair man drove to Oslo and fixed my wheelchair on the spot.”

Jeanne’s experience didn’t dampen her spirits but rather, gave her a renewed appreciation in the kindness of strangers worldwide. “While waiting to get my chair fixed, our hotel was tremendous. They found zip ties and duct tape and used them to bring the armrest to the right level. They then propped an umbrella under the armrests to keep them upright so I was going around Oslo with an umbrella across my knees. I felt like MacGyver!”

Kayaking lesson with Allie Ibsen at Achieve Tahoe (Photo Credit: incredibleaccessible.com

Kayaking lesson with Allie Ibsen at Achieve Tahoe (Photo Credit: incredibleaccessible.com)

Recommended destinations Having toured the United States (US), Canada and now Europe too, the city of Victoria, Canada currently tops her list of accessible destinations. “Our hotel there had something I had never seen before. My husband went to the room before me. By the time I got there, he was grinning at me like a Cheshire cat. He handed me the key card and said to open it. I did…the door automatically swung open, and stayed open long enough for me to roll in with my scooter.”

Top tip Plan in advance and be specific with your hotels about individual needs. Using all available tools is also a message that Jeanne tries to spread. “We all hate the idea of disability and giving in to it. But once I did, I found life so much easier. For example, I recently got a van ramp which allows me to travel completely independently,” she explains. “If the tools exist, don’t resist them. They really will change your life.”

Cory Lee @ Curb Free With Cory Lee

Cory and his mother on a hot air balloon ride over Israel (Photo Credit: )

Cory and his mother on a hot air balloon ride over Israel (Photo Credit: curbfreewithcorylee)

Despite being diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at age two and getting his first wheelchair at four, Cory has never allowed his disability to restrain his wanderlust. “I started travelling at a young age in the US and that sparked my love of travel. I never saw any limits, even though I use a wheelchair on a daily basis,” he says. “When I was 15, I took my first international trip to the Bahamas. It was the first time that I saw a different culture and way of life and I decided that I wanted to go much further. I have since been to six continents, with just Antarctica to go.”

In 2013, Cory set up his blog Curb Free with Cory Lee to share his adventures with friends and family. He documents his experiences in faraway and unusual places, from hiking through the Amazon rainforest to soaring over Israel in a hot air balloon. Before long, he was being featured on the likes of Travel Channel and Lonely Planet. “People have contacted me to say that my blog has inspired them to travel to Africa or Israel. Some are travelling for the first time. For many people with a disability, it can be hard to get out of your comfort zone and go abroad. When I go out to different places and write about them, I’m testing the waters for these people,” explains Cory.

Cory in the Blue Lagoon (Photo Credit: curbfreebycorylee.com)

Cory in the Blue Lagoon (Photo Credit: curbfreewithcorylee.com)

Biggest challenges While Cory’s posts are brimming with positivity and snaps of enviable locations, he remains honest about the challenges that he faces. Air travel can prove particularly problematic and on several occasions, he has arrived at his destination only to discover that his wheelchair was damaged. “I’m always worried about it being damaged but I try to have a backup plan. It is important to know of wheelchair repair shops in any place you go to,” he advises.

Recommended destinations “Australia was great; Sydney in particular was spectacular. I could ride every ferry, see every attraction and all of the restaurants were accessible. Iceland also really surprised me. The Blue Lagoon even had a special chair to get into the water,” he says. “Also, the people in Iceland were really friendly and willing to help.”

Top tip Cory is constantly thinking about his next destination and when it comes to accessible travel, he believes planning is key. “Start planning as far in advance as possible. Reach out to other wheelchair users that have gone to the destination. Look for blog posts and get that first-hand perspective.”

(First published on Zafigo.com on July 26, 2017. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/travellers-who-arent-letting-disabilities-stop-them-seeing-the-world/)

I survived a bus crash in Vietnam – Zafigo.com, July 11 2017

Vaccinations? Check. Passport? Check. Visa? Check.

After months of route-planning and preparations, the countdown is over. My boyfriend and I are ready for our long-awaited backpacking trip around Vietnam and Thailand, and everything is finally sorted. But I soon learn that no matter how organised you are, or how many travel guides you skim through, there are some things that you just cannot prepare for.

It’s day four. We have just checked out of our room on Cat Ba island, and laden down with backpacks, make the sweaty trek to the bus stop. Our next stop is Hoi An, where we will finally experience the vibrant lantern festival that I had been gazing at online for months.

Before my trip, people had warned me off mopeds, drinking tap water or swimming at certain beaches. But buses? Nobody mentioned them. As far as I am concerned, the bus is safe territory.

I throw my heavy pack underneath the now-packed coach and settle into my seat, sandwiched between two couples at the back. “This is going to be a cosy ride,” I think to myself, as I wave at my boyfriend who is perched beside the driver. Except it was anything but.

Within several minutes of rolling off the car ferry, the deafening honk of a horn suddenly drowns out my music. I had been in Vietnam for four days and know that car horns are basically background music here. So I choose to ignore it…until it grows louder, more urgent, more frequent. I try to steal a glimpse out the window but the dated curtains conceal my view.

And then I feel it.

The powerful force that hit the left side of our bus and sends it crashing over. Beeping is replaced by screaming and the screech of steel against concrete as we toss and turn, like a blender full of bodies and luggage.

Some say that when you’re in an accident, life flashes before your eyes. But the only thing I have running through my mind at that moment is, “This is where I die…”

When we screech to a halt, I look around to find absolute carnage. Broken glass. Crying children. Blood. I still don’t know what had happened when, leg throbbing, I clamber out through the emergency exit. The heat is the first thing to hit me. Then reality. A huge articulated truck is responsible for knocking us off track and sending us sliding for about 40 metres. Looking back, it’s a wonder that we all survived.

Other passengers find their way off the bus on their own or in the arms of another. Some are much worse off than others. A distraught man screams for help as he crouches over his unconscious, blood-soaked wife who he soon lifts into a hospital-bound taxi.

I find my boyfriend and hug him close, speechless but relieved that we are alright. Soon, we too are rushed off to hospital, where we are surrounded by doctors and nurses, speaking to us in an unfamiliar tongue while examining every inch of our weary and shaken bodies.

Several hours of prodding and broken conversations later, we are discharged with two souvenirs: A swollen purple leg for me, eight stitches for my boyfriend. In our torn and blood-stained clothes, we make our way to the nearest hotel and await word about our luggage.

We spoke long into the following nights, questioning whether we should continue our trip. In the end, we decide to keep going. The following six weeks are a struggle as we lug bruised legs and egos around Asia. Yet, choosing to get back on the road is the best decision we ever made.

Before our accident, I felt invincible and to be honest, took many things for granted. The accident, albeit terrifying, brought me quite literally crashing back down to earth. For a while, I became cautious, too afraid to try anything that felt even remotely dangerous. Those feelings soon cleared, making way for a sense of understanding, an understanding that some things in life are outside of our control. But we shouldn’t let this stop us from living. If we can’t always be in the driving seat, we might as well sit back and enjoy the view.

(First published on Zafigo.com on July 11 2017. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/survived-bus-crash-in-vietnam/)

Lending a helping hand – the path to recovery from an eating disorder, Irish Independent, March 1 2017

An estimated 200,000 in Ireland suffer from an eating disorder. Amy Lewis looks at how the path to recovery can affect friends and family members.

As Eating Disorder Awareness Week rolls around for another year, we are once again reminded of the statistics: an estimated 200,000 people in Ireland are currently suffering from an eating disorder.

Jacqueline Campion and her mother Marie
Jacqueline Campion and her mother Marie. Photo: Jacqueline Campion.

Yet, the figures do not take into account the many parents and other carers who are fighting a daily battle to help their loved ones through recovery. These people do not seek or need awareness, rather they need knowledge, support and better services for their loved ones.

Dublin woman Paula Crotty is one such person. Her journey began three years ago when she first noticed signs that her 20-year-old daughter was developing an eating disorder.

“A few months before we realised she had a problem, she had said that her mood was low and she had gone to her GP. When we realised she was having trouble with an eating disorder, we talked to her but the decision to get help had to be hers as she was over 18,” she explains.

Paula’s daughter (now 23) sought treatment and was later admitted as an inpatient in a public hospital in Dublin. After almost a year, she was discharged and the family were told by hospital staff that they had done all that they could to help her. However, concerned that her daughter was still critically unwell, Paula and her family fought to get the treatment that she required in the Vincent’s Square Eating Disorder Centre in London where she remained for 10 months.

“We went to visit her at least every other week. We had family therapy and meetings with the medical team. It put a lot of extra strain on the family but we felt like something had been done. She didn’t come back better but she certainly came back stronger,” she says.

For Paula, getting this specialist help was the difference between life and death for her daughter, who is still taking each day as it comes but is now home and back in university.

“The services in Ireland are extremely limited,” she says. “People are dying every year as a result of eating disorders. If I were relying on the healthcare system here, my daughter would have been one of them a year and a half ago.”

Paula added that it is extremely important for parents in similar situations to look after themselves and communicate honestly with their other children.

Recent figures from the national eating disorder association Bodywhys show that 47pc of calls come from concerned parents and friends, while 16pc of emails come from the same group. However, carers come in many forms.

“Eating disorders don’t discriminate. They affect everyone from every background, sex, race or age,” says Trish Shiel, clinical manager of the Eating Disorder Centre Cork (EDCC). “We’ve had mothers with grown children; we have people coming with their partners.” Trish recommends the same approach for all carers: have compassion and try to understand the illness.

“The most important thing is to get as much education as you can on it,” she says. “You also need to separate your loved one from the illness so that you aren’t seeing the behaviour as the person. This is a full-blown mental health condition. The person may be functioning but they are still going through an incredibly difficult time.

“Carers also really need to mind themselves… A carer can become obsessed with the illness and burn out.”

When a carer becomes invested in a person’s recovery, it can often cause conflict within a family. Debbie Howard (34) from Bangor, Co Down, has witnessed this, both on a personal level and in her role as a psychotherapist specialising in eating disorders.

“I had an eating disorder when I was younger and the services here were pretty awful at the time. I was treated in London as an outpatient. I would fly over every Wednesday for therapy,” she explains.

“Throughout all of that time, my mum and dad had nowhere to go. They had no idea what to do with me… They would shout or beg or plead or try to do anything because they were so scared.”

The feeling of fear among carers is understandable. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. However, despite reality, Debbie says it’s important not to be forceful. “The more you force things, the more you are pushing them away,” she says. “I would bring it up by saying ‘you don’t seem like yourself’. Then they might think, ‘maybe I could talk to them about this as they are not shouting and judging and telling me what to do’.”

In light of her own journey, Debbie also advises carers to help their loved one to find a therapist that they are comfortable with, saying that this is what saved her.

Years after her own recovery and after she became a psychotherapist, Debbie and her family discovered a programme in London for carers known as the New Maudsley Model. This skills-based programme is used worldwide to help carers understand eating disorders and support their loved ones. They received training from the facilitators and began to offer the course through their Caring About Recovery from Eating Disorders (CARED) organisation. Though based in Northern Ireland, CARED can facilitate courses throughout the country.

“The courses help carers to think about and treat the illness in a different way,” says Debbie, who is chairperson of CARED. “If their loved one had cancer would you shout and scream if a tumour isn’t shrinking quick enough?”

Just as cancer takes many forms, so too do eating disorders. Despite having suffered from an eating disorder herself and working with clients with eating disorders as a therapist, nothing could prepare Marie Campion (62) for her daughter Jacqueline’s illness.

“It is very different to be a therapist and a parent,” says Marie, founder of the Marino Therapy Centre. “As a parent, you go straight to denial first.”

Marie also wondered if she had influenced Jacqueline’s eating disorder. However, instead of blaming herself, she applied the techniques that helped her own recovery, encouraging her daughter to talk about her feelings and reassuring her that recovery is possible.

“This language of freedom is about teaching the person that they don’t have to always live with the illness. It’s about believing in recovery,” she says. She adds that it is important to understand that disordered eating is a symptom of an internal distress, rather than the primary issue.

Now fully recovered and working as an eating disorder therapist alongside her mother, Jacqueline (27) credits this language of freedom as a huge influence in her recovery.

“The reassurance from my parents that this illness was temporary really helped me,” she says. When Marie was unwell over two decades ago, she was told that she would have to cope with her illness for life.

“Nowadays people are still told that. We constantly talk about awareness. Everyone knows what eating disorders are. What we really need is awareness about recovery,” she says. Through their work at the Marino Therapy Centre, Marie and Jacqueline aim to spread this message.

Meanwhile, others are also helping improve the situation. Bodywhys continues to offer support and group therapy, both to carers and those experiencing an eating disorder. In collaboration with University College Cork, EDCC recently completed a study on GPs’ knowledge of eating disorders and the findings will be published later this year.

Inspired by her own family’s experience, Paula has organised for eating disorder expert Gill Todd to come to Ireland in April to hold an updated version of the New Maudsley workshop.

Supported by Bodywhys, if successful, it is hoped that they will adopt and run the course regularly.

“I encourage anyone in the same situation to come along, meet other parents and carers and know that they’re not alone,” says Paula.

(First published in the Irish Independent newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/life/family/family-features/lending-a-helping-hand-the-path-to-recovery-from-an-eating-disorder-35490752.html)

Fireworks will be watched by 20,000 people – Wexford People, October 29 2016

A total of 358kg of fireworks will be launched into the sky for this Wednesday’s fireworks display – and at a cost of €15,000, it certainly won’t be a night of cheap thrills.

Two vanloads packed with over 2,000 individual fireworks coupled with the work of over 100 volunteers are behind the spectacular sight but in the end, it will all boil down to the 12-minute display.

The speeches kick off at 7 p.m., and organisers expect 20,000 pairs of eyes on the sky when the fireworks display begins at 7.30 p.m.

All of the fireworks are Chinese in origin, with creative names to fit the nature of the festival to follow. Popping flowers, silver spinning serpents and red and silver comets are just some of the creatures due to dance across the dark canvas of the sky. The display will combine the exotic with a taste of home, as plenty of green, white and gold designs will also be featured.

Supplier Pat ‘KC’ Whelan of Nationwide Fireworks has once again been tasked with ensuring the opening ceremony is a roaring success. His main piece of advice is to come early.

‘People should arrive early, find their spot and make themselves comfortable,’ said Pat.

Those who listen to Pat’s golden advice may save themselves a euro or two as for the first year, there will be free car parking at Ferrybank beside the council carpark.

This has been put in place to ensure that cars are not parked on the road beside the bridge.

As a family event, Pat encourages people of all ages to come along to the display, but no matter how close you are with your canine companion, he strongly advises people not to bring dogs. Drones are also a no go on the night.

‘If people have drones, we ask them to leave them at home. If they bring them, there is a great danger of them crossing over the fireworks and hitting someone in the crowd,’ said Pat. ‘Last year, there were a number of drones going around so we have to warn people not to bring them.’

The organisers have covered every aspect of safety to make sure the event goes off without a hitch. Fifty stewards will be on hand around the town to assist anyone in need on the night. Wexford Civil Defence, Order of Malta, Wexford RNLI, MarineWatch, Gardaí and Wexford Fire Service will also be on board. The fireworks will be launched from the protective arm and ballast bank and to ensure safety, an exclusion zone will be erected around both sites. It will also be closed to marine traffic from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., while Irish Rail will hold a train at the station to cooperate with the display.

There will also be a medical plan in place in the incident of any emergencies. Thankfully, Pat said that this is something that they have never had to resort to.

Weather is something that can’t be prepared for but according to Pat, the forecast shows Wednesday to be a clear night. Rain, hail or shine, the event will still go ahead.

‘The only thing that will stop us is gale-force wind coming into the quay,’ said Pat.

With everything in place, all that’s left for visitors to do is find parking. All of the carparks in Wexford will be open to the public, with some disabled spaces opposite Wexford Credit Union.

Finding a viewing spot is very much a personal preference. While some people enjoy watching from Wexford bridge or Ferrybank, others get a view from a distance at spots such as St Peter’s College, Mulgannon or Rosslare.

With the countdown officially on for the night, the town is buzzing with excitement. And despite organising the display for over 30 years, Pat himself is as eager as the rest.

‘I’m like a big child. I haven’t grown up!’ he said. ‘I have been doing it for years and it’s still as exciting as ever.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/fireworks-will-be-watched-by-20000-people-35157955.html)

Horeswood native Sarah Cleary brings a taste of Rocky Horror back home – Gorey Guardian, October 15 2016

Fishnets, corsets, streamers and party hats are all part of a day’s work for Horeswood native Sarah Cleary and the aim of her game is to bring people into her wacky world.

As the organiser of the country’s many Rocky Horror Picture Show productions, Sarah’s current day job is a far cry from office work or a teaching stint but every bit as hectic. With the countdown to Halloween underway, preparations are in full swing for this year’s shadow cast productions.

First stop will be Wexford Quay, where the Spiegeltent is set to come alive with the weird and wonderful world of the Rocky Horror Picture Show this Friday. With only days to go, Sarah is hoping that the Wexford audience is as prepared as she is.

‘The shows combine a film screening with live acting but it’s not just a show for people to sit and watch. We want complete audience participation. We want the people getting up on their feet and using the props we supply and we encourage them to throw rice, toast and streamers at the stage,’ explained Sarah.

‘There are absolutely no holds barred when it comes to Rocky Horror. Fancy dress is more than encouraged and everything and anything is welcome. We encourage people to take on new personas so that they can get whipped up in the atmosphere.’

‘It’s the most crazy surreal experience you can imagine to watch an entire audience take on various characters.’

This year marks the third time that Rocky Horror has rolled into Wexford and owing to previous success, Sarah is looking forward to bringing the madness back home.

‘I have to say that the first time we put it on in Wexford, I was apprehensive doing it in my hometown. I am a very proud Wexford woman and didn’t want to let the side down!’ she said. ‘I was blown away with how involved people got and how willing they were to participate in the show. I have to applaud the people of Wexford for that. Hopefully it is the same this year.’

Sarah’s rise to Rocky Horror revelry began eleven years ago, when she approached the Sugar Club in Dublin with the idea of putting on the Rocky Horror Picture Show. An avid fan of the film, she longed to recreate the events once held by the Classic Cinema in Harold’s Cross before it closed down.

‘I have always loved the film and decided Dublin needed it back again,’ she explained. ‘I put it on to test the waters but I never planned for it to be so successful. The first night, we sold out. Eleven years later, I am performing three or four shows around the country.’

Over the years, Sarah has discovered just how many Rocky Horror fans are in the country and the lengths that they will go to get involved in one of the live productions. What is it that makes the showings of cult classic such a hit?

‘I think one of the reasons is that it’s a release valve. Whether you are a doctor, a lawyer or a journalist, everyone needs to let off steam. Rocky Horror is a very safe way of doing so,’ explained Sarah. ‘It is similar to burlesque and other such communities that sometimes people are reluctant to get involved in because they feel they are exclusive. Rocky Horror, on the other hand, is every man’s dress up.’

‘I think ultimately we are creatures that want to seek out fun and Rocky Horror is the epitome of letting your hair down and enjoying yourself.’

While others are letting their hair down, Sarah will be curling hers up as she takes on the persona of Janet for the production. She describes taking on the character as a fun but strange experience.

‘I am quite tall with long blonde hair but for the show, I have it curled up to be like Janet so people never make the connection between us when they meet me later on. Also in real life, I tend to wear clothes,’ she laughed. ‘On the stage I am essentially running around in my underwear but I have gotten used to it. All shapes and sizes are celebrated in the show; it isn’t an environment where you need to be perfect.’

When the clothes are back on and the show is all over, Sarah has plenty of other things to keep her busy. In the real world, she is otherwise known as Dr Sarah Cleary, having gained her PHD in Controversial Horror and Children’s Censorship. She now lectures part-time in Trinity specialising in Gothic Studies and English Literature. Along with working in the academic environment, she also runs her own events including the Horror Expo which will be held in Freemason’s Grand Lodge in Dublin in the coming weeks.

But as night falls this Friday night, all responsibilities will be parked aside as Sarah makes her transformation, which is guaranteed to take a lot more preparation than a night in the Stores.

‘As Dolly Parton once said, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap,’ she laughed.

(First published in the Gorey Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/out-about/horeswood-native-sarah-cleary-brings-a-taste-rocky-horror-back-home-35119888.htmlhttp://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/out-about/horeswood-native-sarah-cleary-brings-a-taste-rocky-horror-back-home-35119888.html)

Taking Centre Stage – Bray People, September 10 2016

In part one of this special report, Amy Lewis looks at Wicklow’s role in the film industry – who works in it, what it means for the garden County and what can be done to improve it.

Wicklow has served as the backdrop for hundreds of big-name films and TV series and the county has certainly reaped the rewards.

It is estimated that the film industry is worth €70m to the Wicklow economy. However, Wicklow Film Commissioner Vibeke Delahunt reckons that the reality is much higher.

‘Unfortunately there is a lack of data available. We have heard very conservatively that it could be worth about €70m every year but I think it is much more,’ she explained. ‘The industry has a huge ripple effect across the county and its services.’

Following the construction of Ardmore Studios in 1958, more international and homegrown producers began to flock to the county. Recognising the county’s potential in the world of film, Wicklow County Council looked to our neighbours in the states for ideas on to harness it and allow it to flourish. The result was the establishment of the Wicklow Film Commission in 1992 – the first of its kind in the country.

‘Because Wicklow was unique in Ireland with Ardmore, and now also with Ashford, it was felt by the county manager at the time that setting one up would be good for economic development and promoting Wicklow.’

The Wicklow Film Commission’s roles include promoting the county as a film location, liaising with filmmakers and providing them with various services and facilities.

‘We have had up years as well as down years such as in the 1990s and even after 2000. But in the last five or six years, production based here has gone up,’ said Vibeke, who added the opening of Ashford Studios and additional Film Factory at Ardmore means that production is going up all of the time.

Wicklow’s long showreel of films includes ‘Braveheart’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Excalibar’, ‘The Guard’, ‘Dancing at Lunasa’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, while TV shows ‘The Tudors’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘Ripper Street’, ‘Mooneboy’ and ‘Raw’ have also used Wicklow as their stage. There are a number of reasons why film and TV producers flock from across the globe to Ireland’s Garden County.

‘Rich tax incentives here have a lot to do with foreign productions filming here,’ she explained. ‘They also need to work out of a studio and we have the main two in the country here. Wicklow also has well-trained, experienced and talented crew, along with a wide range of locations that can double up for other places in Europe. All of these elements come together and that is recognised internationally.’

It’s a case of a lot done, a lot more to do. The Wicklow Film Commission is currently working at addressing any skills gaps by consulting with people in the industry. A recent introductory course to ‘hairdressing on a film set’ marked the beginning of this. It saw twelve trained hairdressers get to grips with working on a film set under the instruction of Vikings hairdresser Dee Corcoran.

Developing Wicklow County Campus at Clermount by expanding the number of film-related courses on offer is the next step in addressing these skills shortages.

‘We are looking at different sectors at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have been told by people in the industry that we need more trained people in props, model-making, prosthetics and electricians for example.’

‘There’s also a lot of work we could do for schools to incorporate film into the school curriculum.’

Another welcome move is the application for expansion at Ashford Studios.

‘We are very excited about Joe looking to expand and we support him in his work. It’s great to have a local man looking to develop infrastructure which we badly need. They are turning away work because they don’t have the space,’ she said.

‘There are a lot of interesting projects at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have ‘Into the Badlands’ and ‘I Killed Giants’ filming at the moment.’

(First published in the Bray People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/braypeople/news/taking-centre-stage-35026806.html)