People in Ireland with Down Syndrome and the companies that support them

According to the Irish Down Syndrome Association “Down Syndrome is a common congenital chromosomal anomaly. It is found worldwide. Down Syndrome occurs when there is one extra copy of chromosome 21 in the body.” The association goes on to say “ there are approximately 7,000 Irish people with Down Syndrome, with every one in 444 births being one diagnosed with the condition”. People with Down Syndrome face many stereotypes, so much so less that 6% of the 7,000 people are in full time employment. However, these are just some of the people that are breaking down those stereotypes and the companies that help them:

Thomas Barry – Thomp2 Socks

From an early age Thomas was determined that he could get a job and contribute to his household. His parents knew that with having Down Syndrome and a number of other positions the reality of Thomas getting and keeping a job would be extremely difficult. The family then thought of the idea of Thomas creating his own business. Thomas had always been obsessed with socks, so his dad Finbar thought of the idea of Thomas creating his own socks company. Thus Thomp2 was created. Featuring a range of funky and colourful socks their tagline is “Love Through Socks”. Their socks support Downs Syndrome Ireland and Autism awareness and they pledged to give 5% of any profits to the St. John of Gods. In 2021, they also launched ‘’Mental Health Socks’ available. For every pair of ‘It’s Okay Not To Be Okay’ socks purchased, €2 will be donated to Pieta House.

Amanda Butler – Advocate

To celebrate their 50th anniversary Down Syndrome Ireland unveiled a 60 foot piece of artwork entitled ‘Don’t Talk Down to Me’. The mural was created by artist and activist Joe Caslin. Speaking at the launch, Joe said: “The artwork is Amanda looking down on the world and she is asking you to consider her place within a community, a workplace, and the healthcare setting”, while Amanda said “I am so excited to be part of Down Syndrome Ireland’s anniversary. I am grateful I have been given the chance to shine,”

Fionn Crombie Angus – CEO Fionnathan Productions

“Why can’t a person with Down Syndrome become a CEO?” That’s the question that Fionn and his dad Jonthan asked when they were considering what career Fionn would move into. Now a Social Enterprise Fionnathan Productions is a production company specialising in specialising in media, education and the arts courses. Having interviewed over 600 people, been a guest lecture at more than 30 colleges and having their exhibitions in galleries throughout Ireland, the UK and New York, and being an expert fiddle player Fionn and his father Jonathan created Fionnathan Productions to promote Diversity and Inclusion by showing that someone with Down Syndrome can be successful at running their own business.

Pat Dorgan – Special Olympian

One of Ireland’s most successful Special Olympians, Pat Dorgan has been to several games and collected multiple gold medals in table tennis. According to myspecialneeds.ie “Pat Dorgan has more than lived up to the expectations of his family. The 46-year-old from Cork won two medals for Ireland in table tennis at the 2007 Special Olympics World Games in China and subsequently featured in a national poster campaign for the sport. His brother, the poet Theo Dorgan, composed a poem called My Brother for a pre-Games gala. His sister Angela calls Pat “the glue that holds the family together”. Pat and those high-achieving adults like him are changing the perception of what a person with Down Syndrome can do. It’s a welcome progression, says Angela, from the condescension of old.

Michael Gannon – Author and activist

Now in his forties Michael has been disproving some of the myths around Down Syndrome for decades. Micheal is an author, poet, playwright, community organiser and educator. Having completed three years on the Inclusive Learning Initiative (ILI) course at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, graduating with a Certificate in Personal Learning, Media Studies. Michael was also a member of the inaugural Irish National Advisory Council on Down Syndrome. In 2012, Michael published a book entitled Straight Up, No Sugar. Following this he had his second book A Song For You” published in 2019. Having interned for The Vatican Radio in 2014, Michael was on the organising committee for The Meeting of Families during The Pope’s visit to Ireland in 2018. 

Kate Grant – Model

Kate became the first model with Down’s Syndrome to be named Teen Ultimate Beauty Of The World in July 2018. More recently Kate has become a brand ambassador for Kate then went on to star in Benefit Cosmetics ‘Wing Wing’ campaign as ‘Catwalk Kate’ In 2018 Kate (who has more than 32,000 Instagram followers) appeared on ITV This Morning program, where she model on a catwalk for the first time on TV and then more recently Kate appeared on The Ray Darcy Show, where she saying that one of her 10 goals for 2019 is to raise awareness of people with disabilities through the #differentisbeautiful campaign and meet her hero Cliona Hagan and see Dancing With The Stars. Ray then invited Cliona on to the show who presented Kate with 3 tickets to see her perform in the show the next day. Also in 2019 The Queen of England awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) to Kate for “services to the community in Cookstown” 

Jennifer Malone – Ireland’s biggest sports fan

Ireland’s biggest sports fan, Jennifer first came to national attention in a Gealic Hurling game between Kllkenny and Waterford in 2017, where she comforted a Waterford player after the final whistle while wearing a Killkenny jersey. The sports mad 20 year-old is most associated with being Ireland’s biggest rugby fan. Having met the players frequently at Carton House while they were training. In 2018, Jennifer travelled to Twickenham to watch England V Ireland in the Grand Slam decider. After the victory Peter O’Mahony asked Jennifer to take care of his medal for him, when she went to give it back Peter told her she could keep it. In 2019, Vodafone chose Jennifer as the overall winner of a competition to present a unique match ball to the team before they departed for The Rugby World Cup. The Kildare native has possibly the most impressive collections of sports jerseys in Ireland and has also had the privilege of meeting the likes of Prince William, Hugh Jackman and Rory McLlroy in their visits to Dublin. Jennifer is also a basketball player for The Special Olympics Ireland.

Padriag O’Callaghan – Paudcast

In February 2021 Padriag went viral with hanks to his 60 second ‘Monday Motivation Paudcast’. Missing school, Padriag wanted to do something to keep his mind occupied. His Monday Motivation became his Podcast “Paud-cast”. His dad Brian runs the videos through his companies website ecostraws.ie. Brian told RTE “It’s been phenomenal. We’ve had messages of support from all over the world, quite literally, America, Australia. Reading comments back to Pádraig, he’s a man that loves praise. So when I read back the comments, to see his eyes actually light up in response to his videos, it’s reward enough for me I guess”. Pádraig’s tops tips for staying safe but also upbeat include allowing yourself to make mistakes because “you can’t learn anything from being perfect”, “try and tackle those jobs you don’t want to tackle” and “stay home and keep busy”.

To see more of Pádraig, check out www.Paudcast.ie.’ 

Aimee Richardson – Actress and advocate

The voice of Punky, Punky is an Irish cartoon shown on RTE Jr from Monster Animation studio, which in a first for any cartoon the lead character has Down Syndrome. But this was not an overnight success for Aimee. Having studied acting at Roslyn College before going on to study it further in Bray College of Further Education, Aimee has also starred in films such as The Drummer and The Keeper or voiceover work in many different ads and TV work. In an interview with RSVP magazine in 2018 she said “I love music. I play harp, tin whistle, flute, badhrán, and more recently I picked up the ukulele. We did Electric Picnic in 2017 and 2016 and that went down really well.” before finishing the interview by saying “I think people should look at what abilities you do have and focus on those. Be open to taking opportunities to do things like acting and see what you can do with it.” Aimee is now also working in Facebook Ireland

Molly Ryan – Founder of Molly’s Cards

Two of Molly’s favourite things were being creative and caring for her dog – a Cairn Terrier called Toto. So she decided to combine the two and started to create a cards for people’s dogs. What started off as a hobbie is now a now a small but growing business and with help from her sister Catriona, the Tipperary Local Enterprise Office and their graphic design agency, Cards by Molly’s is now live, with their purpose being “celebrating ability and a love of dogs”. As the say on their website ” Molly is involved in all aspects of the business, she loves folding, packing and sorting the cards, writing notes to customers, going to the post office and checking her social media reports”

Molly’s favourite affirmation is “Wake up every morning and tell yourself I can do this” and you can see how she does this, through her:

– Instagram @mollymadra21

– Website: cardsbymollymadra21.ie

– Or the company was featured in the Irish press, through publications such as RSVP Magazine or Irish Country Living Magazine

Mark Smith – Actor

Mark is an actor who co-created a theatre show based on his life, called Making a Mark. It opens at the Dublin Fringe Festival in September 2019. Making a Mark showcased both Mark’s struggles and successes, and was created with artistic director of Run of the Mill Theatre Aisling Byrne and writer Shaun Dunne. Mark told TheJournal.ie that he is greatly looking forward to people hearing about his struggles so he can “put his story out there”. According to The Irish Times Mark “does indeed have some incredible stories to tell. He won a silver medal at the World Special Olympics in 1999, graduated “on all 14 points” from Maynooth University’s anthropology department, and was Ireland’s LipSyncs Battle champion in 2017. He also holds down two part-time jobs while acting in his spare time.

Katie Troy – Special Olympian

Speaking to Maura and Daithi on RTE 1 Television the presenters introduced Katie as having one simple mantra “I’m a person not a syndrome”. Katie and Leanne were in the same class together in secondary school and Katie told of how she wasn’t treated any differently because of her condition. Katie described how she has four jobs, one in Tullamore Electrical TEF (Tullamore Electrical Factors) as an office assistant, Mucklagh Primary School as an Assistant Secretary, Rahan Primary School with my sister as a classroom assistant and Aura Leisure Centre in Tullamore as a Leisure Attendant and works at her local club GAA Cul Camps. Katie has represented Ireland at the World Down Syndrome Games competing in swimming in South Africa 2004, Taiwan in 2010, Portugal, Italy, America and England. Through The National Down Syndrome Advisory Committee Katie travelled to America to give presentations on what life is like with Down Syndrome and their rights to education, employment and the right to vote. To celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, she presented Maura and Daithi their odd socks campaign, before advocating for increased job opportunities for people with Down Syndrome.  

Mei Lin Yap – Advocate

In 2008, through the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities in the School of Education, she became a student of Trinity College Dublin. Mei Lin told CPL’s blog “The Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities gave me an opportunity to be the MC of their relaunch in May, 2015. This is where I first met Mary Carroll, the Director of Learning and Development in Cpl. Mary suggested that we meet up again and chat about my capabilities and what kind of help Cpl could provide for me.” Having joined other companies such as Epison Mei Lin kept in contact with CPL who assisted her in areas such as job coaching. “Cpl is now an official business partner of the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Cpl invited me to be one of the first graduates to have a placement with them. I am delighted and excited at this opportunity and so proud to be part of their workforce. This is an exciting time for me and I have been made most welcome and feel very included in the workplace.” Having joined CPL in 2017 Mei Lin is still with the company today.

Down Syndrome Ireland

Celebrating 50 years in business this year, the association of people with Down Syndrome in Ireland, they support the more than seven thousand people with Down Syndrome and their families. The more than twenty staff in regional offices throughout the country provide information on down syndrome or advice to families on understanding the condition and helping their loved ones live the most fulfilling lives that they can. Furthermore, they provide training, employment support or advice to employers on employing people with the conditio and lobby the government on supports that are needed to improve the lives of people with Down Syndrome. Through their charity shops and fundraising campaigns they raise money for the organisation as well as implementing programs in the areas of education, employment, sports and other areas to support their user base.

The Down Syndrome Centre

Founded in 2014 by Peter and Mary Gaw, the couple opened the centre (which is a registered charity) due to their frustrations with the services being provided to people with Down Syndrome, like their two youngest children. Their main goal is to create a centre than can gives supports such as Occupational therapy, parental support, after school programs or other therapies such as Speech and Languages classes 

Blue Teapot Theater Company

The Blue Teapot is a multi-award winning Theatre Company, Performing Arts School and Outreach programme for people with intellectual disabilities. According to their profile in Irishtheatre.ie they say “We are committed to high quality theatre, training and the celebration of creativity. Our mission is to effect positive change in public consciousness concerning people with intellectual disabilities through the medium of theatre, allowing our members inherent talent and creativity to speak for itself”. Director of the company Petal Pilley and her team takes people with intellectual disabilities such Down Syndrome and provides acting training, in a supportive and inclusive environment so that the participants can take part in festivals and stage performance such as The Galway Arts Festival which the company regularly part takes in.

The Together Academy

Although a social enterprise in their own right, the Together Academy was born out of The Down Syndrome Centre’s passion for securing employment for people with Down Syndrome. Together Academy’s CEO Therese Coveney decided to respond to the fact that 90% of people with Down Syndrome are unemployed by providing a cafe who mission is to employ people with the condition and train them to work in the industry. The social enterprise came through the Social Enterprise Ireland Ideas Academy, despite lockdowns, and other issues brought about by Covid-19 as they say on their website “Commencing in Dublin in 2021, The Together Academy will be a catering and hospitality based educational college and social enterprise café. It will be designed for a future national roll out to fulfill a huge unmet demand throughout the country.” They’re tagline of “Climb, soar, believe, achieve.” has brought the likes of Neven Maguire to get involved with the participants of the academy.

Run of The Mill Theater

Based in North Kildare, The Run of The Mill Theatre was the brainchild of Aisling Byrne. Run of the Mill’s activities and projects operate from various locations- based often at The Mill Community Centre in Celbridge and collaborating often with St John of Gods Community Services (Liffey Region) towards the delivery of arts based education and training programmes.” Having produced actors of the likes of Mark Smith, the theatre participants have appeared on the likes of The Tommy Tiernan Show, the theatre has continued to train their actors and put on their performance even through lockdown, putting on an online play called “I want to break free from zoom”…something that anyone who had to work from home in that period can definitely relate to!

Blue Diamond Drama Academy

Created in 2016 the company’s website states that “The idea for Blue Diamond began when Dr Anthony and Mrs Susan Walsh witnessed first-hand the lack of opportunities for young adults with an intellectual disability and a talent and passion for drama. In 2016, they established the Blue Diamond Drama Academy to offer students their ‘big break’ and simultaneously change societal perceptions.” Ther two year drama course Their ethos of providing all of our students with the highest quality drama and acting training.  We strive for excellence.” This was seen in their 2019 RTE TV series “showstoppers” which went on to show how the company goes about teaching their students to put on productions of their shows. The registered charity has the likes of Miriam O’Callaghan among  their advocates.

Special Olympics Ireland

Having begun in Ireland in 1978 the organisation now has 8,000 athletes from 15 sports across Ireland The Special Olympics is one of the most inclusive organisations in the country. The volunteers give the opportunity to anyone with an intellectual disability the opportunity to learn to play and become Special Olympics participants. The participants then have an opportunity to join their international counterparts and join The Special Olympics World Summer Games, which takes place in Ireland every four years in different countries. As they mention on their website “Through our sports, health and leadership programmes our athletes learn to be physically, mentally and emotionally fit. They get to learn new skills, increase confidence and most importantly they get to experience the joy of sport and make life-long friendships!”

Enable Ireland

As they say on their website “Every year, we provide services to over 9,000 children and adults with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities in 15 counties across Ireland. Covering childhood to adulthood, our expert teams work with the individual and their family on a plan for each life stage.” Their services include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, social work, psychology, hydrotherapy and access to specialists who can advise on the care of the person attending services.

Enable Ireland is a registered charity with corporate partners like Microsoft Ireland, TK Maxx and Milano Restaurants. The organisation is partially funded by the state, and they require significant support from the public to meet their funding gap. They run annual awareness, clothing donations and fundraising campaigns such as Life With No Limits and Give Up Clothes For Good with TK Maxx. Their network of textile banks take public donations of clothing. They sell preloved vintage and sustainable fashion clothing items, accessories and other goods in their 23 charity shops with all profits supporting the organisation’s vital disability services. They also have two garden centres, an online garden centre and an eBay store.

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