Wexford's Able-Disabled celebrates its 30th anniversary
From humble beginnings Wexford's Able-Disabled has thrived for the past 30 years
Wexford's Able-Disabled celebrated 30 years of exceptional service to the public recently.
Founded by Tony Murphy, Niall Walker, Angela O'Gorman, Joan Sweeney, David Clancy and Mary Kelly the club first opened its doors in November 1985 having being officially opened by the then Mayor of Wexford Gus Byrne.
Able-Disabled provides sporting and recreational facilities for mentally and physically challenged people of all ages in the county meeting every Monday night in Coolcotts Community Centre.
In the 1980s the management committee of Saint Joseph's Boys and Girls club ran a very successful youth club which, for many young people, was the social event of the week. Lots of friendships were formed at the youth club nights which have endured to the present day.
The committee also set up inter-club exchanges with various different youth clubs including the Arch Club in Enniscorthy. At the time the Arch Club was unique in that it catered for the needs of mentally and physically challenged people in the community.
The committee of St Joseph's were very impressed with the Arch Club and saw the need for a similar club in Wexford town. It was from this that Wexford's Able-Disabled Club was formed with the aim of providing sports and recreational facilities for mentally and physically challenged people of all areas in Wexford town and the surrounding areas.
The club was named by Youth Club member Michael Sweeney and the club's symbol took its inspiration from the name and depicts an equally balanced scales showing an able bodied person and a physically challenged person. This is to symbolise that the club believe everyone is 'able' and should be treated equally.
Just three years after its inception, in 1988, Wexford's Able-Disabled won the national Cospoir award for involving mentally and physically challenged people in sport which was the highest award achievable at the time.
Since then the club has grown from strength to strength and now have over 90 members.
Founding member Niall Walker has been involved with Wexford's Able-Disabled for almost two thirds of his life. 'I was 17 years old when I became a founding member of this fantastic organisation. It was one of the first places I brought my wife on a date, my children have grown up with the club and are on very friendly terms with all the members. I see it almost like an extension of my family.
'Working with the lads over the years I can only describe it as being the most fulfilling work I have done to date. The gratitude and appreciation expressed by the members is second to none and I always get a sense of total enjoyment walking into the club every Monday night.
'Over the years we have lost many close friends and I think about them all and the memories especially as we celebrate our 30th anniversary. The many life long friendships that have come about due to people's involvement with the club is another very rewarding aspect of our organisation. When a member passes away we share their families' grief as we are grieving ourselves.
'It has been a fast and enjoyable 30 years and I look forward to many more to come. From our humble beginnings back in 1985 to where we are today tells a story in itself. I was recently asked what i would see as my biggest achievement to date and, of course, I replied Wexford's Able-Disabled Club.'
Niall who is also the club's honorary secretary thanked all the members for allowing him to be part of the club's history.
Another founding member, Tony Murphy, said he was one of 14 siblings growing up. He said he was all too aware of the prejudices that people with a physical disability face on a daily basis as one of his brothers had a physical disability. 'As a result of this it was my mission to help and support my brother to become a valued member of society which he already was.
'I got involved with St Joseph's Youth Club and I encouraged my brother to become involved with them also. He did join and he never looked back due to the friendships he formed with the other club members, friendships that lasted until the day he died.'
Tony said that Wexford's Able-Disabled Club was formed to formed a 'safe and comfortable environment' for physically and mentally challenged people 'where they could express their thoughts and feelings in a meaningful manner.
'Originally, we met with scepticism and fear from parents of the targeted group, but through perseverance and hard work we achieved our goals. I've been working with the physically and mentally challenged now for over 30 years. During this time I am proud to say that the members of the Wexford Able-Disabled Club have accepted me with all my faults and failing, we are now friends.
'During this time, I have endeavoured to pass on my experiences of life and my knowledge to the benefit of the members, but in reality, I have learned so much more from them. My 30 years have all been done in a voluntary capacity. My reward is personal especially when I see the faces of my friends whom society has deemed challenged as they achieve wonderful things in their own way.
'As for myself I will continue to fight for the rights of all people with disabilities. The battle is immense and on several fronts, adequate funding, respect, understanding their needs but above all helping them to achieve their full potential and place within Irish society.'
Tony said he considers Wexford's Able-Disabled as one of his biggest achievements to date. 'We still face many obstacles with no permanent home for the club but to my dying breath I will ensure the club will celebrate its 50th anniversary as a fully functioning and active club.'
Able-Disabled member Claire Meagher spoke of the need for continued fundraising to keep the club up and running. 'The club needs a lot of money to run it because if we didn't have donations then we would not have a club to go to. I enjoy going to the club because it makes me a happy person inside and outside. It has been part of my life for 18 years and it will be forever.'