Domhnall Flynn, from RehabCare Dundalk, spent the past year putting pen to paper, and has now published his autobiography, a book described by a family friend as "a handbook for how to negotiate life when you have special needs". This is the story of Domhnall's fantastic achievement ~
Domhnall’s book, titled ‘My life story so far’, is a collection of vivid memories and personal achievements, detailing Domhnall’s childhood in Dundalk, numerous celebrity encounters, starring in an RTÉ quiz show, and his years attending RehabCare. Domhnall says, "During the first lockdown, everything was shut down, including my RehabCare centre, but Gerard from RehabCare and the other staff called to visit me on Thursdays." It was during these outreach visits that the staff suggested to Domhnall to document his life story. He says: "I started writing a bit each day during lockdown and it just grew into a book. At times it was difficult, but I enjoyed it and my Mum kept me going by checking my spellings. Gerard, my support worker, always asked how it was going when he rang me or called to the house."
One hundred pages of stories later, the book was published, with congratulations coming in from far and wide. Domhnall says: "I have a very big family and they are all proud and delighted for me. I have a mild intellectual disability, mostly speech and language difficulties. I live with my parents Anthony and Josephine and I have 2 brothers and one sister. RehabCare Dundalk and the horticultural centre are a very important part of my life now. Gerard, Sandy, Paudi, and all the staff supported me when I was writing the book. A friend of my Dad's, who is a writer, described it as a funny, moving, rollercoaster of a story".
The book delves into Domhnall’s happy childhood, however, as a child born with a cleft palate, he says he was frequently misunderstood. "The teachers and pupils found it hard to understand me, and I found it hard to concentrate. All the other pupils would try to guess what I was saying and shout out to the teacher, which was loud and funny. All the teachers were very kind to me and one teacher, Miss O’Hanlon, used to give me extra lessons after school. I stayed at Bay Estate School until I was about 10 years old, when it was decided that I would cope better at St. Brigid’s Special School in Dundalk. On my last day, my teacher Mr Dullaghan asked everyone in my class to sing a song to say goodbye to me. Instead all my classmates started to cry because I was leaving."
RehabCare Support Worker Gerard Roe has been working with Domhnall for 20 years and speaks of Domhnall’s determined spirit. "I asked him if he was interested in going to college. He said that if his siblings were able to go, then ‘Why can’t I?’
All he would want is reassurance that his place in the RehabCare centre, with his friends, would remain. I think this autobiography is a fantastic achievement. He had a teacher that gave him extra lessons, staying with him after school to help him learn to read and write. This book is because of that teacher, it’s because of his family circle, it’s because of the community. It’s a personal achievement for Domhnall but I can also say that all those people are the pieces of the jigsaw, and they have helped make this masterpiece of a jigsaw."
Gerard says, "Domhnall has an exceptional memory, he had all these stories of his life in his head." Domhnall recalls, "My Granny Murphy used to say that if she could buy me good language and speech, I would be the cleverest in the family because of all the information I keep in my head. One of my favourite stories from the book is the one where my brother was watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire with me. He didn't know it was a repeat and that I had memorised the answers. He thought I was a genius because I had won £500k."
He says, "I can't imagine what my life would be like without RehabCare. Since I was 18, I have attended the centre and the horticultural centre and lots of my school friends also attend it. We do so many activities like snooker and football. Gerry always encourages me to try new things and he has been a great influence on me and my friends over the years. The staff set us achievable goals, and they all have a great sense of humour and fun. The years since I started have flown by because I have so much enjoyed RehabCare. Without RehabCare to attend, I would have just been at home with my parents searching for ways to fill my days."
Domhnall has a positive outlook on his future goals. He says, "I am attending Southern Regional College in Newry doing a catering course as I love cookery and different foods. When I finish the course, I hope to get work in catering one or two days a week. I did work experience in a restaurant which I loved, so when Covid is over that would be great to get back there and still attend RehabCare a few days also."
Domhnall has asked for a charitable donation from anyone wanting a copy of the book, with over €1,200 collected so far, and will present a cheque to his local St. Vincent de Paul service in June. He says, "I wanted to give the money to a charity we knew helped people suffering from poverty. When I donate the final amount, it will all go to helping families in my local community, the Dundalk area."