Monday 21st of March is World Down Syndrome Day, with the theme “What does inclusion mean?” I thought I would share my personal experiences growing up with my uncle Ronan, who has Down Syndrome and talk about what inclusion means to me.
I have 14 uncles and aunties (growing up in Ireland, that wasn’t unusual!) and one of my uncles has Down Syndrome. His name is Ronan and he will celebrate his 60th birthday later this year. Ronan has many things that he loves, including discos, Mickey Mouse (and anything Disney related), Harry Potter, Kylie Minogue, Home and Away, Neighbours, cheesecake, bounty bars, a glass of red wine and having sleepovers at his sibling’s house (those who still live in Ireland).
When Ronan was born, his parents were told that he would probably only live a few years. As the years went by, the doctors stopped commenting about that. When Ronan reached his 50th year there was a big celebration held for him in our home town, with lots of his family flying in from across the globe. It’s amazing to think he will turn 60 this August!
When it came time to go to school, mainstream schools in Ireland in the 1960s did not allow children with Down Syndrome to attend. So Ronan’s father, a factory worker, became active in getting a school set up in the local area for children with disabilities. This school, St Ita’s, is still open today and now educates children who have a mild general learning need.
Ronan has achieved many amazing things in his life. He won the All-Ireland disco dancing championship for people with intellectual disabilities. He has travelled all over the world with different family members and has been on a Mediterranean cruise. He has been to Disneyland in Florida and Euro Disney in Paris.
Ronan received the COVID vaccinations last year and wears his mask. He caught COVID a few months ago and by all accounts really enjoyed being in isolated in his room in the group home he lives in. Ronan does things in his own time, so being able to take as long as he wanted to eat his meals and watch his TV shows was very enjoyable for him.
Ronan is a very social person and is known by all café and restaurant staff in his local area. They all know him by name, and greet him with a hug and a kiss.
Ronan is a man of few words, but he has an impeccable ability to say the right thing at the right time. He is well able to deal with the high jinx that often occur at Quigley gatherings and his go-to phrase, with corresponding finger movements, is “up the yard”. In fact, all members of the Quigley family frequently use Ronan’s other favourite statements of “not again!” and “that was quick”, because they simply and eloquently provide all that is needed to be said.
Ronan is smart and funny and I love spending time with him when I travel back to Ireland. As children, we gravitated more to Ronan that the other adults as he has a calm way about him. He was also (sometimes) generous with sharing his Christmas and Easter chocolate, which he had the ability to keep for months afterwards. The next generation of children also gravitate towards Ronan and I have included a few photos from an Ireland trip with my son and my dad (Ronan’s oldest brother). We visited Ronan at his work, in a supported workshop and we had to wait until he was finished watching the mid-day episode of Neighbours before he joined us for a coffee in the dining area.
When I ask myself, “what does inclusion mean?” I think of how everyone treats Ronan like they treat everyone else. Ronan having Down Syndrome is secondary to Ronan being my uncle. When I asked my Dad what inclusion means to him, growing up with Ronan, he said: “Ronan was always regarded as part of the family and participated in all its activities, this was at a time when many Down Syndrome kids were hidden away. He was a trailblazer”.
I’m very excited to know that lots of Ronan’s overseas family will be travelling back to Ireland for his 60th birthday party later this year. There will be lots of disco dancing, a big cake and plenty of celebrations for Ronan.
“It’s been a real pleasure writing this piece about my uncle Ronan in recognition of World Down Syndrome Day, sharing photos and sharing parts of Ronan’s life with you.”