Keeping the family together

By Niall Gartland

BAILIEBOROUGH Shamrocks clubman Mark Gilsenan and his family are dyed in the wool GAA people, but attending matches as a family simply wasn’t feasible until a new sensory room was developed at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan.

Mark’s son Daniel is autistic and non-verbal so he usually had to stay at home with his mother Aisling while the rest of the family traipsed off to matches.

That’s all changed, and for the better, since the new sensory room was officially unveiled in July of last year.

Now Mark, Ashling and their children Daniel, Abbi and Sean can have a proper family day out together following the installation of a safe and secure standalone sensory room for families that have children with additional needs

Mark said: “My son Daniel has issues with sensory deprivation and the new room means we can keep the family together as a unit which is brilliant.”

On the room itself, he said: “Its a standalone area with all sorts of sensory equipment, lights and so on. There’s seats where you can relax, dark curtains you can pull over if the children don’t want to watch the match.

“There’s a railing around it and a gate at the back so it’s safe and secure. There’s seats at the front for anyone to sit down, and there’s a great viewing area of the whole pitch. It’s on the far side of the grounds so you can park in straight behind so it’s very accessible as well.”

The idea was concocted by the Cavan county board’s Health and Well-Being committee, of which Mark is a part. They picked up the Inclusion, Equality and Diversity Award at last weekend’s Ulster GAA awards and Mark explains how the idea of a bespoke sensory room came about.

“Essentially, the Health and Well-Being Committee came up with the idea. We run All-Star programmes which is football for children with special needs and it stemmed from that really.

“It’s important for us that the children have a safe and secure environment. We got some of our local clubs involved, and Kingspan helped out as well on the sponsorship front. We fitted it out but it was very much a collaborative process.”

The sensory room has caught the eye of other counties in the province and Mark sees no reason why it can’t become a more common feature of county grounds in Ulster and beyond.

“It’s not something that takes up much physical space and we’re hoping we can work together with other counties. We’ve now won a couple of awards and Ulster and National level, so it’s getting recognised. Ulster GAA President Ciaran McLaughlin is very interested in it is as well, we’ve spoken at length to him about it.

“Hopefully we can get one installed in every county in Ulster and then progress to the rest of Ireland.”

It’s no surprise that Mark became involved in Health and Well-Being given his own personal background where he wanted the best for his son Daniel. More broadly, it gives him immense sanctification to see kids with special needs able to express themselves on the field of play.

“When Daniel was first diagnosed, I thought if other kids can enjoy themselves down at Bailieborough Shamrocks pitch, then why can’t Daniel?

“I got involved at local level then got involved with Cavan as well, and it’s so worthwhile.

“Every day when we finish our All-Star programme we have a big day in Kingspan Breffni and it’s just wonderful to see 80 to 100 kids and their families out there having fun. They have their own jerseys, their own hats, their own groups and identities.

“We’d a day in Croke Park where they were able to go out onto Croke Park. The kids just love it and the county players are all great lads and some of them come and present medals, and they’re like All-Ireland medals for the kids.

“You make great friends as well and we’ve good relationships with clubs like Crossmaglen and Clann na Gael in Armagh and some Tyrone teams as well. It’s great in that respect, it’s very community orientated.”

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW