An Organisation of Disabled People, for Disabled People, by Disabled People.

The Beginning

In the Ireland of the nineteen forties, fifties and sixties, persons with disabilities were not recognised as full members of society; they were not encouraged to participate in main stream education or to take up employment. It was in these circumstances that a group of disabled people came together to create an organisation to work for and on behalf of persons with disabilities.

The Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland was founded in 1970, but the story of this unique organisation goes back much further; to the births of three remarkable people, in three different counties, drawn together by fate.

Martin Donoghue was born in Cloonrane, Ballindine, Co. Mayo in 1923. He was born into a family of eight and was severely disabled, arms and legs being equally affected. The first six years of his life were spent visiting doctors, specialists and hospitals; all agreed that nothing could be done for him and that he would always require constant care. Nevertheless, he was taught to play the accordion by his family at the age of 4½ years and was educated at home to a high standard. He later studied music, accountancy and business. As there were no opportunities for disabled people in open employment, he earned a living by giving music lessons. He then formed a dance band and again had difficulty convincing musicians that he could make the grade as a band leader; but once again he succeeded and toured Ireland and Britain extensively for several years with his Paramount Showband.

Patrick Grogan was born in Co. Cavan in 1924, one of a family of ten. When very young his family moved to Hollymount Co. Mayo and later to Ballindine. Nobody could have forseen at that time the great impact he was to have on the fortunes of physically disabled people in Ireland and how this man in later life would become a symbol and pioneer in the cause of the underprivileged in society. Pat had been a steward at Knock Shrine for many years and it was there he learned at first hand the problems faced by the disabled; he vowed that given the opportunity he would help in some organised manner. He did not realise that he himself would become disabled, but fate ordained otherwise and he was to devote the rest of his life to a cause to which he was totally dedicated. Patrick was also a musician.

Ann Moroney was born in Renahamona, Flagmount, Co. Clare in 1932. Ann had cerebral palsy, a condition which affected her lower limbs and left arm and she spent many years in and out of hospital. Medical science could do little for Ann, so she was also educated at home. There was no work for disabled people but Ann was not content to sit at home doing nothing and eventually got a job as a machinist and cutter in a garment factory. The wages were not high, but she was doing a useful job and was independent at last.


Getting Together

Now, the parts of the jig-saw began to fit together. Martin Donoghue and Patrick Grogan had become good friends. Martin was a member of the Chip-Up Club in London, a disabled persons club, and he wrote the correspondence page in their bi-monthly magazine. As a result of this he was requested to write a monthly article for a similar magazine in Texas, called the Buckboard Review. This magazine had a worldwide circulation and was aimed a physically disabled people, bringing news of the latest medical discoveries, new appliances, stories of triumph over disabilities etc., Martin learned how other countries coped with the problems of the disabled and how far behind Ireland was lagging in this field.

Irish daily newspapers gave Martin’s achievements considerable cover and one such article attracted the attention of Ann Moroney, who wrote to him. They discovered they had much in common, began to correspond regularly and arranged to meet.

By this time Martin had passed his driving test (this was in the late fifties and only physically disabled people or persons driving public service vehicles had to take a test). Ann and Martin were married at Knock Shrine on Easter Monday 1964. Because it was the first wedding of its kind in Ireland, it received much publicity in the newspapers and was featured in the news programmes on radio and television. They were guests on the Late Late Show the following Saturday night.

Prior to this, Patrick Grogan and Martin Donoghue had left their respective jobs to work for an organisation catering for physically disabled persons and now Ann Donoghue became involved in the work. They had discussions with many disabled people living in various parts of Ireland, and it became evident that there was a great need for an organisation which would be controlled by physically disabled people. What had surprised all three was that nobody had made an effort to start such an organisation. When they put this to some people who were high up in charitable organisations they were told that such an organisation would not work, because it would be necessary to have the brains and brawn of ablebodied people. This was regarded by all three as an insult to disabled people everywhere, and it made it abundantly clear why disabled people were not promoted to high office in their own associations.


DDAI is Founded

The formation of an organisation which would be operated and controlled by physically disabled people became an urgent priority with Martin, Ann and Pat. They invited a number of people; Kevin Regan (Gort, Co. Galway), Harold Grimes (Ballinrobe), Martin Forde (Galway), Richard McDonnell (Castlebar), Paddy McHale (Ballycastle, Ballina) and Pat Flannery (Castlerea) to assist in the formation of such an organisation.

In 1968 Mr. Jarleth Ruane, Solicitor, Claremorris, was requested to draw up the Articles of Association for the new Association so that it could be registered with the Department of Industry and Commerce as a charitable organisation. The stage was now set for the founding of the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland. The seven subscribers to the Memorandum of Association were: Martin Donohue, Patrick Grogan, Martin Forde, Patrick Flannery, Kevin Regan and Kathleen Lally. Witness to the signatures was Maire bean de Burca. All were physically disabled.

The Association was founded at a meeting in the Town Hall, Claremorris, Co. Mayo on Sunday, January 25th 1970. The following officers were elected: Martin Donoghue (Chairman); Patrick McHale (Vice Chairman); Pat Grogan (Treasurer); Kathleen Lally (Secretary); Martin Forde (Public Relations Officer). Committee: Richard McDonnell,
Pat Flannery, Michael McGarry, James Riddell, John Cooley, William Rushe, Kathleen Coffey. The Most Rev Dr Cunnane, Archbishop of Tuam, became patron of the Association.

The Committee decided that the Association must press for full open employment at a proper wage for all physically disabled people who were willing and able to work; (at this time disabled people could not access employment in the normal way, the only employment available to them was “sheltered employment”). In keeping with this decision, it was agreed that only physically disabled people would be employed in the association or in any fundraising. £100 was urgently required to get brochures and stationery and this was offered as a loan by Kevin Regan. A site was purchased by Christopher Grogan, Ballindine, (a brother of Pat) and donated to the Association. Later the Association purchased a further 5½ acres adjoining this site. A fundraising team was set up to collect money to finance the various projects, not least of which was the building of headquarters, workshop and training centre. A newsletter edited by Martin Forde (who would later serve as Chairman for a time) was published to keep members informed of what was happening in the association and of their entitlements.

That first year saw many achievements. The Automobile Association agreed to give members a free breakdown service. The Association Crest was accepted by the Garda Authorities as a symbol of accessibility, allowing the holder to park in an otherwise restricted area in towns and cities; this was the forerunner of the present day European Disabled Person’s Parking Card. A deputation from the Association met with senior officials of the Department of Health and put a number of proposals to them: that all taxes on cars purchased by physically disabled motorists should be recoverable; that the means test in so far as it applied to relatives of disabled people in receipt of disability pensions be abolished; that all disabled people on disability pensions or other low incomes should be entitled to free T.V. licences, free travel on public transport, free electricity and where severely disabled people were residing alone they should be provided with a free telephone . It was also requested that people in receipt of a disability pension should be allowed to earn an amount equal to their pension and that parents of disabled children should get a weekly allowance from infancy, to maintain such children at home. Some of these concessions were conceded within a few months, others over succeeding years.

During that first year the Association also found time to teach members to drive; help and advise members on all aspects of driving and car adaptations; set up social clubs in Galway and Castlebar; set up sports clubs and help many members get into open employment.

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