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Mary Jo McEvoy
I'd love him to meet someone


Mary Jo is mother of Michael, 46, a member of the Destined group


“There was no help then,” says Mary Jo, without any hint of rancour. “It’s just the way it was. People didn’t know then what they were dealing with. Now they’ve a name for it – ‘learning disability’. There wasn’t then. Years ago, they just put them away. But I wasn’t going to let that happen.

 “I had a younger daughter who was obviously developing quicker than him, toilet training and so on. But there was an attitude, ‘Sure he’ll be grand – just give him time.’ Even the doctor told me girls are sometimes faster.

“At the start, if I’m to be totally honest. I didn’t want to accept it – couldn’t, either, for a long time. But as soon as I did accept it, it became easier and went out looking for every bit of help I could get.

“My husband was in the American navy, so we were able to get an appointment, through the US embassy, with a Harley Street specialist. He recommended I should get Michael into a special needs school. He’d been in Artillery Street primary school up to then. But the nuns couldn’t cope with him – and found him disruptive. He was too anxious – he needed individual attention. [Michael talks rapidly and has a slight stoppage, which can make him difficult to understand. Physically, he is a tall, strong and very young-looking man.] I didn’t want him to go to Belmont, initially – maybe it was pride – but I didn’t want him singled out.”

Michael had been knocked down as a two-year-old in a hit-and-run in America. And to this day, Mary Jo doesn’t know what effect this had on his condition.

“I used to blame myself. I was always anxious when I was pregnant with Michael. But the doctor assured me this had nothing to do with it.”

Michael duly went to Belmont where teachers such as the late Tom Roulston were a big help. He had some teenage difficulties with girls and heartache, which worried his mother. Then at 18, he left school and spent two years on a training scheme, before going to work in the “Sow & Grow” project at Gransha.

Sow & Grow provides horticultural training for thirty people with learning difficulties. The workers grow plants from seeds or cuttings and make hanging baskets for customers and corporate clients. Michael has been working there for 25 years – receiving a travel allowance.

He used to walk the eight-mile return trip to work every day before he passed his driving test at the first attempt – a source of immense pride for both his parents.

“He took lessons for three years. And Richard Edgar at Sow & Grow was a great help to him with his Theory. The other three who took the test the same time as him failed. The day he passed we threw our arms round him when he arrived home. He just shrugged us off.”

Outside work and school, Mary Jo used to worry that Michael was too reclusive. “He never went out; spent all the time in his room – on the computer or reading. He has a huge library. I tried to get him to mix. But it was difficult. I felt very lonely for him. He never really had a girlfriend, and I don’t think that’s going to happen for him now. I’d love him to meet someone.

“Since he passed his test, he goes out on runs at the weekend with his two friends – both of whom would have learning disabilities. They’d go to Moville or Malin Head. They love it. At the start, sometimes I have to bribe him to go out – put petrol in his car. He used to be a bit moody. But he’s changed now.”

Mary Jo still manages Michael’s finances for him and worries what will happen to him when she’s no longer there for him.

“We’ve set up a trust fund for him which his sister will administer. And we’ve spoken to doctors who assure us that they will find facilities ideally suited for his needs. Ideally, I would love for him to have a flat or apartment of his own. Though I’m not sure he could handle it. I fear that he’d be vulnerable on his own.

“On the other hand, I know I’m very protective of him, possibly over-protective – I’d love to wrap him a blanket of cotton wool. When he was growing up I did baby him a lot. I would always take his side against his sisters [he has four], even when he was in the wrong.  And he got a lot more attention – a lot more of my time. I think back then his sisters might have thought I was a bit unfair on them – but they’re a lot more understanding now.


Groups like Destined are a great social outlet, insists Mary Jo. “There was nothing for them before that. There’s lots of activities – gets him out of that room and away from the computer.”


(See also: Michael McEvoy Interview)