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George Harkin
 I was an Olympic gold medal winner


George Harkin had a happy childhood, growing up with his nine brothers and sisters on Marlborough Road in the 1960s. After a stint at Pennyburn PS, he went to Rosemount School and then to St Joseph’s Secondary School, where, he insists, his learning disability was never an issue with his teachers.

“At times I found school hard,” he recalls. “I can read and write well enough, but I found dividing and some maths difficult.

“A couple of times I might have been punished unfairly – strapped because I didn’t know answers. But I got on very well with the boys in the class, never felt left out – always had plenty of company.”

There was, however, the odd troublemaker.

“There were a couple of boys at St Joe’s who took the hand out of me and would pick on me. Most of the time I ignored them. But I had to report some.

“Once I got into a scrap about it. Only once. The teacher said to me afterwards he couldn’t believe I’d done it – stepping out of line like that.”

After leaving school, George went to an adult training centre, making picture frames, mop-heads, and labels for the DuPont factory.

He then moved to the Maybrook Centre, where he discovered his talent for indoor bowling.

“A lady called Teresa O’Kane began training us at the Bowling Alley and entering us into competitions. We won those and eventually got to the Olympics in Dublin, where I won two gold medals! I was very proud of myself. The last guy I had to beat, the day before we came home, had a score of 147 – but I got 174.

“We came home and had celebrations back at the centre, and got our photos taken for the paper.”


After leaving Maybrook, George applied his woodwork skills in the picture-framing department at Stradreagh, where he also made transport boxes for fish-merchants in his spare time.

He later joined the PHAB (Physically Handicapped Able Bodied) group on Pump Street, working as a charity collector. PHAB also had their own Derry City Supporters Club, which he took part in. And today, almost 20 years on, he still goes to matches at the Brandywell with Terry McDevitt the Destined leader and several of his friends from the Destined group.


For the last five years, George has worked with the Lilliput Theatre Company, the North’s only professional company for adults with learning disabilities, based at Derry’s Playhouse.

The troupe has toured successfully across Ireland, producing everything from Macbeth to comedy sketches.

“It’s good craic. Gordon Smith and Maureen Clark who run the group are great people. I like it very much. At the minute we’re doing sketches for Owen Barr. And we’ve done lots of plays. I’ve been in Macbeth, The Tractor, The Pink Elephants and the next one will be Dr Watt’s Stewbox. I don’t mind learning the lines – it’s not too bad.”


George lived with his parents until October 2005, when he made the move to semi-independent living at the Methodist Mission on Crawford Square.

“It was my first time living on my own. And I’ve been getting on very well. Sean Boyle [the mission manager] has been very good to me. I’m able to look after myself pretty well – I can cook and manage my own money and medication. My brother, who’s my guardian, is always there to help me out. And I still visit my parents regularly – two or three times a week.”  

The medication is necessary to control George’s epilepsy, which was formerly quite severe and caused his hospitalisation. But his latest regimen has proved very successful and he hasn’t had an attack “in a long time”. “I pray I never have another,” he says.

Because of his condition, George will never be allowed to drive. Though this doesn’t particularly concern him. Much more worrying was the mini-stroke he took two years ago, at the age of 46, which left him with a weakness in his right leg.


Besides his work with Lilliput, George helps out in the Methodist Mission part-time, cleaning the floors and setting the tables. “I enjoy it very much.”

Outside work, George likes to meet up with his friends at the Destined centre or head out on day-trips with the group.

“Destined a great place to relax during the day – if you want to have a chat, or muck in helping cooking or making the tea.

“I’ve done a few courses here – the Irish course, and couple of others I can’t remember.

And I like the rambling, or going to the pictures  or the gym. The staff are all excellent – and I get on very well with Dermot. He’s a very nice man, down to earth.”

George believes conditions for people with learning disabilities have improved since he was young.

“I think it’s better now. There’s more support now. Groups like Destined here on Princes Street are very important.”