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St. Gabriels Children’s Respite House June Programme offers 28 families a much-needed break

St Gabriels June programme has given 28 families in Limerick a break with St. Gabriel’s Respite House in Co. Limerick. Picture: Arthur Ellis.

St. Gabriels Children’s Respite House June Programme offers 28 families a much-needed break

Exhausted parents of children with the most severe, life-limiting disabilities have been finally given a much-needed break during COVID-19 lock-down after a purpose-built facility was specifically adapted for a special June Programme for the children.

The €2.9m St. Gabriel’s Respite House in Co. Limerick, which is the first purpose-built facility of its kind in the country, was completed 18 months ago but has not opened due to operational funding deficits. However, it has now been specially adapted and opened in response to the urgent need for support to parents exhausted by the round-the-clock care they give their children.




The state-of-the-art centre located in Mungret, on the outskirts of Limerick city, is a dedicated facility designed to provide respite breaks for children from across the Mid-West who have physical disabilities and complex medical needs.

The children typically attend St. Gabriel’s School at nearby Raheen during day-time but the school has been closed since the coronavirus outbreak in March.  Likewise, carers have not been able to visit some families, leaving parents left on their own to provide for the 24hour complex needs of the children.

The creation of a June Programme, however, has brought much-needed respite for both the children and parents.  But funding is now required to keep the high dependency unit open into the future or this much-needed support will be withdrawn at the end of the month.

Some 28 families are taking part in the programme, with four children attending each day from 10 am to 2 pm over a four-week period during the June Programme. Each child has their own separate rooms, including bathroom, with direct access to the outside when spending the day in their own ‘pod’. Two staff typically look after each child but three in cases where the child has particularly acute needs.

St Gabriels June programme

Pictured at the centre is Josh with Therapy Assistants Martina Sheehy and Christine Sheehy. Picture: Arthur Ellis.

Said Maire O’Leary, CEO of St. Gabriel’s: “We have developed this wonderful facility for the Mid-West but we were not able to open it until now.  I couldn’t have envisaged being able to open its doors at a greater time of need for parents and, indeed, the children. 

These children get to attend and receive dedicated and specialist support at our school daily but that was taken away from them by the necessary shutdown due to COVID-19.  The parents had to pick up all the pieces themselves.  We helped them as best we could remotely but telehealth does not work for children with such complex disabilities.”        St Gabriels June programme

She continued: “The children have very complex needs. They are non-mobile and use a wheelchair, some are non-verbal, PEG fed and need oxygen and many have life-limiting conditions. They need care, love, fun and support which they can only get when people interact with them on a personal level, face to face. 

They get that from their parents but they are now exhausted. That’s where we have stepped in now at our centre in Mungret with our June Programme.  Once we felt it was safe, we put the programme in place and it has been magnificent for the parents and the children.

“It’s a unique programme for COVID-19 and over and, above our existing funding, it costs €10,000 of fundraising money to run it for the four weeks. We’d dearly love to continue it. We are appealing to the HSE to commit to future funding to keep the respite house open to families of children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs,  as we know what this is doing for the parents and, indeed, for the children. They have their own special place to go to now.”        St Gabriels June programme

Said Lorraine Tierney mother of Dylan “This has been such a gift to us.  We love our child more than anything but we are working around the clock as a family to look after his needs and we are exhausted. It’s been an incredibly difficult time as, in addition to his needs, Dylan would not survive getting COVID-19 so we have to be so careful with regard to measures to keep it out from our home.

The respite house in Mungret, however, is such a safe and suitable environment and the staff leave no stone unturned to keep it so. At the same time, it’s wonderfully colourful and interactive and Dylan is loving it.”

Regarding his time there, Lorraine says: “It’s been a joy.  You can see that he loves the break and he definitely needs a break from us too.  We then get to catch up on housework, spend time with our other child, maybe do some shopping.  It’s changed our world these past few weeks, even if we only get a few days It’s precious time for Dylan, precious time for us and it gets us all recharged and ready to go again.”


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Richard is a presenter, producer, songwriter and actor. He was named the Limerick Person of the Year (2011) and won an online award at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards (2011) for promoting multi-culturalism online. Richard says that the concept is very much a community driven project that aims to document life in Limerick. So, that in 20 years time people can look back and remember the events that were making the headlines.