Donnacha McCarthy (25) from Drimoleague suffered a rapid loss of sight at age 10 following a battle with leukaemia, leaving him in “total darkness” within a matter of weeks. He began working with Irish Guide Dogs as a teenager, learning to use the long cane and independent living skills as part of the organisations ‘Child Mobility Programme’.
“They taught me how to deal with the loss of my sight, in particular how to move around safely with the help of a cane,” Donnacha explains. “I suppose if I’d been older, it may have been harder to come to terms with, but at that age, I had no major plans made that were disrupted by losing my sight.”
For a blind or vision impaired person using a long-cane is a good way to get out and about safely and independently. A long-cane helps to detect objects and obstacles such as bins, stairs, kerbs and tactile paving, thereby giving the user greater confidence when walking.
“Things like signs and sandwich boards on footpaths do make life more difficult,” says Donnacha.
Donnacha was always aware of the positive experiences of other Guide Dog owners and that convinced him to join the waiting list for a Guide Dog soon after he was eligible.
“I knew I wanted to go to college and move out of home after finishing school and I definitely needed the help of a Guide Dog to do that,” he says.
Since being matched with Holly in 2008, Donnacha says his life has been transformed. With Holly’s help, it was possible for Donnacha to live in Cork City while completing his four-year honours degree in Business Information Systems at UCC. He then moved from Cork to Dublin and took up full-time work. He’s also a member of the Blind Football Ireland squad and regularly trains in Dublin with Holly waiting patiently on the sidelines.
After losing his sight, playing football was one of the things Donnacha missed most and he got involved in the blind version of the game, as it presented him with an opportunity to “play the beautiful game once again”.
An extremely skillful and fast-paced game, Blind Football is played on a hard surface using a ball with bearings in it to allow the ball to make a noise and give the players the chance to know its location. It is a five-a-side game with all four outfield players fully blind, wearing eye patches and blindfolds to ensure no light gets in. The two goalkeepers are fully sighted.
“With the help of Holly, I can be much more spontaneous; I don’t have to plan a journey, I can just head into town or meet up with friends,” says Donnacha. “She has given me the confidence to go out when and where I want and to live life to the full.”
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is Ireland’s national charity dedicated to helping persons who are blind or vision impaired and families of children with autism to achieve improved mobility and independence.
Over 80 per cent of the organisations income comes through voluntary donations and fundraising through a network of volunteers across the country.
For more information, to volunteer, fundraise, donate or visit the online Irish Guide Dogs Christmas Shop visit www.guidedogs.ie.