Above: Ronan Collins and the school for the deaf in Ambo, which opened in 2012.
Ronan Collins will play the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery on Saturday, February 11. The show, which is in aid of the ‘Ethiopia Deaf Project’, will feature showband hits from all the greats like Dickie Rock and The Miami, Brendan Bowyer with the Royal and The Big 8 and Joe Dolan and The Drifters There will also be a special surprise guest on the night.
A drummer with Dickie Rock in the 70s, Ronan has played every hall in West Cork, which is one of the reasons he’s really looking forward to returning to play in Rosscarbery. The other reason is the Ethiopia Deaf Project that the show is in aid of. Over the years, Ronan has visited Ethiopia on a number of occasions with Self Help Africa.
The event is being organised by Miriam O’Regan, a member of the Ethiopia Deaf Project, who has two adopted children from Ethiopia, one of whom is deaf.
The Ethiopia Deaf Project started eight years ago when Fr Stephen, an Irish Vincentian Priest visited Ambo in Ethiopia. He noticed a little boy who should have been in school hanging around outside the building. When he asked in the local community about him, he was told that the little boy was deaf. He wasn’t allowed attend the kindergarten, as he wasn’t expected to learn.
Stephen decided to find out more and discovered that in Ethiopia deaf people were seen as a “curse from God” and “something to be ashamed of”. Consequently, they were often hidden away from society.
Heartbroken, the priest returned back to Ireland with a hope of helping the deaf in Ambo.
In 2009, Fr Stephen returned to Ambo with a small group of Irish deaf people and completed a workshop to find out the needs of the deaf in Ambo. The answer was always the same. The deaf in Ambo wanted to learn, they wanted to go to school – they wanted to have a life.
Some parents attended the workshops and found out for the first time that it was possible to communicate with their children. One father walked with his daughter for two days to attend the workshop.
“When Fr Stephen returned to Ireland, we heard the story,” says Miriam “We have two children adopted from Ethiopia, one of whom is deaf. We contacted Stephen and said we wanted to help, which is how the Ethiopia Deaf Project formed.”
In 2012, the school for the deaf opened in Ambo. “At first, we were only allowed to take children from the age of 11 upwards. Then two years ago, we built on a new classroom, as we were granted permission to take children from the age of six,” says Miriam.
“The oldest student at the school in Ambo is 35. The first time she was allowed out of the house was when her father died. She has attended the school for the past three years and never misses a day.”
On January 7 (Christmas Day in Ethipia) the Ethiopia Deaf Project organised a party and arranged for every child to get a new pair of shoes. “Most of them have only broken shoes and walk an hour-and-a-half to school. It’s a tough walk (I‘ve done it, so trust me). Can you imagine the excitement!
“The story of these children is very tough, especially the older ones, but now each one of the older children claim that they ‘feel safe’ for the first time in their lives. That says a lot! Many of them are now are talking about getting a job, even training to be a teacher…”
The Ethiopia Deaf Project aims to build a boarding house to allow more deaf children from the country attend school in Ambo. “We would also like to establish some projects that would generate income for the older children so they can become independent,” explains Miriam.
Fr Stephen moved to Ambo in November last year and will be working there for the next three years.
“We’ve had amazing support and kindness from people like Ronan Collins,” says Miriam. “We run an annual cycle in June, parachute jumps, Paddy’s day plunge, you name it, we try it!
“The Children’s Charity Shop in Spillers Lane, Clonakilty is continuously supporting us and we’ve also had great assistance from Eugene Scally of SuperValu Clonakilty.
Every cent raised goes directly to the school.”
Miriam hopes that West Cork will come out to support a worthy cause on what promises to be a great night out on February 11.
“Miriam is a great person and I’m delighted to be doing something in support of a charity that is fundraising to build a school for deaf children in Ambo Ethiopia,” says Ronan, who has supported the Project by playing in West Cork on a number of previous occasions.
Ronan admits that although he didn’t think he’d still be gigging at the age of 64, he’s the type of person who takes each day as it comes. “I’ll continue as long as I enjoy it and people want me to play,” he says. Playing to audiences ranging in size from 400 to 1200 all over the country, ‘The Showband Show’ has been a phenomenal success.
Ronan began his national radio career on RTÉ Radio 2, having worked on the pirate radio scene in Dublin in the late 70s. His show on Radio RTE 1 has been running since 1985. He presented the celebrity game show ‘Play the Game’ from 1984 to 1995 and would also be recognised from his time presenting the ‘Lotto’ draw on RTE. Over the span of his radio career, his enthusiasm for his work has never waned. “I wouldn’t call what I do work, I like it too much,” he explains. “I’ve always lived by the mantra that the day I stop enjoying it, is the day I stop working.”
A self-confessed old-fashioned DJ, when it comes to music, of course Frank Sinatra and The Beatles are firm favourites but Ronan says he has a great love for the music of Linda Ronstadt, who sadly was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012, leaving her unable to sing. “She is someone who exudes beauty and warmth when she sings and is just magnificent,” he enthuses. ‘It makes me hugely sad that she can’t sing anymore.”
With a great affection for West Cork, Ronan is looking forward to visiting again and meeting his fans, who he says make his job worthwhile.
“I feel honoured when someone approaches me to say hello. It’s the biggest compliment a fan can pay you,” he says sincerely.
For more information on the Ethiopia Deaf Project go to facebook.com/ethiopiadeafprojectambo/.
Tickets for the show and wine reception €23. Dinner and show €45. The wine reception is at 8.30pm with the show starting at 9.30pm. For tickets contact the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery on 023 88 48722.
All funds raised go to the Ethiopia Deaf Project.