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50 Years of the Irish Wheelchair Association

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Founded 50 years ago this year, the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) has grown to spectacular strength with over 20,000 members, 2,000 staff and their hard work is never going to stop. Here to talk to us about its past, present and future are founding member and former paralympian, Oliver Murphy, and young IWA member and aspiring paralympian, Shane Barker.

2010 marks the 50th year of IWA's foundation with events happening throughout the year up to the foundation anniversary date on November 10th. Also, Oliver, the last surviving founding member, was just awarded the Freedom of Drogheda yesterday.

Oliver Murphy, Founding member of IWA and former paralympian

Oliver, who grew up in Drogheda, was also just award the Freedom of Drogheda yesterday, is appearing on a stamp this year with Shane (below) for his contribution to society and the IWA as well as receiving an Honorary Doctorate from UCC!

Association alive to celebrate the organisation's 50th anniversary this year. Oliver grew up in Drogheda, Co Louth, where he enjoyed GAA, athletics and gymnastics in his free time.
After a work-related accident left him paralysed, Oliver accepted his condition and moved on.

Oliver firmly believes that sport is definitely a fundamental part in coping with, and/or rehabilitating a person with a disability. He had his accident in July 1959, and by the summer the following year in 1960, he was participating in the first ever Paralympics in Rome. It was when the team returned from that trip that the I.W.A. was founded.
"I remember throwing 10 schillings each into a bucket, that was £4 in total. And now look at us."

Oliver said that all he ever wanted the objective of the I.W.A. to be was to help facilitate people in doing whatever it was they wanted to do. He thinks it's amazing how far they have come in 50 years and he's not shy about his pride in himself and everyone around him. Oliver received the Freedom of Drogheda yesterday, is receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from University of Limerick as well as appearing on a commemorative stamp for I.W.A. - being released this year. He says 'I just kind of smile about the whole thing. It's amazing!'

Oliver sees Shane as the future of the I.W.A., although he says he doesn't see himself as past yet as he still volunteers for their branch in Drogheda. He marvels at Shane's patience and hopes that he'll compete in the Paralympics one day too. Oliver and Shane will be appearing on a special stamp being released this September that will illustrate the I.W.A.'s success and its future.

Shane Barker, IWA member and aspiring paralympian

Shane is from Donabate, Dublin and is just 7 years old. He attends the IWA sports centre every weekend and loves to play basketball, table tennis, racing and other games. He will feature on a stamp this year with Oliver, displaying the foundation and the future of the IWA.

Shane really enjoys the I.W.A. and goes every weekend, where he plays sports, including basketball, table tennis, racing and even wheelchair ice-skating! This is all a massive contributor to Shane's social life because he gets to see and make new friends. It's also a perfect time for Shane to see positive role models and other wheelchair users, like Oliver.

After meeting Oliver, competing in the Paralympics is definitely something that Shane wants to do when he grows up. He had lots of fun at the photoshoot for the stamp, although his Mum, Teresa, doesn't think this is going to register with him until he sees it when it is released in September.

The Foundation of the Irish Wheelchair Association

In September 1960, Ireland entered a team into the first Paralympic Games which took place in Rome. It was at this event that the seed was planted amongst the founding members to form an organisation that would work to achieve greater independence, freedom and choice for people living with a disability. Just two months after their return from Rome, on the 10th November 1960, several of the team members came together with some other individuals in the Pillar Room of the Mater Hospital, Dublin, and formed the Irish Wheelchair Association. Those people were: Fr Leo Close, Chairperson; Jack Kerrigan, Secretary; Oliver Murphy, Treasurer; Joe Davis; Kay Hayes; Joe Domican; Joe Craven; and Jimmy Levins.

What does the IWA do?

Today the IWA is a strong association with over 20,000 members and over 2,000 staff working to achieve, and to help its members achieve greater independence, freedom and choice for people living with a disability.
They offer a range of services that enable this independence and freedom such as: a motoring service, assisted living, resource centres, peer counseling, youth services and housing - to name just a few.
They constantly hold events for its members and encourage wheelchair sport in all its members to improve and maintain fitness.

For more information on the Irish Wheelchair Association, log on to