Miss Ireland, Niamh Kennedy, has many strings to her bow. A trained ballerina, a student of International Finance and Economics in NUI Maynooth and, for many years now, a campaigner, actively raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.
The tall, statuesque 20-year-old from Tipperary was crowned Miss Ireland 2016 last month, and right through the ceremony, she felt the presence of her late father onstage with her.
Her father, Liam, was a secondary school teacher and, very sadly, died five years ago, when Niamh was just 15. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 10 years earlier, aged just 42. During her interview with Ryan Tubridy, Niamh recalled how his condition first became apparent, back in 2001.
“My mum knew there was some sort of history with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the family. Dad started acting strange, couldn’t remember simple things, she just spotted it. She was really persistent. The doctor said “no, no, there is nothing to worry about. Just go home.” But she just knew there was something wrong. She was lucky she did, he wouldn’t have got the care he needed early on.”
According to Niamh, many Alzheimer’s sufferers start to lash out when they realise they can’t remember things. Liam was never like that that he was gentle in nature, always, and that continued throughout his life, even suffering the worst effects of Alzheimer’s.
Niamh was only five years old when her father was originally diagnosed, at the age of 42. He died 10 years later, in 2011. The years running up to his death were the most difficult times for Niamh, and she recalled visiting him in a home during her early teenage years.
“We went to visit him every Sunday, after mass. It was actually very normal for the first while. But when I went to secondary school, I didn’t want to go anymore. I began to realise what I was actually looking at.”
“And what were you looking at?” asked Ryan.
“Basically, a vegetable. He couldn’t really talk anymore. He could make a noise, but it wasn’t any way verbal, anything you could understand.”
A clearly emotional Niamh recalled trying to take her father for walks, a man who had been so physically strong, athletic and extremely active for his entire life.
Next month, Niamh Kennedy will fly to Washington, D.C. to compete in the Miss World pageant, and she will have a nation behind her.
Later in the show, a surprise phone call came to the studio. Niamh’s mother, spontaneously calling in to say how proud she was with her daughter. To listen to her full interview, click here.