Dinny Farrell sits by his big kitchen window that looks out onto the garden. He watches the birds flutter by, reads his newspaper and enjoys the sunshine – when it does.
Well dressed with soft, youthful skin, his 90 years are well hidden. What is his secret? Walking as much as possible and cycling too. “I never had a car,” he says.
Dinny, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a number of years ago, still lives in his beloved family home in Clonmel, cared for by his family with the help of a home respite worker, Helen Hackett, from Clonmel, who has been a big part of the Farrell family for the past three years.
With the help of the Carers Association, which is responsible for appointing a respite worker to the Farrell family, they have received a level of support that has enabled Dinny, who recently celebrated his 90 years, to remain in his home, where he is happiest.
“We really appreciate the work that the Carers Association do for us, it is only when someone is getting on in years, that you really appreciate it,” said Nancy, one of Dinny’s daughters, who along with sisters Ruth, who lives locally, and Mary, who lives in Donegal, support each other in caring for their father.
“We just want to keep Dad at home for as long as possible,” she said.
Dinny’s wife Berna sadly passed away in 2009, but was cared for by Dinny for number of years at home, so it was important to the family that he remain at home too.
Respite worker Helen comes to the house for six hours per week in total, which is invaluable to the Farrells. She makes lunch for Dinny, goes for walks with him, takes him to the garden, and chats to him. “Dinny is a gentleman, and a pleasure to look after,” said Helen.
Nancy and her sisters are very grateful that these respite hours have not been cut, as they afford them some precious personal time.
“We have a great relationship with Helen,” said Nancy. “She is very important to Dad, she is great company and he feels safe when she is here, she looks after him well.
“It would be very difficult without the Carers Association, because we try to have our own lives as well, but it wouldn’t be as smooth without their help,” she said.
Most people in Clonmel would remember Dinny well from his drapery days, with his tailor’s tape around his neck and lapel adorned with pins. He worked as a draper all his life, training in O’Gorman’s, which was located on O’Connell Street, and moving onto the Clonmel Drapery. But it was at Paddy Lambe’s drapery, also on O’Connell Street, where Dinny measured and suited the most.
“I loved it, I met great friends and acquaintances,” said Dinny.
A lifelong music lover, Dinny was a founding member of St Mary’s Choral Society, of which he remains president. He was also a founding member of St Mary’s Senior Church Choir, where as a tenor, he was the perfect partner for Berna, a sweet-sounding soprano.
In the early 1980s, Dinny and his brother Mick were among a group of six members of St Mary’s Church Choir awarded the Benemerenti Medal from Pope John Paul II, for 50 years’ unbroken service to a church choir. Music was always huge part of Dinny’s life with his late wife Berna, and indeed the whole family, and it continues to be.
He still enjoys taking in a St Mary’s Choral Society production at the White Memorial Theatre when he can, and is astonished by the calibre of young actors coming up through the ranks.
The Gondoliers and Jesus Christ Superstar are some of his favourite shows, and he can be convinced to give the odd rendition of that old classic ‘Moonlight Bay’ from time to time, he admits.
But after 90 years, Dinny is perfectly happy to sit by his window and watch the world go by, from the security and comfort of his own home.
“I did all the things I wanted to,” he said.
Manager of the Carer’s Association Richie Molloy paid tribute to Dinny and the Farrell family. “We tried to maintain the respite hours for the Farrell family and they are a good example of how families can do it [look after their loved ones],” he said, but added that in retaining their six hours per week, they are the exception to the norm.
“If the HSE reduce the funding, we have to balance the best we can, and we are not in a position at the moment to provide as many hours as we would like to families,” said Mr Molloy.
The Carers Association have been calling for the reversal of the cut to the annual respite grant from €1,700 to €1,375 introduced in this year’s budget. This call is echoed by Nancy.
“This is very important for carers and difficult to do without and I would echo that call for the grant to be reinstated to the full amount,” she said.
Mayor of Clonmel Cllr Billy Shoer, also a member of St Mary’s Senior Church Choir, paid tribute to Dinny and his contribution to music and culture for more than 70 years in Clonmel.