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Michael Lorigan in the gym. Photograph by John Kelly.

Life through a different lens

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YOU might hear Michael Lorigan on the radio. You could find him in the gym a couple of days a week. Or you could find him volunteering to help young people who are visually impaired.

For the last 11 years Michael has been visually impaired himself, after a terrible accident that left him blinded in one eye and with 15-20% of vision in the other.

He was also left with a brain injury. “More sugar on the cake,” he says, wryly.

How does that brain injury impact upon him? “I suppose it varies, it’s kind of mixed. It could be concentration sometimes, certain noises too would be very irritating. It’s memory too to a certain degree. Some things you remember, others are gone completely.”

Michael lives in Kilmurry McMahon and one of the greatest problems he faces is the near total lack of public transport in the area. “You’re stuck here where buses are only a dream.”

In May of 2012 he was an energetic 23 year old, when everything changed with a serious crash at Cranny Cross, on the main Ennis-Kilrush road. “Thankfully I don’t remember much of it. I was three and a half months below in hospital, I don’t remember much of that either. They had to revive me a few times. My family would have had a tough time but I was oblivious to it all.”

When he finally emerged from hospital it was to a new life, with many of the options and freedoms that most people his age take for granted now denied to him.

No doubt hugely difficult, the former plumber has worked on finding new interests and making the most of what he can do.

For some time now he has been the presenter of a Friday show on West Clare community radio station Raidio Corca Baiscinn. “It started about six or seven years ago. I was at the station for a while before I started doing the show. Before that I was kind of spectating, I’d sit in on one or two shows. The manager at the time, Áine Mae, she was actually visually impaired herself and I sat in with her for a community show that they used to do live on air. After a period of time I got the go ahead to do a show. I started recording it, it’d go out later in the week or the week after. As time went on I was upgraded to doing a live show. It’s at 2.30 every Friday now.”

What does the show consist of? “It’s a music show and sometimes I might have a guest on. A few weeks ago I had a guy from Waterford on who’s involved in blind tennis, he’s gone out to Brussels now participating.

“I’ve had interviews with PJ Murrihy, Marty Mone from Monaghan. Next month, the Friday before the Clare stages rally I will have a girl on who’s visibly impaired and a co-pilot, Zara McFadden.”

There is music of all types, he adds. “There’s a mixture of everything, there’s no set type. If you listen on Friday it could be Johnny Cash, the following week it could be the Pogues, it could be absolutely anything.”

Presenting a live radio show could be quite stressful, but he’s cool about it. “I prefer doing it live, if something happens it’s nearly more fun, it adds drama to it!”

Some of the songs he plays he says he doesn’t even like, but he sees the importance of catering to people other than himself and his own tastes.

He really enjoys the radio work and he says it helps clean up his language. “It’s a guaranteed one hour every Friday where I don’t say a bad word. That’s the biggest achievement!” he laughs.

There may be a misconception that radio presenters are only at work while on the air, but that is not the case, and Michael spends a lot of time thinking about his next show. “Mostly on the Thursday I’d be putting my music list together for Friday. During the week I could be listening to music to get ideas for what I’d play on the Friday.”

Before his accident Michael loved driving and through Vision Sports Ireland he has had the opportunity to get behind the wheel a couple of times in the last few years. “They take in a group of people who are visually impaired or completely blind. They have cars that are sponsored by Opel and people drive them at Mondello Park. I was about nine years without driving so I was over the moon to get to go driving again. That was the first time driving a car since my accident, which was pretty cool. Thankfully it didn’t bring back any bad memories either,” he says.

The cars have dual controls and the visually impaired people also got to be passengers in rally cars, which he also loved.

Michael has volunteered for Camp Abilities, a residential sports and recreation camp for children with visual impairments. “It’s to try and improve their independence and socialise them. There’s all sorts of activities, canoeing, rock climbing, archery, stuff like that. I was a support worker for that in Kilfinane in Limerick.”

He loved seeing the benefits accruing to the youngsters there. “There’s the social side of it and how happy the kids are, mixing and doing stuff with other kids and socialising as well. It helps them to improve their own independence moving forward as well.”

In recent times he has had the chance to get lifts to different places from Enable Ireland, taking some of the pressure for transport off his family. “Enable Ireland have been brilliant. I have two days a week with them. On Wednesday and Friday I can go wherever as long as it fits into the time slot. If I had to go to Galway or to Limerick for shopping or to meet somebody I can go. They’d come out here and pick me up.

“The Friday is pretty much gone anyway. I go to the gym at Woodstock in the morning, then back for lunch and back to Kilkee for the radio.”

When he was fully sighted the gym wasn’t an interest but he enjoys it these days. ” I think once in my life I would have stepped inside the gym pre my accident. I like it now, it’s something to do.”

While Covid-19 left many people very isolated, in Michael’s case it resulted in him getting in touch with other people who are visually impaired. “re-Covid I don’t think I knew anyone who had a visual impairment bar Áine Mae on the radio. With Covid everything had to go from face to face to online. A group was set up called Check in and Chat, sort of a support group. We all went onto that on Thursday mornings and got to know each other.On Tuesday morning another organisation now have something similar, so that’s something else.”

He says that only for his mother Christina he would be “lost altogether” and she says that he has done a lot since his accident. “He has made good enough progress in the last few years. There’s not much activities for anyone with a disability and I think a visual disability is a very severe one. It’s not easy to be struck down with that at such a young age, when he was used to his freedom and doing what he wanted to do. As he’ll tell you, you find out who your friends are when something like that happens.”

Unfortunately, he says that most people who were his friends prior to the crash didn’t stick with him. “If they talked to you, you’d be lucky.”

He says it was very disappointing. “Especially when you were the one who the patience to bring them home a lot of nights they were drunk!”

Michael has always been abstemious himself, his mother says. “The first thing he was tested for after the accident was drink and drugs, but that lad wouldn’t take a paracetamol for you!”

Christina and some of Michael’s siblings stayed with him throughout his time in hospital and they had music playing regularly for him. “We sat with him for the three and a half months, myself and his brothers and sisters took turns and I think that stood to him. I think it gave him the love of music.”

However Michael isn’t as sure about that. “I wouldn’t even like to think about what they were playing! No wonder I woke up out of my coma!” he says, to laughter from his mother.

She tries to help him as much as possible and to bring him to different activities, but she would like him to have a few more outlets. “It would be nice if he could get into more activities and meet more people of his own age, but he has done a lot.”

Owen Ryan
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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.