Musicians team up to help Down Syndrome Cork

Some of Ireland’s top country musicians have joined up with an American country music star to record a Garth Brooks song in aid of Down Syndrome Cork — who have seen their fundraising severely hit by Covid-19, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Musicians team up to help Down Syndrome Cork

POOLING THEIR TALENTS: Karl Prendergast meeting Nashville singer KC Johns (centre) in AJ’s Good Time Bar in Nashville in February — from left, Mark Fitzgerald, Karl Prendergast, Niall Toner, KC Johns, Mick Mangan and Richie Foley.

LOCAL musicians, a Nashville country singer, and some of Ireland’s top country music stars have come together to raise much-needed funds for Down Syndrome Cork.

Led by Youghal’s Karl Prendergast they’ve recorded the classic Garth Brooks hit Callin’ Baton Rouge to support the centre, which in turn supports 390 member families across the city and county.

Since Covid-19 hit, the charity’s funds are down between 30-40% and they’re relying on the public more than ever to keep their ‘Centre 21’ up and running in Blackpool.

Karl is one of those 390 families as his 10-year-old daughter Grace attends the centre for vital speech and language therapies, while going to mainstream school in her home town.

“We always knew how fantastic their services were, but this became even more apparent during the pandemic. We can’t do without them,” said Karl.

He and his partner Susan had no idea Grace would be born with Down Syndrome.

“It definitely turned our world upside initially, although we came to terms with it very quickly and we knew that we were going to be OK. But we had to, we had no choice but to drive on and we’re lucky we have a good family unit around us,” said Karl.

“As it happens, three of my cousins’ first borns have Down Syndrome as well so it is something that I’ve been exposed to,” he said.

Karl worked as keyboard player for a wedding band for eight years, but after suffering a stroke over a year ago, he made some big life changes.

“We also have a seven-year-old boy James, and with the late nights with the band, and early mornings with the kids, something had to give. I’m lucky as I knew the signs as I suffered something similar when I was younger and I haven’t been left with any lasting effects,” he said.

Nonetheless, he quit playing and instead manages the band, along with another outfit, and now works as a self-employed graphic artist.

Music is still a huge part of his life though, and last January, along with friend Richie Foley, he took the trip of a lifetime to Nashville, Tennessee.

Grace with her brother James and her cousin Liam O’Brien.
Grace with her brother James and her cousin Liam O’Brien.

While there they met with many talented musicians and singers and stayed in touch with some on their return to Ireland.

When Covid hit in March, Karl could see how musicians’ lives had been affacted, as well as how service users of Down Syndrome Cork were impacted, and had the brainwave to record a track.

“Richie and I decided to put together the track with a small number of musicians along with some of our new friends in Nashville,” he said.

“Lead vocals are from Irish country stars Johnny Brady and Mike Denver along with Cobh’s Caroline Fraher and Nashville’s KC Johns.”

Their target is to raise €5,000 and Liam Ahern of Down Syndrome Cork said they’re extremely grateful.

DS Cork is the largest branch of DS Ireland in the country. It employs two full-time speech therapists, and also offers occupational and physiotherapy therapy for babies right up to adults. Many of the services are subsidised.

It also a unique Leap programme focused specifically on new-borns to three year olds.

At a site in Curraheen, they run their incredibly successful Field of Dreams project, which offers horticultural and life skills courses for students with Down Syndrome who have finished school, with the aim of getting them into the world of work.

Liam’s daughter Laura, aged 21, has Down Syndrome so he’s acutely aware of how Covid-19 has impacted people with a disability who, not alone couldn’t attend their services, but were without their day centres for months on end.

However, thanks to emergency funding of €7,500 from Cork Education Training Board, they’re running a new 10-week ‘Connect Programme’ from the centre, offering life-skills, other training, and importantly fun and connection to those aged 18 and over.

“There’s definitely a big hole in our finances since Covid — we’re down between 30-40%.

Lots of our fundraisers went ahead virtually, and the Tour de Munster went ahead, but our funds aren’t as robust as they were. People like Karl are a terrific help.

“We’ve seen lots of regression but we’re trying to keep going as best as we can as our children have lost out on too much as it is,” he said.

Karl added: “We are so thankful to everyone who gave their amazing talents to this track to help raise some money for this wonderful cause. We are appealing to everyone to donate as little or as much as they can as it will all help greatly. Down Syndrome Cork helps Grace and and people like her to find their voice in this world.

“Thankfully, people with Down Syndrome are increasingly more accepted in society but it’s services like DS Cork that make this happen.”

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and, to mark this, Karl and co wanted to include singers, dancers and musicians from the Down Syndrome community in the track’s video.

For a heart-warming performance, check it out on Down Syndrome Cork’s Facebook or youtube.com/watch?v=X2E2KZJPo1w. To donate, go to idonate.ie/DSCork2020

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