Remarkable Cork man defies odds to create tribute to frontline workers

Remarkable Cork man defies odds to create tribute to frontline workers

Cillian McSweeney at his home in Wilton, Cork who penned a song for frontline workers using eye gaze computer technology. Picture Dan Linehan

A Cork musician whose disability leaves him unable to speak or write has released a song for frontline workers and hopes to eventually go on tour with it.

Cillian McSweeney, who has cerebral palsy — a condition which leaves him unable to speak and with restricted movement — used eye-gaze technology to create lyrics and music in honour of frontline workers.

The 30-year-old was able to simulate music through specialised software and with assistance from his band to make the song ‘Don’t Give Up’ a reality.

The Enable Ireland service user from Wilton said he enjoys travelling and would love to go on tour. However, one of his main dreams is to perform to a packed venue of frontline workers in a post-pandemic world.

Through his eye-gaze software, Cillian opened up to The Echo about hopes for a brighter future.

“I got the idea from watching the news,” he said of his new song. “My hope is that I can one day convince someone famous to sing it.”

Cillian is joined on the track by fellow musicians Rory McGovern, Ben Janning, Rob Kennedy, and Kate O’Connor on vocals.

He has been supported throughout his musical career by Music Generation and the Cork Education Training Board. His time with LinkPoint Youth Services in Knocknaheeny paved the way for athrú collective, a band with which Cillian regularly plays.

For as long as he can remember, Cillian has had a passion for music.

“My favourite singers are Alicia Keyes, Adele, and Jessie J,” he said.

 Cillian McSweeney was introduced to the assistive technology only 10 years ago. Picture Dan Linehan
Cillian McSweeney was introduced to the assistive technology only 10 years ago. Picture Dan Linehan

Cillian was introduced to the assistive technology only 10 years ago. In the years leading up to this, he remained determined and hopeful.

His mum Angela recalled how his hero Roy Keane encouraged him to always believe in himself.

“Cillian was about 15 when his teacher helped him write a letter to Roy Keane inviting him to his school,” said Angela. “He said that it was a pure coincidence that he had even seen the letter, given that he was never out to his postbox and received so many every day.

She said that Roy Keane’s advice to Cillian stayed with him for years.

“He told Cillian to always believe in himself.”

His late father Tom was also a huge source of inspiration to him.

“Cillian’s dad was the one who got him on the road,” said Angela.

“He used to take time off work to go see him in concerts and was constantly showing people pictures and videos of Cillian, saying ‘that’s my son’. Tom was the proudest father. Music was a passion they shared and they loved listening to Michael Jackson and Take That together.”

Angela said that her son was never viewed differently by his siblings.

“Cillian is the oldest of four boys and not one of them ever treated him differently. I can still remember when they were very small and made a train using his electric and manual wheelchairs and a baby walker which they took around the drive.”

Cillian said that people often have misconceptions about his disability.

“People sometimes assume you don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “Sometimes, they’ll shout really loud into your face as if you’re not able to hear them. Music gives me a chance to be able to express myself.”

Angela said that Cillian is always open to questions and embraces curiosity. She recounted one example.

“I’ll never forget a holiday we were on. A little boy of about five saw Cillian and was wondering why he was unable to walk. He thought for a minute before looking at a toy and saying, ‘I know what the problem is, you just need new batteries’. I’ve never seen Cillian laugh so hard.”

Cillian hopes that his new song will provide a lift to frontline workers.

Readers can listen to ‘Don’t Give Up’ by visiting youtu.be/tfwos6ab5Vg.

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