Michelle and Joe Lonergan with their son Luke
Chapel Lane in Callan has gotten a bit of a make over in recent weeks.
After years of waiting, a footpath along the full length of the road has been constructed by Kilkenny County Council.
There is nothing unusual about the footpath. It links the centre of the town to the Aldi supermarket and gives a safe walking route for pedestrians. What is unusual about this path is the story behind how it the work finally came about, in recent weeks.
Joe and Michelle Lonergan live in The Meadows, Callan. It’s nice and close to all amenities in Callan. At least it is if you have your full sight.
This is where Joe and Michelle differ from their neighbours - they are both blind.
To them this new path means so much more. It gives them independence.
Joe and Michelle made a permanent move to Callan two years ago with their little boy, Luke. Joe, a proud Tipperary man, from nearby Poulacapple, and Dubliner Michelle, met in Dublin when they were both studying at the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI).
For many years they would spend weekends and holidays in Poulacapple and Callan and had intended to retire to the town.
But when little Luke came along they took the opportunity to buy a bigger home with a garden where he could grow up.
Callan, as a small, rural town, can be more isolating than a city like Dublin. Especially when you are blind and you can’t hop in your car. But for Joe and Michelle even walking the short distance into the town centre was difficult when there was no clear and safe path to walk on. Luke’s creche is only a few minutes walk away, but again, without a safe path Michelle didn’t feel confident to walk him there on her own, or, Luke’s favourite trip to The Big Wheel for a curry dinner.Not wanting to disappoint Luke, one day Michelle walked with him to The Big Wheel, but on Chapel Lane she clung to the wall.
Without proper paths in the area Michelle couldn’t apply for a guide dog.
Her independence was curtailed and Joe worried about her when she was out on her own.
So Joe and Michelle took action. There was a bit of a path already on Chapel Lane, but it came to a dead end near the parish church on the town side and on the Aldi side it was rough and unfinished, or there was no path at all. Michelle would have to cross to the far side of the road when walking the short distance to Aldi.
They were advised by Community Resource Worker at the NCBI, Geraldine Kyle, to talk to their local councillor and ask for the path to be properly finished. So earlier this year Joe got in touch with Cllr Matt Doran and explained how a clear, safe path was essential and how much it would mean to them to be able to walk safely to the bus stop or the shops on Green Street.
Michelle said she was doubtful a politician could help. She met Matt when he was canvassing before the local elections and feared the promised path would be another election promise, forgotten after the election. But he said it would be in place before Christmas, and it is. Michelle says he has restored her faith in politicians.
The respect is mutual. At a recent meeting of the Callan Thomas town Municipal District Committee Cllr Doran thanked the council for the path and paid tribute to Joe and Michelle for their energy and courage in pursuing the project.
Not only was the work done, but while the construction was taking place little Luke really enjoyed watching the workmen as he passed them.
“The path gives me options,” Michelle explained. “If I want to go to Aldi I can, if I want to go to town I can. It’s so much more than just a footpath, it’s independence and it links us to the town.”
Joe said they are grateful to Matt Doran for following through on his promise.
The new path will benefit all in the community. There are two housing estates off the road and it’s a busy route between the town centre, church and homes.
“It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Michelle said. “People who are blind live very independent lives, we just need a bit of help now and again. This path brings me into the community. I can bring Luke to playschool, it helps me be a better mother. It’s wonderful.”