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18 May 2022

Eleven-year-old Tipperary girl sitting the Junior Cert maths paper next month

South Tipperary girl is going to extraordinary lengths to highlight the lack of services available for children with special needs

Tipperary girl homeschooling to reduce risk of vulnerable brothers contracting Covid-19

Tipperary's Cara Darmody with her brothers

An 11-year-old south Tipperary girl is going to extraordinary lengths to highlight the lack of services available for children with special needs.

Despite her young age, Cara Darmody, a Fifth Class pupil at Ardfinnan National School, is sitting the Junior Cert maths paper next month (an exam that students who are four years older sit), in a challenge that is raising funds for her school in Ardfinnan, as well as Scoil Chormaic special school in Cashel.

Up to Tuesday, almost €3,500 had already been pledged in donations.

Daughter of Noelle and Mark Darmody from Cnoc na gCaiseal, Ardfinnan, Cara knows only too well from personal experience the difficulties faced by the families of children with special needs. 

Her two younger brothers, nine-year-old Neil and five-year-old John, are both non-verbal with autism, and attend Scoil Chormaic in Cashel.

“Our family are friends with so many other families who cannot get HSE services such as speech and language, occupational therapy, play therapy and psychology,” she says. 

“It really annoys me that nobody is doing anything about it. These kids are at a disadvantage due to the lack of services. So I want to do something about it. I want to raise money to give everyone the same chance.”

Because she loves the subject, Cara decided last September to study the entire three-year secondary school Junior Cycle ordinary level curriculum in maths.

She has completed the course in just eight months with the help of her school and her parents. All the money raised on the

GoFundMe page will be divided equally between both schools.

Her challenge is creating history, as Cara is the first primary school pupil in the country to attempt this feat.

“We’re incredibly proud of Cara,” says her father Mark.

“She is putting herself out there and is doing this for other people, and we will be the only family not to benefit from this challenge.”

Both Neil and John attend Scoil Chormaic and the family knows the difficulties that are faced when therapies aren’t available.

“Not one cent from the challenge will benefit us but it will benefit other families.”

He says that staffing levels in south Tipperary are inadequate to provide services for children with autism and other special needs.

“South Tipperary is regarded as the worst area in Ireland right now for speech and language therapy.  There’s a two-year waiting list for an autistic child to receive a first appointment, and the waiting list to receive a diagnosis of autism is three years.

“It’s beyond crazy.”

Mark Darmody describes it as “astonishing” what Cara has already achieved.

“Over the last eight months she has completed 300 extra maths tuition hours, which translates into 60 extra school days.”

Mark, who works as an education consultant who has presented legal courses to over 500 schools, has provided tuition for Cara.

He says that because of her family circumstances, and because she is so far advanced with her Fifth Class studies, she is the only child in Ireland authorised by Tusla, the child and family agency, to be granted permission to homeschool for one day a week.

The family is very grateful to Bríd Quinlivan, the principal of Ardfinnan National School and teacher Niamh Mackey for doing everything possible to accommodate Cara’s challenge and helping her achieve her goal.     

“She wanted to do something special to get people to listen. We underestimated that an 11-year-old in Fifth Class doing the Junior Cert would resonate so much with people.”

The GoFundMe page had raised almost €3,500 on Tuesday, despite having only been set up a short while, and that figure is still rising.

“Cara has decided to make a stand for families in our area that are in this awful predicament,” says Mark.
Cara was also in the news in August 2020 when she wrote to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, calling for a change to the homeschooling laws.

At the time she wanted to combine classroom education with homeschooling to reduce the risk of her brothers Neil and John contracting Covid. 

Mark says that the fundraiser has been organised with the full cooperation and assistance of Ardfinnan National School and Scoil Chormaic special school.

The exam will be supervised and corrected under the strictest of conditions to ensure absolute integrity and will occur on June 10, which is the Department of Education’s appointed day for the Junior Cert maths exam. 

All money raised will go towards therapies to help children achieve their potential, and the Darmody family will not benefit financially from the fundraiser in any manner whatsoever.

Further information, including details on how to contribute, are available on the page Cara’s Extraordinary Maths Challenge on GoFundMe.com. 

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