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The mayor the merrier

Borrisokane’s mayor says Down syndrome is no bar to his success, which he credits to hard work, support from family and friends and a fierce pride in the town he calls home, writes Jason Kennedy

 

When Darragh McKenna is not helping out in his family’s pub in Borrisokane, Co Tipperary, the duties of his other job come into play. Following a period of intense campaigning almost three years ago, the Special Olympics athlete was granted the honour of becoming the first person with Down syndrome in Ireland to become a mayor.

The honorary position was granted to Mr McKenna (31) in 2010 after he raised more money for the development of the town’s park than any of the other four candidates vying to be Borrisokane’s first mayor. A total of €45,000 was raised for the project, of which more than €22,000 was raised by Mr McKenna.

Although the position of mayor of Borrisokane is not a political title and not involved with local county councils, Mr McKenna is a well-known and liked character around the small town. During his campaign, he organised several successful events and visited homes in and around the north Tipperary town.

“My absolute favourite part was the Cheltenham night we organised. There was a great turnout and it was a great night,” Mr McKenna said.

“The campaign itself was tough at times, but we got through it in the end. I was confident throughout the campaign, but I knew it was going to be hard. I had great support from friends and family throughout the campaign though and that helped. It helped big time.

“When it was announced [that he had won] I was just thrilled. It was amazing.”

The park area is now complete and includes a duck pond and children’s playground. Mr McKenna even had the honour of opening it himself.

“It was great to see the park finished and it was amazing to get to open it. It’s a great facility for local children.”

Mr McKenna was adamant that Down syndrome would not and did not affect his campaign or his current work on any level.

“It doesn’t really stop me from doing anything and I love doing what I do. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability, because you can do anything once you actually put your mind to it,” he said.

After more than three years in the position, Mr McKenna said he couldn’t possibly choose a highlight, but that he adores his job and meeting people from around the town, which has a population of about 1,140 people. Since his inauguration, he has opened many of the town’s shops and has hosted a wide variety of events in local pubs.

“It’s lovely to see so many locals setting up businesses and it’s great to see them doing well.”

Mr McKenna says the fact that he became mayor and received such a level of support from locals shows that disabilities shouldn’t hold anyone back from achieving their goals.

Prior to his mayorship, Mr McKenna was no stranger to community activities. He has a collection of gold, silver and bronze medals from taking part in the local Special Olympics club in Ormond, having competed in the 80m walk, shot putt and swimming.

He said competing in the Special Olympics was a great honour for him.

“I love every bit of it. I’ve made a lot of friends through the games. There’s a great spirit and great atmosphere there,” he said.

“I have around six or seven gold medals and they mean a lot to me,” he said.

Although Mr McKenna has no mayoral obligations coming up soon and it’s quietening down, he says it’s something he really enjoys doing and never wants to give it up.

“I have no plans to ever step down as mayor. No. I’ll stay in the job for as long as I can. I absolutely love it and I absolutely love Borrisokane.”