First Encounters: Keith Hanley and Donie Carroll

‘I like Irish country music -- I wouldn’t be saying that to Keith, naturally’

Donie Carroll is a woodwork machinist who retired as a supervisor in a workshop for adults with special needs, St Joseph's Foundation, in Charleville, Co Cork, earlier this year. He lives in Buttevant, Co Cork with his wife, Eileen.

I met Keith about five or six years ago through his uncle, Laurence: I was Laurence’s supervisor in the workshop in St Joseph’s Foundation [a centre for people with intellectual disabilities]. Keith would come down and visit – he was just 16 then. I thought he was a down-to-earth, lovable guy. And when he started working in Holy Family School that’s attached to St Joseph’s, he was like a father figure to the kids – they’re aged from three, four, five upwards. Keith and I get on very well – it was the link between Laurence and Keith, and Laurence and myself that drew us together.

Keith was always dancing and jumping about, full of beans. He volunteered with us when he was still going to school, and taught adults and children hip hop. I wasn’t surprised when he came to work full-time in the centre: he had a big heart for Laurence. I think a big heart is what you need to work with people with special needs and Keith has that.

This year he got involved in the Special Olympics, at the Ireland Games in Limerick. He was a one-to- one mentor in the athletics group. He was a hit when everyone discovered who he was: every second day it was photographs with Keith Hanley.


I retired in April this year. I got into working in the special needs area years ago, by accident really, when St Joseph’s was hoping to start woodwork in its workshop. I was a woodwork machinist in Buttevant and the place I had worked in had closed down. It was the happiest move in my life. Working with people with special needs is brilliant: in the ordinary way you’d ask a fella to do a job and he might say, ‘ah sure do it yourself’. If you show someone with special needs how to do a job once, that’s it – they do it against all the odds.

Keith is the kind of guy that you can ask him to do a job or a favour and it’s no problem – there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. He’ll go in and do it and you’d be guaranteed the job would be done right.

We were not surprised he went for The Voice – he's that kind of guy, he'll give it his best shot. He had fierce support from the workshop and the school and the whole Charleville community. The night he came home, jayz, there were thousands on the street. I'm not into hip hop, I like Irish country music – I wouldn't be saying that to Keith, naturally.

Not one bit has success changed him; if he’s in Dublin and has a shift for 7pm in St Joseph’s, he’ll be there.

I think Keith will go on working in the special needs area; he has the grá for it. But we know he wants to make a career in music, although it’s a hard business to get into.

Keith Hanley is a singer and care assistant for children with special needs. Born in Limerick, he lives with his mother and sister in Charleville, Co Cork.

Donie looked after my Uncle Laurence in the workshop of St Joseph’s Foundation [a centre for people with intellectual disabilities], where Donie worked before he retired this year.

I just loved meeting Donie: it was his energy. He’s the biggest friendliest character I’ve ever met; he just welcomes you with open arms. Any advice you’d like to get, Donie will offer it to you in the nicest, clearest way. Being around him, you can’t help but smile. He was definitely someone I looked up to.

Every time going down to collect Laurence, Donie and I would constantly chat. I’d look forward to meeting him. In the last three or four years, we ended up working together in the workshop or the residential home.

It’s true that working in this area wouldn’t appeal to a lot of young people, it was Laurence – who had Down’s Syndrome – who made me want to do it. There are tough times and great times. The work does put a lot of things into perspective in my eyes, like the music scene, with its ups and downs. I get so much out of where I work.

I was blessed to spend time under Donie’s wing in the Athletics Group at the Special Olympics in Limerick this year, and just the advice from Donie – who’s been going to World games for years – was amazing; it’s something I would treasure.

We were looking after maybe four or five athletes. Donie introduced me to all the head coaches, people he has worked with throughout the years; he's just such a respected character. He'll be remembered for years to come at St Joseph's. People miss him, they really do.
My father passed away when I was 12 and Laurence, who was my dad's brother, the youngest of his family, died just over three years ago when he was 31. It hasn't been easy.

I’m tipping away at my music career. There’s been a lull after The Voice that has benefitted me. I’m spending my time now in Cork doing small gigs and working with people I really admire on new material.

I play Prince Charming in the panto – I can’t wait. The Everyman Palace stage has been my home for many years: I would have had minor roles before and was absolutely delighted to be asked to play a principal role. I’m working in St Joseph’s and I’m studying child psychology online. There’s plenty more left of Keith Hanley.

Even though Donie’s retired, he still gets involved in the Foundation’s activities, I’d still ring him for advice. He’s still humble and appreciative and positive – the kind of person I’d like to be.