Inspiring life leaves a beautiful legacy


A memorial fund for Margaret McLoughlin pays tribute to her love of art and craft, writes JUNE SHANNON

MARGARET McLOUGHLIN was a bright and beautiful young girl who died in 2003 aged just 25. With a wide smile and playful sense of humour Margaret easily won the hearts of all who knew and loved her. She was also a brave and determined fighter. She had to be.

Margaret was born with Down syndrome and Eisenmenger syndrome, a congenital heart condition that ultimately curtailed her life.

Most often, babies with this condition are born with a hole between the two pumping chambers – the left and right ventricles – of the heart. This allows oxygenated blood from the lungs to flow back into the lungs, instead of nourishing the vital organs of the body.

Medical opinion at the time of her birth was that Margaret would almost certainly not survive. Her parents, Joan and Tony McLoughlin, were told to bring her home and make her as comfortable as possible. However, even as a tiny baby Margaret’s steely determination was apparent as she went on to defy the doctors and live a happy, if sadly short, life.

“Margaret was really an extraordinary personality. She had a tremendous will to live. If she hadn’t had that she wouldn’t have survived, because physically her condition was more or less hopeless,” Joan McLoughlin recalls.

With the unending devotion of her parents, brothers Kieran and David and sister Louise, Margaret continued to thrive and grew into a loving young girl.

Margaret had a great love of music and was a huge Boyzone fan, although according to Joan this devotion was sorely tested when Ronan Keating got married and she switched allegiance to Westlife.

Louise was Margaret’s constant companion at all Boyzone and later Westlife’s Dublin concerts. Much to Margaret’s delight, her older sister somehow always managed to get her to meet her heroes after the show.

Joan recalls that one of Margaret’s designated duties at the workshop where she was employed was to answer the door to visitors. “When you rang the bell you would see this little head appearing and a big smile. I don’t know how many people said to me ‘When I come to the door and I see that smile, it cheers me up for the day’.”

Both Joan and Tony spoke of the devotion showed by Margaret’s siblings to their youngest sister, who always ensured to involve her in everything they did.

“They were all terribly good to her, it was a very good situation both for us and for Margaret. But you always had that anxiety – we knew that we were living with a very serious illness that was there all the time,” Joan says.

Sadly, soon after her 21st birthday, which she celebrated in style with a huge party, Margaret’s condition began to deteriorate and Joan became painfully aware that her daughter was gravely ill.

Margaret lost her battle in May 2003 when she died surrounded by her loving family, a month short of her 26th birthday.

Inspired by Margaret’s strength of spirit and a strong belief in the many talents of those with intellectual disabilities, the McLoughlin family decided to set up a fund in her name to help people like Margaret reach their full potential.

The Margaret McLoughlin Fund is a named fund within the Ireland Funds and is contributed to by Margaret’s family, friends and other Ireland Fund donors. Earlier this year the fund reached an impressive $200,000 (approximately €140,000).

In the last few years of her life, Margaret developed a keen interest in art and it seems fitting that the family recently donated the entire sum raised to the National Institute for Intellectual Disability (NIID) at Trinity College Dublin, to establish the Margaret McLoughlin Art Project.

According to Loretta Brennan Glucksman, chairwoman of the American Ireland Fund, “The American Ireland Fund has been proud to support the Margaret McLoughlin Fund since its inception. Those of us fortunate enough to know the McLoughlin family were eager to help expand their enlightened work with people with special needs.

“The excellence of the project at Trinity is a perfect vehicle for them to memorialise their precious Margaret and to expand the benefit of top-class research to so many other families.”

Established in 2004, the NIID promotes inclusion for people with intellectual disability through education, research and advocacy.

It offers a unique opportunity for students with an intellectual disability to undertake a two-year full-time Certificate in Contemporary Living (CCL) programme.

According to the NIID the core values of the certificate programme include a belief in the capacity of individuals with intellectual disabilities; a respect for their contributions to society; and a belief in equality of opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities.

With an annual intake of about 20 students, the CCL course is made up of 10 modules, which include personal effectiveness, career development, mathematics and financial management, art and design and creative arts.

The Margaret McLoughlin Art Project will provide funding for the annual Margaret McLoughlin Art Event where students will showcase their work in art and poetry; the Margaret McLoughlin Student Prize to be awarded annually to a second-year NIID student for excellence in art; a dedicated art education space; and a poetry and picture book featuring the creative work of NIID students.

Molly O’Keeffe is one of three educational officers at the NIID who, together with colleagues John Kubiak and Niamh Lally, co-ordinates and delivers the CCL programme.

According to O’Keeffe, the Margaret McLoughlin Fund has allowed the NIID to have “a wish list” and will enable students to develop their skills in the creative arts.

She adds that the expressive arts programme is a very important aspect of the CCL as it allows students to reflect on who they are as individuals and facilitates them in expressing their many skills and talents.

“The arts cost money. There is a lot in the materials that are required, anything to do with it, framing the work is very expensive, so this fabulous, fantastic gift has enabled this art project to grow and develop . . . the skies are the limits.”

So what would Margaret think of having an art project in her name at TCD?

“She would be absolutely thrilled,” says Joan.

“Yes, she would love it,” Tony agrees, smiling.