Story of seven ‘magnificent’ children on display at National Gallery

Performance by young people from LauraLymm with life-limiting disabilities commemorated

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Paula Swayne has watched her son Luke (14) play a Gaelic football match at Croke Park, and she has cheered Luke’s little sister, Ruby (10), at gymnastics competitions throughout her childhood.

It was not until last May that Ms Swayne had the joy of cheering on her third child, Evan (14) - whose quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy has limited such opportunities - in a similar fashion at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.

“It was fabulous,” Ms Swayne said, surrounded by her three children at the launch of a National Gallery of Ireland (NGI) art exhibition commemorating the performance. “It would be like Luke running out onto Croke Park and everybody cheering for him.”

Evan was one of seven children from LauraLynn Ireland Children’s Hospice selected to star in ‘The Much More Magnificent Seven’, a play written by Paul Timoney to celebrate the children, who have life-limiting disabilities.

The students’ families were asked by LauraLynn to complete a worksheet listing the children’s characteristics and hobbies, which were then incorporated into aspects of the play.

Evan, for example, is an avid rugby fan, and when watching Ireland national team matches, his family substitutes his name for “Ireland” during the singing of “Ireland’s Call”.

As part of the play, “Evan’s Call” moved from the family’s living room to the Abbey Theatre, where more than 100 audience members sang along to the delight of the Swayne family.

“It was fantastic,” Ms Swayne said. “It’s all about inclusion. Just because a child is nonverbal or in a wheelchair doesn’t mean they should be excluded from anything.”

The exhibition honouring the children and their performance will be on display for one month to highlight the importance of making arts available to every child, regardless of their physical abilities.

Included in the exhibit beside a photo of each child on the Abbey Theatre stage (in their wheelchairs-turned-unicorn chariots) are hand-painted illustrations that bring ‘The Much More Magnificent Seven’ to life.

Also included at the exhibition is a sensory box containing props and costumes that visitors may dress up in to recreate aspects of the play.

Lisa Crawley, whose daughter Erika (8) has lived with Dravet syndrome - an epileptic disorder - since birth, described the performance and its art display at the National Gallery as “brilliant”.

“I was an emotional wreck the day of the performance,” Ms Crawley said. “You don’t expect kids with special needs to be included in anything like this...For seven kids to be picked from LauraLynn to have their own production at the Abbey Theatre and their own art display is something you’d never dream of.”

Since opening in September 2011, LauraLynn Ireland Children’s Hospice has provided specialised care and more than 275,000 hours of short-stay to more than 365 children and their families.

This year’s play was only the second wheelchair-exclusive performance in the 114-year history of Abbey Theatre, the first of which was also organised by the children’s hospice and took place in 2016.

Evan Swayne, Erica Cawley, Nira Bouzid, Jack Hamens and Natalie Maria Racovita.The National Gallery of Ireland launched a display entitled ‘The Much More Magnificent Seven - LauraLynn at the Abbey Theatre’, telling the story of a performance while highlighting the importance of the Arts for all children. Photograph: Maxwell Photography Dublin
Evan Swayne, Erica Cawley, Nira Bouzid, Jack Hamens and Natalie Maria Racovita.The National Gallery of Ireland launched a display entitled ‘The Much More Magnificent Seven - LauraLynn at the Abbey Theatre’, telling the story of a performance while highlighting the importance of the Arts for all children. Photograph: Maxwell Photography Dublin

Speaking before the launch of the exhibition, NGI community and education coordinator Brina Casey recognised the work of LauraLynn and emphasised the importance of involving all children in the field of arts and culture.

“The Gallery’s Community Programme has worked for several years with LauraLynn Children’s Hospice and couldn’t be prouder of the work we do with them,” Ms Casey said. “This is a partnership that we place huge value in and having the opportunity to share some of this work with Gallery visitors throughout December is wonderful.”

The gallery’s display is in memory of Conor Flynn, a member of the cast who died earlier this year.

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