Two Mayo women recall getting the keys for their new accessible homes in Co. Mayo

An Fraoch Irish Wheelchair Association’s accessible housing development in Bellmullet, Co.Mayo.

“Moving day was actually quite strange,” says Aine McDonnell. “All I had was a radio and the song that kept playing the whole time was Havana by Camila Cabillo. I love that song. That song makes me smile because it makes me realise, hang on, that’s when I got my own space.”

Aine is one of seven residents in An Fraoch, Irish Wheelchair Association’s accessible housing development in Belmullet, Co Mayo. And while the town may be miles away from the tropics of Havana, it boasts an incredible coastline and views that go on for miles.

Irish Wheelchair Association staff member and Aine McDonnell in her accessible home in Bellmullet

Aine’s neighbour Teresa Gaughan has lived in her house for three years. “Moving-in day was very new and exciting,” she says. “The month before I moved in, I was shopping with my Mam saying we have to get this and that. Cutlery, tables, chairs…I was really excited about it. My Mam had to tell me to slow down.”

An Fraoch’s pristine, whitewashed houses sit in Logmore outside Belmullet town. The development consists of seven two-bedroom A3 rated homes. They employ universal design principles with wheelchair accessibility at their core and features including open spacing, adaptable kitchen tops, remote-controlled doors, and custom-fitted wardrobes.   

Aine and Teresa had both lived at home before moving in, so it was a big decision to fly the nest, even though their new nest was tailormade for them.

“I was born with Spina Bidifa,” says Teresa. “Up until about six years ago, I was only using a wheelchair occasionally. Then I fell off a chair and hurt my back. It could happen to anyone. I was badly bruised on the inside.” After the fall, Teresa felt attached to the certainty of having her parents around.

Teresa Gaughan in her accessible home in Bellmullet

“The opportunity for the house came up and I’ll admit I was undecided. In my head I was thinking yes I will, no I won’t. Eventually, I sat down with my Mam and she made me see that not everything is going to stay the same. They’re getting on, the rest of the family are doing their own thing and when it comes to the stage when Mam and Dad aren’t there anymore, who can I fall back on? Our conversation made me see that.”

Aine had similar reservations, but family circumstances cemented the need to have her own house. “My Dad had health issues and I didn’t think it was fair on Mum to have to look after the two of us. I wanted to move out anyway, but this gave me the push I needed to get a place of my own and to try and get there on my own.”

It was the calm after the storm of moving in that was the hardest for both women. Both admit to being initially homesick, torn between that longing for what was home, the familiar sounds and presence of their parents, and the desire to create a new life and new memories.

Returning to An Fraoch after the first Christmas back at her parents’ hit Teresa hard. “I was thinking, this won’t work. I missed home. The most ever. I wanted to be with Mam and Dad, but I wanted my own place. I sat here and thought, right it makes your mind up time. Give the keys back and say thanks it didn’t work or make it work.

“I remembered what my mother said about them not living forever. I said, ok Teresa, think of that and make it work, as you won’t get this chance again if you throw it away now.”

This decision was a milestone and Teresa hasn’t looked back since. “My home gives me freedom. I can have friends over, a glass of wine. Even if it’s just sitting and watching the tele, I’m not disturbing anyone.”

Teresa Gaughan in her accessible home in Bellmullet

Aine’s solution was to adopt a four-legged friend called Mack. He helped her recover from major surgery soon after she moved in. “He’s a very protective dog. He knows when I’m anxious and he stays near me. He sits right beside me when I’m watching tele, lying down. If he thinks I’m struggling, he’ll help me transfer into bed and he won’t go to bed until I go to bed.”

Aine’s creative stamp is all over her house. “I love music. I’ve been into music since I was six or seven years old. I love books, oh I love books,” she says, pointing out her James Herriot and Shakespeare collections.

“We’ve a great set-up here, a great centre and houses. Everybody looks out for everybody else. If one of us is struggling, we can go to Rosaleen from Irish Wheelchair Association. It’s been a great comfort to me over the years, as I’ve been ill, my parents have been ill. To have the support of the centre is huge.”

Teresa admits to loving the learning curve that moving out brought. “It’s helped me. The bills are your responsibility. Food, rent, whatever. It’s up to you to budget and to allocate your wages or social support, so you have enough at the end of the week.”

For Aine the keys to her own home means independence. “I love my parents, but it’s the sense of freedom to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. It’s kind of liberating.”

If you are interested in finding out about how to apply for social housing, find out how through our new campaign, Think Ahead, Think Housing.