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Darragh McGann. Picture by John Hennessy
Darragh McGann. Picture by John Hennessy
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MS won’t silence me, vows singer Darragh

WHEN popular Cork singer Darragh McGann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), he went through a range of emotions.

Now, a year on, he is determined that the illness will not stop him following his great passion.

“My biggest fear is that I’ll never be able to sing again,” says the Cobhman, known as ‘The Singing Taxi Driver’.

“I’m putting my energy into driving my voice forward. MS won’t shut me up. It might slow you down. But it won’t kill you.

“I go for a monthly treatment to the Bons. I always come away cheerful and with a reason to smile.”

Darragh first shot to fame on RTÉ’s The All Ireland Talent Show, then captured the hearts of millions of viewers when he auditioned for Simon Cowell on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014 with his version of Danny Boy.

However, in November last year, the cabbie was told he had MS.

“I woke up one Monday morning with no feeling in my finger tips,” recalls Darragh. “I thought that I had just slept badly, but then my left arm went numb.finger tips,” recalls Darragh. “I thought that I had just slept badly, but then my left arm went numb.one Monday morning with no feeling in my finger tips,” recalls Darragh. “I thought that I had just slept badly, but then my left arm went numb.

“I was frightened when the numbness I was experiencing spread down my left arm.

“My GP didn’t rule out a mini stroke and he sent me to A&E in CUH.

“When I was five hours in CUH, a trapped nerve was suspected. I was told to go home.

“Two days later, when I was in the shower, I couldn’t feel the water running down the front or the back of my body. I was numb.”

Darragh went to South Doc.

“The doctor didn’t like what he saw. I was back in CUH in the early hours of the morning undergoing a CT brain scan, a spinal tap and MRI’s over the next few days.”

When the diagnosis finally came, it was a difficult time for Darragh.

“I never envisaged to be told bad news like that,” he said.

His mother was understandably very worried about her son. “She cried on the phone to me,” recalls Darragh.

“MS. Those two letters make you think the worst case scenario. I was no different. I didn’t think about my good friend in Galway who had lived 11 years with MS and who got on with life.”

Darragh joined the 8,000 people in Ireland living with MS. And he soon started to become more positive.

“I was lucky that I was caught early and could expect a good quality of life,” he say. “Yes, the fatigue slowed me down and emotionally I was all over the place.

“My mother and I sat and spoke with the nurse in the Bon Secours Hospital. Her name was Anne. She was a great support to us.”

Others offered hope, and he learned of a network of support for people with the illness and their families.

“I wanted somebody, anybody, to sit down with my mother and I. Just to reassure her that Darragh will be all right.

“Obviously her biggest fear at this hour of her life is, who will look after me when she’s gone?

Darragh McGann Picture: David Keane
Darragh McGann Picture: David Keane

“The drugs slow down the progression of the disease, but there is no cure. I’m self-employed and I’m scared to death that in 15 or 20 years’ time, I could be in a wheelchair. But it does no good to think too far ahead.”

Darragh, who also found fame as Marlon Brando’s double in the Ballycotton- based film, Divine Rapture, is now seeking to give something back and wants to set up a support group for MS sufferers in East Cork.

“The reality is that there is very little support out there for people in some rural towns,” he said.

“I wanted somebody to speak with my mother, Josephine, who is 83, and who lives with me. I wanted her fears allayed so that she wouldn’t worry about me so much.

“I needed somebody to meet with her and tell her that I would be strong enough to continue to care for her.”

“That is why I intend to set up a network in East Cork for people who have been diagnosed with MS.

“East cork is a huge area with populated towns and villages like Cobh, Cloyne, Castlemartyr, Killeagh, Youghal, Aghada; the list goes on.”

“I want to take the burden away from families of people who have MS,” he adds.

Darragh wants to set up a ‘listening ear’ network in the region.

“There is a kind of stigma and shame associated with MS,” he says. “It is an invisible disease.

“I’ve shed four stone and people come up to me saying, ‘you look fantastic. You look great’. I’ve met a lot of people in recent months who are slow to admit that they have MS, because nobody can see it.”MS, because nobody can see it.”

How does Darragh see the ‘listening ear’ network working?

“In mid-October, I’d like to organise a coffee morning at an East Cork venue,” he says.

“When the social meetings start and grow, I’d like to see them happening in all different East Cork towns.

“Initially, perhaps somebody would be kind enough to offer a meeting room.

“Ultimately, when enough people are on board, we can set up a phone line.

“The National MS organisation operates a hotline two hours a day, but it’s not enough,” says Darragh.

“I want to get the word out there to people that having MS is not the end of the world. It is OK to have MS.

“If somebody has relapsed and they want to talk to somebody; there is somebody available to listen. I want to create something positive, not fear, doom and gloom.”

Darragh says hiding away is not an option.

“No more hiding away,” says Darragh.

“No more suffering in silence.

“I want families to know that as they go through the worst stages; they are not alone.

“I felt very alone when I was diagnosed. I don’t want anyone else to go through that. It’s about shining a light and showing people that there is a light out there.”

Darragh is never alone. He has a huge fan-base and he has a new friend.

“I adopted a cute little dog called Magic,” says Darragh.

“She’s great.”

Darragh is hopeful for the future.

“You know, I always saw myself as a super-hero,” he says smiling.

MS FACT FILE

Multiple Scleriosis progressively injures the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord.Scleriosis progressively injures the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord.

Injury to the nerves may be reflected in deterioration of virtually any sensory or motor (muscular), function in the body.deterioration of virtually any sensory or motor (muscular), function in the body.

As more and more nerves are affected, a person experiences a progressive interference with functions that are controlled by the nerves such as vision, walking, writing and memory.

The cause of MS is unknown, though it is widely accepted that genetic immunological and environmental factors play a role.

There are 8,000 people and their families in Ireland, who are living with MS.

Typically it affects Caucasians between 20 and 40 years old.

Living with the disease is a combination of many things.

Medically, working with Health Professionals to find suitable treatment and intervention to keep sufferers healthy is vital.

Socially, it is about finding ways to maintain participation through home life, work, leisure pursuits and community activity.

Emotionally, it is about finding ways to cope with the challenges and maintain good mental health.

MS Ireland: 1850233233

Cork Branch: 021-4300001

See southernms-society.ie