Carer of the Year Award goes to Tipperary

Catherine and John Gleeson have being named as the national Irish Red Cross Carers of the Year 2017. 

It was early summer 2014 and Catherine and John Gleeson, who live near Thurles, Co Tipperary, had just built a new house. Catherine was working as a primary school teacher and John as a supervisor in a glass factory and they had three daughters. Little did they know that by August of that same summer, both would have quit their jobs to look after their youngest daughter.

Their youngest daughter was born a “great” and “very quiet” baby. But several months later, she started to wake every night, and then she stopped crawling. “She just seemed to be getting sicker,” says Catherine. The family went on holidays to Sligo and Catherine noticed their daughter was very distressed. Catherine then noticed “a rapid deterioration” and decided to drive her from Sligo to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin in the middle of the night.

“We knew it had to be dealt with quickly, we didn’t know what we were dealing with but we went to the A&E and we arrived at around four in the morning,” says Catherine.

It turns out they were dealing with a large tumour on the spinal cord which resulted in several serious operations and chemotherapy.

Surgeons finally got rid of all the tumour and their daughter is in remission, but she had to learn how to walk again, in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.

She is now well on the road to recovery.

Catherine was pregnant with her fourth child, a son, when her daughter was diagnosed with cancer. This bouncing baby boy arrived four months later and there was nothing to alarm his parents immediately. However Catherine then noticed he “wasn’t feeling as well, he was sleeping a lot, I couldn’t get him to feed and then he developed this very bad cough.” Their daughter was being admitted into the local hospital as part of her cancer so Catherine and John brought the baby down as well “and when we went down, the doctors realised he was quite seriously ill, they couldn’t control his heart rate,” says Catherine. Hospital staff worked through the night trying to control it. The baby was transferred to Crumlin and they realised his heart was in severe heart failure. Their son battled on, spending quite a while in the ICU, and then in the heart centre, and his heart slowly began to repair.

After a long battle, their son “was beginning to get very well” and their daughter had just come home from Dun Laoghaire. “We thought it was picking up and coming together,” says Catherine. However, in November 2016, their son was diagnosed with another serious, chronic, medical condition called Doose Syndrome. It has been very difficult to treat and he requires round-the-clock care and supervision.

Catherine explains how “normal family life changed hugely. There’s never time for yourself and you always put the adults furthest down the list because if you have any spare time, you’re trying to pump it into the other children because you feel you’ve been torn and gone away to hospital so much.”

Catherine and John are still out of work and providing 24/7 care to their son. Their priority at the moment is stabilising him. “They have never once complained and that has been said to me by several people,” says Catherine’s mother Josephine. “They never give up and work tirelessly around the clock in the hope that someday they will see their little children well and happy.”

The Gleesons were presented with their award at a ceremony in the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny on Saturday 25 November. At the event, Aiden Lonergan, National Director of Health and Social Care for the Irish Red Cross said “nominations for the award continue to grow in number each year as awareness of the award grows. We are delighted this year to award the title to a couple for the first time, highlighting the important role families play in caring. It is very humbling to present this award to two deserving winners who were surrounded by family and friends on the night.”

On the night, Catherine noted; “John and I would like to acknowledge the kindness, support, friendship and generosity of the community and further afield who have been so supportive and carried us many times on our journey,” says Catherine. “Thanks also to our families, our absolute rock, and to the wonderful charities, including the Irish Red Cross for their support.”

More to come

In early 2018 the Irish Red Cross will be launching a Carers App to help manage the day-to-day care needs of loved ones, for both voluntary carers and professional care teams. For more information call 01 642 4600 or email

Carer of the Year Award

Carers Award 2017