Anne Hailes: Three people I met in past year whose stories are truly inspirational

The inspirational Kym Lennon, away on her travels

ALL the people I write about are important to me and leave a lasting impression, like the three I returned to last week to catch up on 2019.

Indeed I was lucky to catch Kym Lennon. She was at George Best airport waiting to be called for her flight to Amsterdam and onwards to Singapore. There she was boarding a cruise liner for a couple of weeks before flying from Singapore to Sydney for a few days before joining another cruise ship to ‘do’ Australia's west coast then back to Brisbane for a short holiday with friends before flying to Dublin via Doha airport Qatar.

Quite an undertaking for anyone but hats off to Kym who describes herself as a solo traveller. Sitting in George Best with her daughter Alex and her friend Toby, Kym was obviously excited and not one bit scared despite the fact that she is severely disabled and is travelling all these hundreds of miles, on her own, in a wheelchair.

“Although some airlines still won’t take a disabled passenger on their own there have been improvements. It used to be my bionic wheelchair was taken away from me to go into the hold and I had to use their chair which wasn’t comfortable or safe but now I can use mine until I get into the plane.”

Kym (52) was born able bodied but in 1998 she suffered a brain tumour which she survived, against all expectations. However she can’t walk, has double vision that effects her balance and has been receiving intensive speech therapy.

Yet nothing seems to daunt this woman who rates her life eight out of ten. She’s an impressive campaigner who started the charity Disability Matters North Down and Ards and in 2019 fought and won her crusade for an interactive beach which opened in Groomsport last autumn.

“I’m here to show the public how successful life can be in a wheelchair. I’m an optimist. When it comes to the glass, I’m a half full type of girl. Once you figure out why you’re here, figure out your purpose in life, just get on and do it.”

Bon voyage, Kym.

:: A west Belfast mum

West Belfast foster mum Bridie McLean

BRIDIE McLean lives off the Springfield Road and I loved her from the moment I walked through her garden gate early last year. Huge smile and a big hug of welcome, she's a woman who has been a foster carer to 20 children but 10 years ago she drew two teenage boys into her family of four children.

“I was feeling a bit down one Friday morning and I made a prayer to Saint Martha for strength and an hour later the phone rang. Could I take a little boy for the weekend?

"Absolutely, yes. I began to prepare when, shortly after that, the phone rang again – could I take his brother as well? Just for the weekend? They came and they stayed, I call them my angels.”

Christmas Eve is always a celebration. This Christmas from Sunday to Tuesday 34 friends and relatives, children and grandchildren partied in her home, rock buns and chicken and beef pies aplenty.

I even got the recipes when we talked last week: fry the cubed feef, Oxo cube, HP sauce, Bisto, onion in the pot, a little water and tip the meat in. Make your own pastry with self-rising flour and soft Stork margarine and an egg beaten with a little milk to brush on top. It’s not the ingredients, it's the love that goes into that dish that makes the difference.

Bridie will have her challenges in 2020 but she will do as she always does and pray, “God send me help, tell me what to do.”

This warm and cosy woman has an open-door policy. There’s always chat and laughter – just the right atmosphere for children and adults alike. She’s a west Belfast mummy, baking and cooking, lifting and laying with time and room in her heart for everyone.

:: More please, Sir!

Performers in Esmond Burke's original musical Twisted

ESLER Burke impressed hundreds of people last February when the curtain went up on his musical Twisted. It’s quite a story. A musician of 72 years of age, front man for the band Springfield and a man with an imagination.

When he saw the film in the Regal cinema in Larne, he was instantly a fan of Oliver!, starring Ron Moody as Fagan with music by Lionel Bart. “I was hooked!”

He read the Dickens novel and became fascinated with Oliver’s half brother Edward.

Esler Burke

“I got the spark from the Dickens book and over five years I developed the character and his relationships.”

Esler called in top professionals to help him, worked with the Theatre at the Mill and their enthusiastic youth group plus well-known amateurs in the lead parts and spent his life’s savings to realise his dream.

It was a smash hit, six shows with 90 per cent ticket sales, 320 people at the matinee where there would usually be around 180, the most successful show ever in the Mill and the future looked bright. Unfortunately, as he told me, the expected follow-up wasn’t realised.

“I sent letters to amateur companies all over Northern Ireland and not one of them replied. I was very disappointed and annoyed but I haven’t given up hope. I have a number of leads in England with a few producers there showing an interest.”

It’s a shame that the companies he approached didn’t have the decency to contact him even to say they weren’t interested. However, he takes comfort in the fact that Les Miserables lay dormant for years before it became a huge hit.

But he hasn’t been idle over the last few months and is now working on a show for schools – a tale of a garden, two cats and their prickly friends. A good message for the New Year – if you don’t at first succeed, try, try, try again!

:: More about Twisted at

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