Dungloe mum Carleen Gallagher has been inspired by her little girl Lucy to call on parents to teach their children about different types of beauty.

Lucy Gallagher (6) has an incurable genetic skin condition that requires life-long care. But the happy schoolgirl has made a massive impact on her community in helping them understand how to appreciate everyone’s differences.

Lucy and Carleen Gallagher

Her mum Carleen is now calling on all people, young and old, to learn from the example of Lucy and her friends and appreciate everyone’s inner strengths and gifts.

“I am mum to a fabulous little lady, Lucy, who is now six and a half,” Carleen said. “That half is very important in our home. She is spirited, determined, feisty and so funny. She has a zest for living that can only be admired.”

Lucy had a difficult start to life. She was born in Letterkenny but the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in CHI at Crumlin was her home for eight months due to her skin condition, called Harlequin Ichthyosis. 

Parents Gary and Carleen with baby Lucy

Lucy has come so far in six years, Carleen says, and starting school has been a valuable learning experience for everyone.

She said: “Just over one year ago, Lucy walked into her new classroom in Scoil Roisín, Donegal, alongside her peers to start a new journey. The tears that fell on that ordinary sunny Wednesday fell because of the pride, gratitude and contentment we felt. We embraced and celebrated the extraordinary of both the big and small changes in this life.

“Most students are blissfully unaware of all the background preparation and hard work done by the school staff, the many professionals and volunteers in our community to make it possible for Lucy to attend her local primary school. Our family experienced invaluable and tremendous support from our community and we are eternally grateful. No one in Scoil Roisín had ever dealt with Ichthyosis before, but the staff were more than willing to learn with us so that Lucy would be in the best environment and receive any special care she needs.”

Scoil Roisín pupil Lucy Gallagher

Scoil Roisín now boasts new flooring and paintwork throughout, wheelchair accessible doors, a disabled toilet, a separate room for carrying out care needs (creaming, bandaging, PEG feeding) a shaded soft play area and new wipeable furniture and equipment.

“As a parent of a child who tends to attract a lot of attention due to her unique beauty, I felt a responsibility to Lucy to familiarise all the students in the school with her before school began,” Carleen said. 

“The summer before she started school, I wrote a child-friendly letter that could be read to all classes, explaining Lucy’s condition and answering any questions I thought might arise when she started school. I wanted the children to be comfortable around Lucy. All children are naturally curious in life; it is up to us adults to nurture and mould an understanding and kindness in our children.

“When we heard back that one little girl exclaimed ‘write back to her and tell her not to worry about a thing because we will take care of her,’ I actually had to hold back the tears. That day cemented our hope for the new school year; hope for acceptance, hope for friends and hope for understanding.”

Scoil Roisín pupil Lucy Gallagher and her parents Gary and Carleen welcoming Daniel O’Donnell to their school during Ichthyosis Awareness Month

Carleen is calling on parents to have a chat with their children about how they react to a different type of beauty and to prepare them to meet children who might be a little different.

“Teach them to appreciate the strengths and gifts that others have to offer,” Carleen said. “Explain to them why differences are so wonderful, why they make each of us so special. Too many of us get stuck in a never ending cycle of chasing the next best thing that we forget to really live, feel and experience the beauty we have created.”