Uplifted by Helium

Friends of the Helium Misic Featival, Caroline Treanor with Mary and Oliver Colohan and Ray Tiernan with Thomas Colohan.  Photo:  Michelle Ghee.
With The Stunning headlining this year’s Helium Festival in Ballymahon, there is no doubt that the event will attract a huge gathering, as fans of all ages descend on the picturesque south Longford town on June 8 next.

With The Stunning headlining this year’s Helium Festival in Ballymahon, there is no doubt that the event will attract a huge gathering, as fans of all ages descend on the picturesque south Longford town on June 8 next.

Now in its fifth year, Helium has developed into an impressive boutique festival but it is very different from other events of its kind - this festival is a fundraiser for Ataxia Ireland. Longford Leader columnist Thomas Colohan, a 30-year-old native of Ballymahon and son of Ollie and Mary, contracted Friedreich’s Ataxia some years ago. As local people began to learn about this little-known condition, the discovered Ataxia Ireland, an organisation which assists sufferers of the illness and provides supports to their families.

In 2008, friends of Thomas’s decided to look at a novel way to raise funds for Ataxia Ireland. The Helium festival was born.

“Thomas’s friends got together one day and decided to get Helium up and running so that they could raise funds for Ataxia Ireland,” Thomas’s father Ollie told the Leader. “There are approximately 100 people in Ireland with the condition and Thomas also has Scoliosis which affects his spine.”

Friedreich’s Ataxia is a genetic disorder of the central nervous system which affects physical co-ordination and movement. It usually occurs in children between the ages of six and sixteen years but can occur later. It results in a progressive breakdown in the person’s coordination, clumsiness, difficulties with balance and eventually slurred speech. While the person eventually is confined to a wheelchair, the illness does not impede brain function. “Basically the signals from the brain to the parts of the body that move cease to exist,” added Ollie who pointed out that Ataxia was similar to Multiple Sclerosis because of its slow and progressive nature. “Helium really helps to raise funds for the society [Ataxia Ireland]. They use the funds to provide half the cost of attending a specialised doctor at Tallaght Hospital, which for the parent of someone with the condition knows, is a big, big help. Sometimes, they will also provide a wheelchair vehicle to take Thomas to hospital if we are unable to take him, so the society really helps to take away some of the stress for carers.”

On June 8 next, Ataxia Ireland will host a skydive in nearby Abbeyshrule, while the finishing touches are currently being put to the 5K Fun Run which is all set for that morning in Ballymahon. The events are working in conjunction with the Helium Festival which is testament to how this festival has grown. “The Helium Festival here is Ballymahon is probably one of the biggest fundraisers in the country for Ataxia Ireland,” continued Ollie. “Staff from the society will be in Ballymahon on the day, helping out and supporting in any way they can, and they will stay in the area for a day or two.”

In the background, the event is run by local people with a team of volunteers planning and organising months in advance.

With The Stunning’s close connections to Co Longford – Charlie Byrne is from Ballymahon- a huge county fan base will no doubt be eagerly awaiting their appearance on stage on June 8. This year’s line-up also boasts some of the biggest names on the domestic music front including Mick Flannery, Kila and David Kitt. Also making an appearance will be Amazing Apples, Liza Flume and many, many more. Tickets cost €40 and doors open at 2pm. Check out www.heliumfestival.ie for more details.