INSPIRATIONAL teacher Shellie Murtagh, whose dream in life was to help children with special abilities to realise their potential, has been posthumously honoured with the Limerick Person of the Month award.
The award was accepted this week by Shellie’s parents, Dorothy and Eamon, and her brother Sean, 17.
“Winning this is very significant because this gives us the opportunity to get Shellie’s message out there,” said Dorothy of her only daughter who passed away last month, aged just 22.
Shellie was very keen to leave a legacy.
“She had planned on changing the world - her part of the world that she had zoned in on,” said Dorothy.
During her short life, Shellie, who lived in Merval Park, Clareview, touched the hearts of many.
She was particularly devoted to advancing services for children with special abilities and those on the autism spectrum.
Thanks to the efforts of her family and friends, her legacy lives on. They are continuing her work with The Shellie Project which Shellie set up in a bid to develop a fresh approach to educating children with special abilities.
Shellie adorned horses. She had seen some remarkable changes in children on the autism spectrum while out riding with them. Her research, coupled with anecdotal evidence, led her to believe that the horse connection needed further research and she hoped to achieve this through The Shellie Project.
Shellie began combining horse therapy with the techniques and methods she learned during her primary teacher training in Mary Immaculate College.
As part of her project, Shellie wanted to develop a mechanical horse. It was a big part of the dream. “She wanted to do research to see the benefits of the rocking motions of trotting and cantering and she wanted to bring the riding experience into schools so that children with special abilities could benefit,” said Dorothy.
Brunel University in London believed in her dream and they donated a mechanical horse they had developed which is now being used by children at Clonlara Equestrian Centre.
Shellie’s love of horses developed at a very early age. She was just four, in fact. “She used to go to bed reading encyclopaedias about horses,” said Dorothy.
Aged five, Shellie told Dorothy and Eamon, she wanted a pony. “By the age of nine she had enough saved to buy her first pony,” Dorothy recalled.
Shellie paid out £800 for Willow. By the time she was 12, Melody had arrived. Around this time, Shellie began teaching at Clonlara Equestrian Centre with her good friend, Davnet Kiernan O’Brien. She later became a horse riding instructor with the British Horse Society.
The West Midlands Region Association of Irish Riding Clubs awarded the Lancelot Award to Shellie for Club Rider of the Year.
The former student of Salesian Primary School and Crescent Comprehensive Secondary School loved training to become a teacher at Mary Immaculate College. “She should have finished in 2012 but in the middle of her exams in April 2012 she got sick,” Dorothy explained. “She had surgery in the middle of her exams. She completed the remainder of her exams in April and May 2013, just after the cancer came back again.”
Prior to the brain tumour being diagnosed in 2012, Shellie had enjoyed good health. Determined not to let her illness thwart her dreams, Shellie did some of her assignments in Milford Hospice. She loved music and recorded the song, Blue, to help fund The Shellie Project and Milford Hospice.
Sadly, she missed her graduation. “If it had been a week earlier I think she would have made it - she had the outfit and the whole lot,” said Dorothy.
At her funeral Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Ennis Road, Shellie’s graduation cap, gown and parchment were presented by the dean of education at Mary Immaculate College, Professor Teresa O’Doherty, and the vice president, Eugene Wall.
One of Dorothy’s fondest memories of Shellie is from last April when she was doing what she loved best, horse riding. “It was the week before she was re-diagnosed. She had a great day out in Crecora, jumping,” Dorothy recalled fondly.
Even though the family knew from day one that the odds of Shellie being cured were “slim to nil”, the quality of the time they had with her following her initial diagnosis and re-diagnosis, they say, is “immeasurable”.
“We got to say things people don’t get to say. She got to do things that she wouldn’t have got to do.”
Despite her serious illness, Shellie lived each day with a remarkable good spirit. “She understood at a very deep level what was happening and started to put in order things that would leave a legacy,” her dad Eamon explained.
Shellie and her brother, Sean, enjoyed many long summer days surfing in Castlegregory. He misses her dearly.
“You couldn’t ask for better. She was always looking out for me,” said the teenager who drove his only sister for her last treatment at Cork University Hospital in mid-October.
For the Murtagh family, Shellie’s friends have been “an incredible support” during these hard days. The Murtaghs would like to thank all those who have helped them in recent times, including their extended family and friends and all those who assisted in Shellie’s care.
Shellie was laid to rest with her grandparents, Eileen and Sean Nevin, and her cousin Robert Murray, in Kilcorban Cemetery, Tynagh in East Galway. It was her wish.