Humble and modest are words many would use to describe Derry man Dermot O’Hara.
Dermot is the manager and one of the founding members of Destined, a local organisation focused on supporting adults with learning disabilities.
He spends little time talking about himself and uses every opportunity he gets throughout to champion Destined, its members and its volunteers. The people who know him say, he’s “humble and modest”.
Dermot was born and reared in Dunaff Gardens in Creggan in 1956. He was the fifth born of 15 children, of which nine were girls and six were boys.
“The poverty back then was like nothing you would see these days but you got on with it - there was nothing else you could do, I suppose,” said Dermot solemnly.
Michael, Dermot’s father, worked for the BSR, DuPont and the Gasyard and his mother, Sadie, worked in the Rosemount shirt factory.
“My mother moved to Coshquin when she was eight or nine.
“She went to work in the shirt factory in Rosemount and with my father being a Rosemount man, that’s where they met. My mother and father are still alive and they live in my mother’s family home in Coshquin.”
Dermot attended the Christian Brothers before moving to St. Peter’s High School in Creggan.
“I enjoyed my time at school - I especially liked studying History and it’s something that has stayed with me to this day.”
After leaving St. Peter’s, Dermot got a job working for the Bank of Ireland. Initially he worked in Derry but then after a while moved to Belfast.
A short time later Dermot moved to Dublin where studied accountancy at Rathmines College and soon after secured a position working as a certified accountant for Switzers on Grafton Street.
“I enjoyed living in Dublin - I think I was there for six or seven years and whilst I am delighted to be back home in Derry now, I was quite happy where I was back then - it was a great place to live.”
In the mid 1980s Dermot moved back home to Derry where he got a job working as the financial administrator for An Gaeláras - Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin on Great James Street.
“I think I have tried to learn Irish about 20 times and I somehow manage to forget it all in a short period of time,” laughed Dermot.
“I worked for Cultúrlann until the new building we have now was complete and that’s when I came to work for Destined on a full-time basis.”
Destined are well known throughout Derry and further a field for their unrivalled work in helping and supporting adults with learning disabilities.
In recent years the charity have won several high profile competitions and Dermot explained that it was because of his own daughter’s situation that he decided to get involved.
“Roisin is my eldest child and she is on the Autism spectrum.
“One of the things I noticed when Roisin was growing up and it was also something other parents experienced too was that when their children reached a certain age there was literally no help or support out there for them.
“When a lot of these young adults reached the age of 19 they could no longer attend the special schools and this resulted in many of them hiding away in their bedrooms which in turn impacted greatly on their self-esteem.”
Regression was the last thing Dermot wanted for his daughter and along with other parents he set up a group called PAPA (Parents And Professionals and Autism).
After a while Dermot and the other members of PAPA realised that the problem they had identified was not just limited to young adults with Autism; it affected adults with a wide range of learning disabilities.
“It didn’t take long for PAPA to be transformed into the organisation we now know as Destined.
“Roisin like so many others like her got used to a routine when she was at school so when her time at school was up I wanted to make sure she was able to keep going in the same direction.
“Initially we set-up PAPA but then came Destined and here were are 11 years later - it’s flown in to be honest,” he said.
In the 11 years they have been going Destined has helped countless adults with learning disabilities from all over Derry with a wide range of issues.
“Last year, Destined expanded their operations when they opened a base in Feeny Co. Derry.
“We literally never stop here. We have a really good core of members here but I still get great satisfaction when a new member joins Destined and I am able to watch them mature.
“I also have to say that in terms of a team, we have one of the very best teams in Derry when it comes to affecting change for adults with learning disabilities.”
It’s inevitable that working for an organisation dependent on funding will experience its highs and lows but Dermot recounted a recent story and said it was just one example of why he loves working for Destined.
“Obviously I have my own stories in terms of how Destined has helped my own daughter Roisin but there was a time there recently that I was reminded about the good work we do here.
“One of the initiatives we run at Destined is to do with helping our members feel comfortable when they got at night to socialise.
“I was working late one night when one of our new members came to the office.
“I was chatting with him and I asked him if he’d been out in Derry over the weekend. He replied “no”.
“I was worried when I heard this and I asked him why but when he explained to me why he hadn’t been out in Derry I couldn’t help but smile.
“He told me that he went to Letterkenny with a few friends because the bar stayed open longer in the South.
“This young man would have been terrified to go out at night before he came to Destined but here he was six weeks later going to Letterkenny because he wanted to stay out longer - I just thought that was amazing.”
When he’s not busy with his work with Destined and his other community commitments Dermot likes to read about world history or play the tin whistle but when you are as passionate about the rights of adults with learning disabilities as Dermot is it’s easy to understand why he finds it hard to stay away.
“The Big Lottery Fund and Derry City Council have been very supportive over the years and we would not be where we are today if it was not for the unrelenting help and support offered by our volunteers.
“One of the things we stipulated when we founded Destined was that we would eventually hand the entire operation over to the members and we are not too far away from that at the moment.
“Another vision that we have here is the provision of a building in the city centre that would provide for everything pertinent to adults with learning disabilities.
“The way forward in any walk of community or charitable group is work in partnership with other organisations and we would love to have a place where different organisations from right across the town could be located.
“We are in the early stages of working towards that at present but it’s a vision that I and everyone else at Destined believe has the chance of becoming reality in the not too distant future.”
Dermot is married to Caroline and they have three daughters and one son.