THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE
The Story of the formation of the Disabled Drivers’ Association reads like a romantic tale.But it is much more than that. As well as being a tale of adventure it is one that shows how the courageous effort and determination of one man in an effort to overcome a disability, inspired others to such an extent that they persuaded him to form an association for drivers of invalid tricycles. In the year 1947 O.A. Denly an officer in H.M. Royal Command, looking forward to his first leave in Switzerland, was struck down with Polio and invalided out of the Navy. To cut a long story short, on his return he initiated The beginning of the ‘ Invalid Tricycle Association’. In November 1947 the initial draft was drawn up. It is interesting to note that the very first words were ‘ Mobility for the disabled means that they can take an active part in the work and social activities of the community.’ Enquiries began to come in from all parts of the country.
It was not until 1956 however that the I.T.A. created an interest in N. Ireland. In August a copy of the Magic Carpet found its way into the hands of a Belfast disabled driver Mr. Gerry McCann. He was very much interested in what he read, and he in turn brought it to the notice of four other drivers. They immediately wrote for further information from England, and subsequently became members.
Thus the Belfast Group was formed - no Headquarters, no funds, but plenty of enthusiasm. So keen were they in fact, that their first meetings were held in the open air - in a field. Five ardent men determined to show that what could be done across the water could also be done here. Yes, as well, if not better. They then met in a British Legion Hall at Greencastle, and visualised all sorts of wonderful plans for the future. They dreamed of a place of their own - in its own grounds and a membership so large that the place wouldn't hold them. Little did they know just how prophetic were those dreams. Still they worked, canvassing continually for new members Then came what was to be the turning point for them, By the generosity of a good friend
Mrs Campbell they were allowed the use of premises in Mount Street; they were small but no matter, they were progress. Now they had a Headquarters of their own, Things began to happen, A proper working committee was formed, and in 1957 the first Northern Ireland Rally was held in Bangor, and was a tremendous success. The Ministry had notified all disabled drivers and consequently there was a record turnout and ‘The event’ was arranged and supervised by the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland. Eventually then, the membership grew steadily until in 1962 it was decided larger premises must be found.
The Committees inspected numerous places bat they were very hard to please, they knew exactly what they wanted. Then they found it. a large house in its own grounds on the Ravenhill Road. And so, in mid 1962 they moved into the new Headquarters - Ballynafeigh House, 159 Ravenhill Road, Belfast. Membership still increased, drivers coming from all over Northern Ireland for the Rally, some as far away as Fermanagh and Tyrone, were so much interested they became members right away. Now in the new premises sleeping accommodation was available for the country members so they could stop over. With the new Headquarters gradually became very well equipped. As well as kitchen and commodious sleeping quarters there was a TV. lounge, games room for table tennis, darts, etc., a large room complete with piano for functions and a most comprehensive library. There was one snag. The majority of members are unable to climb stairs, consequently the use of the house was largely confined to the "ground floor’. A lift was installed so that the whole place could be used to the best advantage. There was plenty of activity in the Belfast Group. When they were not indoors taking part in Handicraft work, they were out canoeing or maybe fishing. Or again they could be off on a Group run in their invalid tricycles to have a picnic. It was quite common to see a string of tricycles travelling along the Coast road at weekends.
Originally named The Invalid Tricycle Association in 1947 had made great strides, now became "The Disabled Drivers’ Association’’ so as to include those disabled drivers who were using ordinary cars and not Invalid cars, But whatever the name and whatever the car, the spirit of independence remains the same. As a matter of fact, it is now generally accepted that a modern car is more economical to operate and maintain, is more comfortable to drive, and by being able to carry passengers, takes away the awful loneliness and consequently increases the pleasure of driving.
The YouTube Video below was transferred from an old piece of film showing a 1959 Invalid Tricycle Association Rally. ( Click the Arrow button on the video below.)
Disabled drivers have made progress in their fight to overcome disability and attain a certain independence. The road has been long and uphill and still continues to be so, but with the example shown by Denly, and the much appreciated assistance given by the Ministry at that time, disabled people were able (and still are) to take a much fuller part in the work and life of the community.
Compiled and edited by Terry and (the late) Irene Malone from earlier literature. of the Disabled Drivers Assoc: N.I.