LAST week we met Ballybofey teenager Jon Callaghan and his mother Margaret. Jon was a huge Irish dancing enthusiast, but gave up after suffering at the hands of bullies.
Jon became sullen, withdrawn and stopped doing the things he loved to do. But with the power of exercise and a lot of hill-walking with his mother, the teenager is enjoying a new lease of life and, most importantly, happiness.
The feedback we have received stemming from last week’s column has been unbelievable. Margaret and her family have been inundated with messages of support from people around the county. I have also received numerous messages from people wishing to congratulate the Callaghan family on their bravery.
Thanks to the online availability of Jon’s story, it travelled the whole way to America and struck a chord with a very well-known Donegal actor who went through a similar experience.
These days Gavin Ó Fearraigh is a successful actor, television presenter and model based in Los Angeles, California, but growing up, the Gaoth Dobhair man also suffered from bullying.
The popular host of TG4’s new series of WWOOFáil California last week sent young Jon a letter of support telling him about his own experience.
Gavin’s tragic experience at the hands of bullies while growing up first emerged during the filming of RTÉ’s Celebrity Jigs ‘n’ Reels in 2007. A big star on the Irish language soap Ros na Rún at the time, Gavin blew his competition out of the water with professional dancing partner Dearbhla Lennon.
Gavin revealed that he had studied Irish dancing, as well as acting, at a young age, but then gave up due to severe bullying from other boys.
“I was picked on and bullied through primary and secondary school, because I was doing something different than the rest of the lads.
“I loved learning Irish dancing and acting while most of the lads were into soccer. I stopped dancing thinking the bullying would stop – but it never did.
“I always wondered why they would pick on me but later realised that it wasn’t me who was doing anything wrong it was those who bullied me. They had their own issues and would attack me because of my nature, I was an easy target because of the dancing,” he said.
Gavin did not let the bullies get the better of him and over the years continued to dance, even learning how to teach Ceilí dancing while working as an Irish teacher at the Gaeltacht colleges.
Gavin’s later success is well-documented, winning Celebrity Jigs ‘n’ Reels and going on to represent Ireland with Dearbhla at the globally televised Eurovision Dance Contest in Glasgow.
Currently, Gavin is touring the United States as a Master of Ceremonies (MC) with VIP Dance, one of the largest dance competitions in North America.
His advice to you is to “never give up on your dreams and on what you love doing the most. Anything and everything is possible – you have full control of your life and what you do with it. Keep doing what you love best and never mind what they say or do,” he said.
I am absolutely delighted that Gavin took the time out to contact Jon. Gavin is a great example of someone who didn’t let his experience dictate his future.
He stayed true to himself and continued to do the one thing he loved the most, despite the negativity he was forced to endure.
I have huge respect for both Jon and Gavin and commend them in the bravery they have shown by sharing their stories.
If you would like to send Jon a letter of support please get in touch. I know he would be delighted to hear from you.
Nikki Bradley is the founder of Fighting Fit For Ewing’s, a campaign to promote awareness of Ewing’s Sarcoma. Nikki is sponsored by All Sports in Donegal Town. Support her campaign by giving ‘Fighting Fit For Ewing’s’ a LIKE on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @nikkibradley59