Limerick native, Leona O’Callaghan, has been unveiled as the overall national MACE Community Unsung Hero in recognition of her tireless work on behalf of survivors of domestic, sexual or physical violence.
Nominated by family and supporters, O’Callaghan was herself groomed and raped as a 12 year-old child and came to national prominence in 2018 when she waived her right of anonymity so her rapist could be named at his sentencing.
O’Callaghan was nominated for the award as part of the MACE Unsung Hero initiative, which aimed to identify and celebrate someone who really went over and above to give something back to his or her community and having been selected as the overall outstanding hero, she was presented with a cheque for €5,000.
As part of the nomination process, it was said of O’Callaghan that she “went through a very difficult time when she came forward against a man that hurt her as a child. I feel that nobody would have blamed her if she stayed under her duvet but instead she used her pain to help people like her and challenged the justice system in their treatment of survivors.”
The retailer noted that O’Callaghan has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of violence against women.
She set up Survivor Support Anonymous, which is the first 12-step support group for victims of abuse in Ireland, and, in December 2019, she set up and founded the Haven Hub Suicide Prevention organisation in Limerick to help others.
The Haven Hub now has over 30 volunteers and has had over 240 suicide interventions. Leona also delivers wellness courses for the Limerick Mental Health Association, where she gives people hope in their lowest moments.
The MACE Unsung Heroes initiative was launched by Ireland rugby star Johnny Sexton to stimulate community spirit and recognise true local heroes like Leona in communities all around Ireland.
Commenting, Daniel O’Connell, Sales Director, MACE, said, “What Leona has achieved for victims in Limerick and beyond is truly heroic.
"I am awestruck and full of admiration for her courage, drive and accomplishments. She embodies all that we look for in our heroes and I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this acknowledgement. Leona truly is a hero in every sense of the word,” he added.
Four Category Winners
The four category winners in the MACE Unsung Hero Community initiative are:
· Charity Award: Tony Walsh, Feed Our Homeless. Tony and his partner Natasha founded this charity in Dublin that focuses on the goal of making sure no one has to sleep rough in our capital.
· Child & Youth Award: Aoibhe Lawlor and Amy Lewis. Aoibhe (17) and her cousin Amy, age 16 are both students of St Mary’s College, Naas and have raised more than €3,500 for their school's nominated charity, "Mary’s Meals", through a variety of initiatives over the last 6 months.
· Environment Award: Proinsias Ó Tuama is the driving force in numerous community-based actions in caring for our coastal habitats and beaches, including cleaning in excess of 1.5% of total Irish coastline of marine litter.
· Sports, Health & Well-being Award: Christy McDonagh has been a member of the voluntary underwater Search and Recovery unit in Grainne Uaile Sub Aqua club since 1980. This unit specialises in underwater search and recovery of drowned and lost persons in all bodies of water 365 days a year.
MACE presented all the individual category winners with cheques for €1,000 in recognition of their award wins with the overall MACE Unsung Hero, Leona O’Callaghan, receiving €5,000.