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On the road Inspirational busker Paddy Doyle explains why paralysis didn’t stop him moving on with his life

'I love doing the busking, it saved my life – If I won the lottery in the morning I’d still do it'

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Paddy Doyle gives a big thumbs up.

Paddy Doyle gives a big thumbs up.

Paddy Doyle gives a big thumbs up.

Wheelchair-bound busker Paddy Doyle is an inspiration to anyone battling disability and looking for the courage to live a normal life.

Being paralysed from the chest down since a catastrophic car crash in 1992 hasn’t prevented him travelling the counties of Ireland in his specially-adapted van.

The 51-year-old who has a home in Clondalkin,  west Dublin, spends eight or nine months of the year on the road sleeping in his van wherever he rolls to a stop.

He is a great man to tell his story, but he can’t hide the pain in his voice when he says occasionally people might cruelly jeer him and say that his wheelchair is just a prop.

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Paddy spends eight or nine months a year in his van.

Paddy spends eight or nine months a year in his van.

Paddy spends eight or nine months a year in his van.

 

“People tell me, get up and walk.”

But the haters aren’t going to stop him: “I love doing the busking, it saved my life. If I won the lottery in the morning I’d still do it.”

It’s been a hard road for Paddy who was a care-free 22-year-old with a six-month-old son when two of his vertebrae were crushed.

He is brutally honest about the crash, which he said he had a premonition of the week before in a vivid dream that left him disturbed.

At the time, he had been living in Portarlington, Co. Laois, with his young family when he took off on a trip to Dublin.

However, he opted instead to call to his brother-in-law and spent a few hours playing pool in an Athy pub before heading back home. He didn’t drink at the time, but said he was “speeding along, whatever that car had in it, I was doing it.”

Hitting a hump-back bridge at speed, the car went airborne and careered down the road bouncing along the hedge for another 100 metres before going into a drop.

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“I don’t think I had a seat belt on. My chest hit the steering wheel and the car collapsed in around me.”

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Paddy with one of his own CDs.

Paddy with one of his own CDs.

Paddy with one of his own CDs.

 

He remembers passing in and out of consciousness and the blood running down his head into his mouth while the stereo continued at full volume.

“My legs felt so heavy I thought something was wrapped around them. I felt down my legs and I said to myself ‘the car isn’t wrapped around my legs, something bad is after happening’.”

Not sure if he was awake or dreaming, he heard someone shouting ‘who’s down there?’ and he made a weak cry for help in reply.

“It felt like hours, it could have been minutes, then the fire-brigade and ambulance all arrived.”

While he was waiting, trapped in the wreckage, bleeding heavily and aware he was seriously injured Paddy recalls making his peace with God.

“I was happy to die. I said ‘God, I’m willing to go’, I wasn’t afraid to die. But let me see my wife and my son one more time.”

He’d later discover that two of his vertebrae had been crushed and he’d suffered a neck break that left him close to total paralysis.

The reality of his injuries took a long time to sink in: “I was thick to the craic that was going on. I was ignorant to all that.”

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Paddy Doyle sings songs by the likes of Daniel O’Donnell and Johnny Cash.

Paddy Doyle sings songs by the likes of Daniel O’Donnell and Johnny Cash.

Paddy Doyle sings songs by the likes of Daniel O’Donnell and Johnny Cash.

Paddy recalls how he was angered when, six months after the accident, a nurse told him he had been lucky and reminded him how close he had been to not even having the use of his arms.

“I was unlucky, but lucky. It took me years to realise that.”

For a long time, as he spent months and then years in hospital and rehab, he admits that he struggled to

come to terms with what had happened to him.

He pretended he was asleep to avoid facing friends and family and even his own parents.

“I didn’t want to accept it. I was in another world, I didn’t want to talk to people. I was embarrassed to have anyone see me in a wheelchair.”

“I gave up on life to be honest with you. Twenty-two years of age and paralysed. I kept asking the doctors was I going to be alright. They’d tell me a spinal cord injury is for life – I didn’t want to hear that.”

Three years after the accident things began to change when Paddy and a group of other patients took a gruelling bus trip to visit Lourdes.

“I’d done as much praying as I could and while I didn’t get up and walk, I came back a different person. I wanted to start helping myself.”

A short stint at trying to buy and sell second-hand cars didn’t work out too well and he tried his hand at busking.

“The first place I tried was outside the old Bank of Ireland in Clondlakin. From there I started getting better and better at playing the guitar.”

His repertoire feature the country singers from Johhny Cash to Merle Haggard and a few Daniel O’Donnell numbers thrown in.

The busking has helped Paddy get through the various ups and downs in his life and he is convinced it probably saved his life.

“It’s 28 years ago, but it’s only two years since I accepted it. I got on with life when I came back from Lourdes, the busking kept me out, kept me busy no time to think.”

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