Up, up and away at Portlaoise parade

Portlaoise’s St Patrick’s Day parade will end on a high this year, high up in the clouds that is.

Portlaoise’s St Patrick’s Day parade will end on a high this year, high up in the clouds that is.

Marking a new partnership between the parade committee and local charities, 1,000 green helium-filled balloons are to be released after the parade ends.

The wonderful spectacle titled “Message in a Balloon” will raise much needed funds for LOFFA (Laois Offaly Families for Autism). Secretary Edel Shaw is thrilled that they were chosen.

“We were delighted the committee asked us to join them. It’s quite exciting. It gives another bit of exposure and raises awareness around autism,” said Edel, whose son Jack and his assistance dog will be among the many LOFFA families walking with their float in the parade.

On Sunday March 11, the public can visit their stand in Laois Shopping Centre and buy a balloon for €3, They will get a little piece of paper on which to write a personal message or remembrance of a loved one. This will be rolled up and placed inside the balloon, kept by the organisers for inflating on St Patrick’s Day. Ordinary balloons will be handed out to children at the stand.

Weather permitting, the balloons will be fastened to the LOFFA float, the final one in the parade, to be set free in Top Square on March 17. If it is too windy, they will positioned for release beside the viewing stand.

The balloons will soar five miles up in the skies over Laois, before exploding in the thin atmosphere, releasing the biodegradable piece of paper which will disintegrate, keeping the message forever private.

LOFFA is a support network for families of people with autism. They meet monthly in either the Tullamore Court Hotel or the Heritage Hotel Portlaoise, who chose them as their charity of the year in 2011.

The charity subsidises therapies, raises autism awareness, provides support and vital social interaction like play dates, coffee mornings and a monthly autism friendly movie screening in Portlaoise.

“We have 350 families in Laois and Offaly, but that is only the people who have made contact. It is growing every month. Our primary aim is to raise awareness, but given the cutbacks by the HSE, we help to pay for therapies too,” explains Edel.

She thanked Laois Shopping Centre for their support in sponsoring the balloons, which she hopes Portlaoise schools will also be selling on behalf of the charity. See www.loffa.ie or loffa sectary on facebook.