Hollymount’s heroes


BESTIES Aoibheann Mangan and Grace O’Malley with the Lottie Doll inspired by Grace.

Thirteen-year-old Aoibheann Mangan has helped develop a hospital doll for her best friend, Grace O’Malley

Ciara Moynihan

It’s one thing giving your friend a doll as a special gift, it’s quite another to help a toymaker develop a doll especially for your bestie – and a doll that will help lots of other kids too.
Thirteen-year-old Mayo whizz kid Aoibheann Mangan has partnered with renowned Donegal-based doll-making company, Lottie Dolls, to develop a doll – called ‘True Hero’ – for her best friend, Grace O’Malley. Both girls are from Hollymount, and Grace has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 2, a genetic disorder that means she has to make regular hospital trips. Like most children, Grace does not enjoy going to the hospital, so Aoibheann helped develop a doll to ease her fears.
Aoibheann has a real passion for coding. At just eight years of age, she co-developed a website to teach children about farm safety, and in 2015, she won Rehab’s joint Young Person of the Year award in Ireland for her amazing work.
At the age of eleven, Aoibheann wrote her ‘Holly and Henri Hospital App’, based in the coding language Scratch. It describes the ten main procedures that children undergo when they arrive at the hospital. The idea helped her win European Digital Girl of the Year in 2017 in the 11-14 age category.
Unsurprisingly, Aoibheann is a massive STEM (science technology, engineering and maths) advocate – she even teaches coding to 50 youngsters in her hometown each week, 60 percent of whom are girls.  
Aoibheann has also been a long-time advocate for rural broadband. She lives in a remote part of Mayo where accessing good mobile or fixed-line broadband was a real challenge, so her mum used to drive her every evening to the local Tesco supermarket carpark, where she was able to access their free WiFi in order to continue her education in coding.
In May 2019, Aoibheann met the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Inspirefest Conference in Dublin. Cornering him in the foyer, she took him to task about rural broadband. It was not an encounter that Varadkar was likely to forget – and last November, Aoibheann was invited to the launch of the rural broadband scheme and accredited in his speech.
Just last February, Aoibheann was named ‘One to Watch’ in the UK’s Everywoman Technology Awards.
Grace O’Malley, just like her Pirate Queen namesake, is a hero to Aoibheann. Diagnosed with SMA Type 2 Grace, her family successfully campaigned for every child in Ireland to be given access to the drug Spinraza – a drug that can significantly improve the life quality and life span of SMA Type 2 patients. The Mayo News was proud to be a big part of that campaign.
In July 2019 the Irish Government finally announced that all 25 young people with SMA under the age of 18 in Ireland would be given access to the drug, paid for by the Government. It was a major breakthrough, hard won by Grace and her family’s inspiring determination and courage.

Role model
Lottie Dolls had been in contact with Aoibheann since the days of her farm safety website. Then, in 2017, the CEO of Lottie Dolls, Ian Harkin, shared the stage with Aoibheann at Inspirefest, and he agreed to develop her doll.
“Aoibheann and her mom Iseult are incredible,” he said. “I remember being on the side of the stage with eleven-year-old Aoibheann, and she was saying she had never spoken to such a big audience before. She had the audience in the palm of her hand within minutes. She is an amazing role model for young kids, and in particular, she has a passion to get more girls interested in coding.” 
Irish toy company Lottie Dolls are inspired by kids. Appearance-wise, they are based on a child as opposed to an adult, and so they have the average proportions of a nine-year-old child (unlike the Barbies of this world!). They look to empower kids, to help them think imaginatively and creatively, while focusing on children’s agendas, not those of grownups. Ultimately, they celebrate childhood and believe children’s voices should be heard.  
The Lottie Hosipital Doll – True Hero retails at €24.99. They are available on www.lottie.com, and €1 from the sale of each doll on the website will be paid to Aoibheann to help her fund her advocacy work, while another €1 will go to Crumlin Children’s Hospital. Inside the box, you’ll find a QR code that takes you straight to Aoiheann’s app that shows kids what happens when you go to hospital – a really nice extra!