Supermahon: Alex pulls out all the stops to help disabled siblings - now it's time to nominate more unsung heroes
Life has changed enormously for Newry child Alex McMahon since he stepped on to the stage to pick up the Special Recognition gong at last year's Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards ceremony.
The 10-year-old was being honoured for giving up all of his play-time to help his mum care for his twin sisters and little brother, who have special needs.
And although it was never expected of him, little Alex saw it as his duty to help his mum, a single parent.
Martina, who affectionately refers to her son as her "little superhero", nominated him for the award and proudly accompanied him to the ceremony stage as the room erupted in cheers.
After the awards, it really hit her just how much responsibility her little boy was carrying on his shoulders.
She has since taken steps to ensure he has more free time to pursue his own interests and enjoy a better quality of life.
- Now we want you to nominate your Special Recognition hero for this year's awards. You can nominate now at sundaylife.co.uk/spirit
Alex, a primary seven pupil at Cloughoge Primary School outside Newry, plans to sit his transfer test this year and hopes to secure a place at Abbey Grammar.
His caring nature extends beyond his family - without being asked, he helps out elderly neighbours by taking their bins out.
Since the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, Martina has taken steps to change her eldest child's home life.
"I think because of the awards it hit home to me just how much Alex does and I wanted him to have more of a life," she says.
The little boy has always been a huge help to his mum, helping to care for twin sisters Zoe and Ruby, both six, and eight-year-old brother Padraig, who has sight problems.
If school friends call to see him, he often turns them away at the front door so that he can sit with his brother and give him a helping hand with his homework.
Alex also does a lot for his sisters, both of whom have complex needs. Zoe has severe autism, is completely non-verbal and needs round-the-clock care, while Ruby has learning difficulties.
Alex helps with nappy duties and sits with Zoe, who cannot be left alone, while his mum completes household chores and other jobs. He also has to accompany his mum in the car when Zoe needs to go anywhere because if his sister is left alone she will try to harm herself.
Last year he gave up his twice-weekly football practice and swimming classes so he could stay in the house and help out.
Martina describes the family's home life as "a constant pressure" and always feels guilty that it is Alex who takes the weight off.
"He has always been caring beyond his years," she explains. "Zoe needs round-the-clock care and Alex is always watching her and cleaning up her mess. He never gets a break.
"He loves Zoe and she adores him. Both girls adore him. While Zoe is non-verbal, Ruby is the opposite, never stops talking and says the same thing over and over again.
"Zoe will not sit in the car (alone). She goes crazy and bangs her head off the windows and bites herself and pulls her hair out, so I can't take her in the car unless Alex is also there to calm her down.
"Zoe gets very frustrated because she can't talk and she has no sense of danger, which is why she needs someone to be with her 24/7. A lot of that falls to Alex. He will sit with her and mind her while I get on with cooking or doing other things round the house."
Alex devotes his evenings to the family from the moment he comes home from school.
Martina always ensures he has an hour to himself after dinner before helping to dress the girls for bed and get their supper.
"I always worried about Alex, who is very on the ball for his age. He is like my wee shadow," she admits.
"I really felt after the awards that he was a bit too clingy and I needed to let him grow up a bit. Now I have arranged that he does something for himself every night of the week.
"He still works as hard as ever to help me when he is here, but now thankfully he has his own interests too.
"He is doing the transfer test this year and I have arranged for him to get tutoring.
"He is also back to football after school once a week and he is part of the sibling group with the charity Action for Children, which allows him to mix and have fun with other young carers."
Also since the awards, Martina has fought for respite so that one night a week her girls are cared for, which allows her to spend the evening with her two boys.
Life is still a challenge for the family. Zoe is currently going through genetic testing for Rett syndrome, which Martina describes as: "like Parkinson's, epilepsy and autism all rolled into one".
Ruby, meanwhile, has stopped talking at home and has been diagnosed as 'selective mute'.
Martina says that the Spirit of Northern Ireland Award gave her son a huge boost and he is still chuffed to have received it.
"He still loves telling people about it - he was as a proud as punch," she adds. "I was so glad he got recognised because I always felt so guilty about what he did. He really deserved it (the award).
"He had a brilliant night and he was thrilled that Louis Walsh from the X Factor presented him with his award. He tells everyone that he met the cast of Derry Girls and Coronation Street. He was well chuffed."
We want your nominations for who you think is worthy of a Spirit of Northern Ireland Award in 2019, by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.
- To nominate visit sundaylife.co.uk/spirit
Someone whose great deed or deeds have previously gone unnoticed but who will have made a major contribution to your life or to your community
Someone who has overcome huge personal challenges, whether it is dealing with illness or disability, or overcoming problems
Someone aged 18 or under who should be recognised for their special achievements
A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job
Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or as a fundraiser for many years
A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients
This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people fulfil their potential
A person, young or old, who has dedicated their time to caring for a friend or family member
Someone who has made an exceptional contribution to local sport over a number of years
Someone who the judges feel represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all