Alice Leahy – Director & Co-Founder of TRUST
Dunamaise Theatre, Portlaoise, Co. Laois
5/6 October 2001
Good evening everyone. I am delighted to be here this evening remembering the life of John Keegan.
Portlaoise was always a great landmark on my way home to Tipperary – at least we were half way there when we arrived.
While my topic is “Is Home where the Hearth is?” I have decided to link my experience today with dare I say John Keegan. I do believe strongly that our writers challenge us and remind us that the human condition is complex and doesn’t change in spite of so called progress.
Let me assure you I am not on the lecture circuit but it so happens that this year I was asked to give the Catherine McAuley lecture – (next week in fact)- she of course was the founder of the Mercy Order and on our soon to become extinct £5 note like so many other things these days as we live in a disposable society. The clear link between John Keegan and Catherine and the work I do is no coincidence. Her sisters worked night and day in the work houses and John died in the cholera sheds of the poor house.
I have a special interest in the poor houses where people lived and died because even today I meet people where the word poor houses brings tears to the eye and a shiver to the spine. Sadly many professionals in area of health and social care don’t even know of their existence.
I met Tony Delaney through my prison work earlier this year and the name John Keegan didn’t sound familiar, but when he mentioned poor “Pinch” and Caoch O’Leary, of course my childhood came flooding back. My grandmother who spent some time working in America before she had to return due to illness used to recite it to us as she sat doing her crochet on a wooden furm which is still at home – looking out at Slievenamon, and my mother who is the only remaining founder member of the first branch of Country Markets who incidentally this very morning will have been up at 6.30 a.m. with her homemade bread, beetroot, geraniums etc. ready for the weekly market in Fethard – won a prize for reciting it in the National School. (She also listens to Donncha on Saturday nights).
I should perhaps describe a little of our work.
TRUST – Our philosophy:
The philosophy of Trust is based on two central principles:
The recognition of every individual’s right to be treated as an autonomous and unique human being.
The need to restore the dignity of individuals whom society has labelled deviant and undesirable.
What does Trust do?
TRUST is a non-political, non-denominational voluntary body set up in 1975 to provide medical and related services for people who are homeless. We work in premises provided at a nominal rent by the Iveagh Trust.
From a letter sent by Dr. Kieran McKeown, Social and Economic Research Consultant after a visit to TRUST:
“I was most impressed by your service. The bright coloured walls and wooden floors were warm and welcoming, and mirrored the bright cheerful staff that welcomed me … I was particularly impressed by the pictures on the wall, which captured the sensitive nature of the people who use your service and speaks of a place where everyone is accepted just as they are. Those pictures tell me that every life is a work of art. I felt I was in a solid, comfortable place and ordinary enough to feel at home”.
Up to 40 men and women call each morning, the majority of whom are sleeping out (aged 18 to 85). We see new people daily and often have people calling who were housed – settled – and become homeless again.
Washing facilities are available and each month we give clothes to approximately 350 people who are homeless (members of the public including Rotary and church groups donate the clothes and shoes). We have a chiropody session once a month and avail of the services of an optician, dentist, and local GPs. We refer people to the relevant health services and help them to avail of them.
Developing a sense of self-worth:
We encourage and help people who come to us to avail of statutory services and to obtain their entitlements; to place a value on themselves; to develop a sense of self-esteem and avoid dependence on private charity. Up to recently, TRUST provided out-reach services to hostels and night-shelters. Much improved though yet still inadequate community care services, and increased funding to voluntary bodies to employ extra staff enabled us to concentrate on our core work and extend our opening hours. We still go out to visit people sleeping out where it is appropriate.
We meet people whose bodies are:
• Ravaged by disease
• Stabbed by knives
• Burned by cigarettes
• Pressure sores from sleeping out in all weathers, sometimes sleeping in urine soaked clothes for weeks
• Infected and untreated minor skin conditions and major skin problems e.g. leg ulcers
• Lice infected heads
• Bodies suffering from malnutrition
• All the medical conditions common to the general public but exacerbated by their living conditions
• Minds and souls dispirited by feelings of despair and inadequacy
• Human beings taken over by addiction to society’s drugs, some even prescribed including alcohol and gambling
• Human beings pushed from service to service – just like figures on a chess board
• Some unable to get relief for minds at breaking point only solution at times brown envelopes of medication
• Some trying to create some sense of normality after years locked away in institutions and others just relocated from one institution to another in the name of progress
• Many who have attempted suicide and some who sadly decided to end it all
We attempt as best we can to meet people as they are, listen and do what we can as fellow human beings – it’s not easy. Sometimes the only hearing people we meet get, is when they are being researched that is why we have grave reservations about the quality and quantity of research taking place currently.
We meet some people who are so cut off from everything around them that they at times appear to be reachless.
Some people we meet are contented with their lives, never complain and leave us feeling grateful for the opportunity to reflect on what is life all about.
TRUST feels that some agencies involved with people who are homeless may not respect everybody’s right to the confidential use and storage of information. Some people who are homeless feel pressurised to take part in research into homelessness in case they may lose their hostel bed or their entitlements. Where TRUST is involved in research, it is only where we believe the research design is sound, ethical and likely to provide useful information.
We see a major part of our work in the field of advocacy and have been intensely involved in prison and psychiatric work since the beginning of TRUST.
In 1998, I was on the National Crime Forum.
I chaired the Sentence Review Group up to recently when it was replaced by a Parole Board. (The work of the Parole Board can only be assessed in the future.)
TRUST was on the Consultative Board of the Homeless Initiative.
We make submissions in response to requests from government agencies and are involved in relevant research on the issues relating to homelessness.
TRUST is involved in on-going training of specialist groups.
We feel in TRUST that attitudal change is vital now more than ever before. To this end we run a one day training day – The Homeless Experience.
This programme aims to raise awareness on the issue of homelessness and to help focus individuals and organisations on their responses and possible interventions.
The programme is aimed at individuals and organisations who want to deepen their understanding of the issues relating to homelessness. Many who come in contact with people who are homeless may have concerns that need to be explored and understood, and this programme provides a forum for this process.
TRUST National Essay Competition on the theme “Outsider” which was co-sponsored by Dept. of Justice Equality and Law Reform and The Irish Times with prizes presented by the Dublin Rotary Club ran over the last Transition Year, we had a major response and it was so encouraging to read the essays from young people.
Information on this competition and prize-winning essays can be seen on our web site www.trust-ireland.ie.
After our competition I got a story in the post from a young Limerick girl writing about an old man and his dog and one of our runner-ups wrote about a homeless man addicted to heroin and his love for a horse. I wonder if they listened to grandparents reciting Caoch the Piper?
We meet people who are homeless today whose only friend is their dog, one man who died in the early days of TRUST refused treatment of any kind until his dog died. I have vivid memories of Doris a member of The Legion of Mary getting shelter for a woman who slept in a shed with her cat (sadly the womansubsequently died in a fire in her flat). Doris now also passed on, travelled miles with the cat in a basket on the back of her bicycle and later arranged visits to the cat’s foster home. More recently just 3 weeks ago, Gerry, my colleague rescued a kitten (now called Fizz) from the bag of a homeless man.
While I have no recollection of seeing a piper in TRUST we have had people calling playing tin whistles and some younger people with guitars. At one stage we even purchased an accordian for a young homeless man who was raised in care and is currently living happily in the west. I do hope his music has improved !!
Listening to Benedict Kiely recite “Caoch the Piper” on his C.D. poses a challenge to all of us in a society where
We undervalue the friendship of dogs and other animals and
Where homeless people with animals can be denied shelter
Older people especially are sometimes not allowed to have animals.
The poem is one I think should be compulsory reading for all students of Social Policy and those working with fragile people. Certainly for me it is as relevant today 150 years since it was written.
People: Working in TRUST
I am Director of TRUST and in spite of the title I work very much on the ground. My colleagues are Geraldine, who is a nurse and Patrick who lives locally. Evelyn does our administration two mornings a week. Mary, a nurse in St. Francis’ Hospice works voluntarily and one man who experienced homelessness works daily voluntarily.
The most important part of our work is accepting people as they are we refuse to use labels like client, down and out etc. and you will realise that causes problems for decision makers etc. We are also conscious of the fact that research is the answer to everything these days and I use every opportunity I get to question research by now quoting John Keegan. We could benefit from his insight.
” ‘God save you, friend,’ I said, as the venerable-looking stranger stood crossing his naked brow, – for he had taken off his old tattered hat on reaching the chapel door. He appeared much startled at so unexpectedly hearing the tones of a human voice, but, quickly mastering his emotion, answered, ‘Good night, and God save you kindly.’
‘In God’s name,’ I resumed, ‘who are you, and why do you wander abroad at such an hour, the companion of spectres and roamers of the night?’
‘Pardon me, good friend,’ he replied, ‘if I decline answering your questions, I am not about to intrude on your privacy. To none on earth am I indebted, and to none on earth will I reveal the motives by which I am influenced in leading a life of toil, and wandering, and mortification.’”
Quote from “John Keegan Selected Works, TheDihreoch’s Legacy” edited by Tony Delaney.
I still say I am going home when I go to Tipperary, equally I go home to Rathmines from work and in a way I think we rarely stop to ask ourselves where home is? The people I meet daily are labelled homeless by service providers, politicians etc. but most have created a home for themselves in sometimes the unlikeliest of places. Structurally the home may be a hostel, a car, a skipper which can be anything sometimes like the cabby houses or dens (imaginary house) some of us invented in our youth. But home is more than physical structures. Recently a man who had spent 20 years in prison – now in his mid-sixties – raised in an orphanage and spent his earlier life sleeping in outhouses of farms where he worked, came to us crying, the saddest day in his life he said when he left prison. It was home to him, he said, the staff were kind he made friends, he had nice food, a clean bed and the recently retired Governor let him work in the garden. A prison officer who befriended him visited him in the hostel where he found accommodation and that officer was the nearest to family he had in the early days of settling in. He now refers to the hostel as his home, sadly it is possible that pressure will be put on him to resettle in the name of progress i.e. move to a flat (home in most peoples eyes) by social services not the hostel staff and he because of his history of institutionalisation may feel he must agree to move on to end up as isolated as he was in his young adult life.
I decided I would visit Glasnevin some time ago particularly to visit John Keegan’s grave and to make the physical connection between it and the grave of Johnnie and the millennium plot often referred to as the Paupers Plot (terrible name).
As I stand here tonight I feel particularly close to Johnnie – indeed I think of him regularly. I met him first in Church Street Day Centre, when I visited one day – he was a small happy looking man with a twinkle in his eye and a ruddy complexion. He was complaining of a nose problem – that was all, referral was made to a hospital, and treatment received. Subsequently our paths crossed again, he was sleeping in a car in the city.
He liked a drink, had no possessions, just carried letters, a few personal belongings or mementos in a small wallet tied with a piece of string. He never complained, never used bad language and never looked for anything. The lifestyle and weather took its toll on Johnnie. Pains and aches, and eventually his heart stopped beating but not before he did a radio interview which was broadcast on the Pat Kenny Radio programme. I would like to compliment media personnel who use their skills to remind us of the society we live in and challenge us to think.
He lived with his family 10 minutes from The Dail, the house he lived in was knocked to make way for development – the family moved to England, he hated the place, got odd jobs, never settled and returned home, home to Dublin. He kept in touch with his sister – a nun – and carried her letters in his little wallet. We would never be really honest with her about his living conditions – he didn’t want us to be – when he phoned her from time to time.
One day the ambulance was called for him and he ended up in a hospital outside the city centre. From sleeping out, a hospital bed can be a change, noise, other people, endless questions, comments made often from the end of the bed made him feel uncomfortable. Reference was made to St. James’ Hospital he immediately thought of St. Kevin’s, The Poorhouse. When the entourage left his bed side he rushed to the toilet, smoke was seen coming out under the door, staff reprimanded him – he left, walked through the night, back to town. Staff worried they didn’t know what happened – they never heard of St. Kevin’s Hospital and the Poorhouse or the Workhouse was only what films were made of.
We found him in an early house – many of you will have heard of an early house – pubs that open very, very early. The cigarettes flickered through the darkness, we couldn’t see in but he could see us as he clutched his glass, cold and shivering. He walked all the way, back up Winetavern Street, under the Arch and down Patrick Street too independent to let us get a taxi.
Subsequently he agreed to move into a hostel, he was comfortable and his sister was happy in the knowledge that he was being cared for – he died not too long afterwards. At his grave-side was the journalist, Ann Daly (now a documentary film maker who with Ronan Tynan made a documentary on our work “A Fragile City” referred to earlier. It was shown on RTE in 1998 and led to our National Essay Competition this year.)
We were able to give a copy of the tape to his brother who arrived too late to see Johnnie alive, he last saw him in England. In the interview Johnnie spoke of his concern for young people today, those sleeping out with no future. He remembered his Christmas in the family home he had no bitterness.
Many of you will remember Danny and Pauline who were found dead in the snow 1992. I still find the radio interview I did with John Egan for the Pat Kenny Programme moving, the bleakness of the place just off The Quays not far from the Croppy’s Acre facing Collins Barracks and to think that any one of us could end up like them if our lives were different, a fact Joan Baez reminds us of in “There but for fortune”, their companionship, the warmth of the bottle and human companionship and the different elements that make our house a home come to mind when I play the tape.
Mareese slept for many years in a box near the Dail. Some politicians and others failed to understand why new clothes etc. left for her were untouched. People especially staff in Anne St. Post Office, Bewley’s, Clarendon St. Church and Gardai on duty were good to her. The Eastern Health Board gave her an allowance which was subsequently queried because she didn’t spend it – a friend of mine visiting Clarendon St. Church introduced herself, Mareese excused herself to put her kettle behind the side alter. Home to her was when the weather got bad moving into a broken down car in Kevin St. Garda Station for a night or two. New Gardai on the scene were always fearful something would happen and they would be blamed however thankfully there was always an older wiser Garda around who knew the City and its people well – here I should acknowledge the contribution made by the Gardai in ensuring outsiders have a place in our world. One day as I rushed home to get oil in I met her with her box – two women with different notions of home. Last time I met her she was sleeping in her box in London. Had Dublin become too difficult a place to live in?
It comes as a surprise or shock to many to discover family members homeless – some people manage to hide it from family and neighbours. Sometimes at Christmas people come to us for a suit of clothes to go back home, some give fictitious names and places of abode when in hospital or participating in research.
It is easy to understand this at times – people leave the family abode for various reasons. Some leave to work, get experience, see the world, create their own world. Others leave for less identifiable reasons.
Home is not always as cosy as the Christmas Card presents. Small towns how ever nice they appear can be stifling. The valley of the squinting windows still exists. A visit to a psychiatric hospital or prison can still lead to stigma. Irregular relationships may cause gossip.
• Pressure to achieve better things.
• Pressure to carry on the family tradition, professional or otherwise.
• Pressure to marry or not to marry.
• Loneliness and isolation.
• Just feeling different.
• And of course the land maybe left to a sibling who marries.
• Some people can feel trapped.
Then again I think John B. Keane’s play “The Year of the Hiker” was one of the plays I saw that could have been straight from our work or indeed Gorky’s Play “The Lower Depths” written a century ago reminded me of those we meet daily.
A few years ago the death of a man we know highlighted how seemingly easy it could be to re-create a life and a home.
Jim was a tradesman from rural Ireland who left his wife and family for reasons best known to himself many years ago. He assumed a different name and lived in a flat until he had an industrial accident. After a spell in hospital he moved into a city hostel.
A very proud and secretive man he nevertheless used his skills to do maintenance work in the hostel where he lived. Family members tried to track him down without success and finally accepted that he was buried in a pauper’s grave in England.
A very intelligent, well-groomed man, he lived with his secret until near the end. He kept in contact with his G.P. and TRUST. When he was struck down by a serious illness his family was located and contacted. They expressed relief at having found him, but also sadness for all the years missed. Unknown to them he had kept in touch with the area by reading the local newspaper in a local hostelry, a fact they discovered after his death.
TRUST and the hostel Superintendent were able in some small way to help the family by telling them how he had spent his days.
Recent publicity about people in U.K. from Ireland highlighted in a way people who come home to die or live out the remainder of their lives in a place they once called home. Sadly many return to a changed land and changed people and unreal expectations.
We were going through some data at work recently, going through 300 – 400 names from the early eighties all male 150 approximately of those had returned from U.K. all penniless and with no accommodation arranged. There were various reasons for returning:
• Many had spent from a few years to 30 years in the services – army or navy. Some had returned without pensions being sorted out.
• One man poignantly returned for a holiday and got drunk the night he was to go back to U.K. missed the boat, spent the rest of his money and slept out.
• One man who was committed to a psychiatric hospital by his wife, escaped, went to U.K. and returned many years later.
• Many had spent years working hard on the buildings.
• A number ended up in hostels, lonely, drank to blot out the pain, they then became part of the homeless population and statistics in some report gathering dust somewhere.
• Some slept out, ended up in prison or psychiatric hospital and managed to keep this from their families.
We should remember that there were no mobile phones in those days and indeed land lines were not that plentiful either.
Many people then and now couldn’t read or write – I should note the letter writing of people in the past was a treasure.
We had only made scant references to why people left and returned. We feel we have no right to pry, John Keegan’s letters dated January 1846 said it all.
I quote some sentences from that letter which could be written today even about some people who have just moved to the city and sleeping under a tree or drinking a bottle by the Dodder or Canal brings memories flooding back.
“If there be one trait, one feature more prominently characteristic of the Irishman than another, it will be found in his undying love of home”
“his thoughts are straying in the green valleys of father-land, and his toils are lightened, and his heart bounds gladly at the hope that his exile is but temporary, that he will again embrace the friends and play-mates of his childhood,”
“He may be comfortable, nay, in the enjoyment of respect and even in affluence; his pathway through this world may be free from perils and privations, yet he is not happy: he is not at home; he misses the bland smiles of his sisters, and the hearty honest laughter of his brothers. The friendship of the stranger is equivocal, and perhaps transient:”
“as he remembers his summer evening rambles in that solitary green boreen”
“I had, too, been from home some months; and all minor feelings were merged in the joy I felt in again seeing Ireland, and the idea of being, in a few days, a welcome guest in my beloved native village.”
The amazing thing about John Keegan’s writing was his ability to make me certainly feel I was there with him walking the fields and so much of what he said is so relevant today.
His eloquent language said so much to the reader and his stories carried a message – it is thought he ended up his days in journalism and how we could do with someone like him today.
“In so far as he receives any mention to-day, the term ‘peasant poet’ is generally employed with reference to John Keegan. This refers, not so much to his own origins, as to the subject matter of his prose and poems. This image of himself as a writer at one with the plain people, is one which he himself actively encouraged.”
“Keegan, of course, is as much a product of his times as he is of his own personal circumstances. The interest in peasant life and culture was not confined to C. Laois, but was part of the Romantic movement of the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth. The championing of rural life and the literature of the common man, which in turn prompted investigations of folklore and vernacular literatures”
“Keegan was also, in his own way, a political writer, contributing many items to ‘ The Nation’”
From The Introduction to John Keegan Selected Works – Edited by Tony Delaney.
I would like to remember Jim Quigley of Muintir na Tire also from Tipperary, who died a few weeks ago – he never allowed anyone to forget people from rural Ireland “Ar dheis dei go raibh a hanam”.
The stories of so many of the people I meet have never been told much less listened to. Some make the headlines when they die and many end up like Johnnie in a paupers plot. Only recently Joe, a man we knew died, he came from rural Ireland, never married, his brother and sisters had died years before, he worked as a postman for years in England – he maintained his independence, he dressed well, read widely, liked a pint on pension day, followed the county football and hurling teams. He collapsed one morning in the hostel where he was happy, his friends including staff and residents gathered around him and said their goodbyes. Staff in the hospital phoned looking for information later – “They had an NFA brought in” a sad reflection on our society on how we treat one another.
“We know that innumerable wrongs were perpetrated on the wretched peasantry of Ireland, and we know too that those crying evils were inflicted by those who ought to be the guardians and protectors of the poor.”
Quote from John Keegan Selected Works edited by Tony Delaney – The Dihreoch’s Legacy.
I wonder in spite of increased wealth can we still wonder at the innumerable wrongs or have we really learned anything about mans inhumanity to man.
In a recent book by Fr. James Feehan, a countryman of my own – just up the road as we say. “An Hourglass on the Run”, he referred to the Knights of the Road who have now disappeared. We still meet people who could be classified as such.
Just recently Pat visited his home town on the East Coast when he heard of his mother’s death it took some time to locate him when she passed away. He then rambled again but found sleeping out had become so dangerous, he was mugged while sleeping out not far from his family home, and again before he arrived back to Dublin and the city in spite of what we hear gave him the chance to hide away in a skipper. He in some ways could well be like “The Dihreoch” John Keegan wrote about, I doubt if any one else could describe him with the same feeling.
“’Speak, my poor fellow,’ cried Mr. B. ‘It delights me to be the instrument of your preservation; speak, and let us know who you are, or by what mischance you became an outcast from human shelter on such a dread night as this.’
‘I am a wanderer over the earth these many weary years,’ said the old man in a feeble voice”. …”I strayed from the path-way of righteousness. I erred; grievously erred, – yet I will not shock you by a rehearsal of my iniquities. I was converted; I became repentant, and, for many a long year, I have roamed in pain and privation over my native land, sleeping sometimes in the ash-corners of the peasantry, but more generally under the dews of heaven. My clothing has been the veriest rags I could find, and my food of the coarsest description, and such as merely supported existence. My name or family I never revealed to mortal. They call me “The Dihreoch” – a name which you may call me too, if you think fit but any further disclosures I am not disposed to make.”
Quote from John Keegan Selected Works The Boccough Ruadh edited by Tony Delaney.
In today’s language, he (The Dihreoch) would be a statistic and would be very low on the performance indicator scale. Attempts to reach or understand Pat would be based on a European Model of Best Practice – little discussion would take place about how he challenges us to think about what home is in today’s world.
The deaths of people we work with always make us think and please God it will always be the case. Sadly in recent times many people who have been homeless have died on the streets of our cities – generally these days never mentioned and sometimes if they are it can be insensitively.
I am reminded of a letter I received from an elderly mother of a man from rural Ireland who died on the streets, she never knew he was homeless and she loved him dearly, he loved her too as he often told us particularly when he was fighting T.B.
Our recent spectacular games – Gaelic and soccer remind me of Jimmy. He told me that he was reared by his granny in a large corporation flat complex, long since demolished. He started drinking at 13 years of age and sleeping out shortly afterwards. He remembered when Simon started its Soup Run in Dublin and volunteers visited him in a old car in Smithfield. He was later rescued from the same car one night suffering from pneumonia, by a now high-ranking member of the Gardai. He spent a short spell in the Irish Army and spoke with respect for its members. Life could have been different maybe, as his skills on the soccer field are still remembered. His drinking continued and his efforts to deal with it continued. He never had a room in this own name, even though he spent time in hostels on and off. Spells in Mountjoy (for minor offences) helped him to dry out and build up his strength. He spoke with tenderness of the women in his life.
He regularly visited TRUST from his ‘skipper’ on the south side to have a wash, change his clothes, pick out his favourite pieces from his very limited wardrobe and possessions, which always included after-shave which we held for him. He was generally en-route to Charles Street to collect his weekly allowance. This was always cashed by Iveagh Hostel staff as he could not cope with visiting a bank. He had no identity card and no bank account.
He sometimes needed chiropody and prescribed medication explained to him. He always came with gifts, a football catalogue, a flower, a piece of chocolate for Holly our dog, a medal and a small bottle of Lucozade. The most important gift was his humanity, wisdom, concern for others, past and present – and the challenge he constantly posed, particularly on one of his bad days.
He acknowledged the kindness of the many unknown and known individuals he encountered daily: the man who gave him the Ireland sweater; the ticket for a rugby match he received (his first); a sleeping bag; the nun who prepared ‘lovely scrambled egg for breakfast’; Brother Sebastian, the now retired friend who made toast for him; the prison officer he met one morning in TRUST who was so kind to him in Mountjoy and the well-known soccer player he met by the Dodder who gave him some money, but more importantly spoke to him about the game he loved.
He slept in a skipper for many years in Milltown (the Shamrock Rovers grounds) and subsequently spoke about its loss. He looked forward to the World Cup but like last time would probably watch it sitting on a footpath looking in a TV shop window when I met him. The Christmas before he died was spent in comfort in the Meath Hospital.
I promised him a new pair of glasses (his third) if he stayed in over the festive period. He did, ensuring that we all relaxed knowing that he would not be found sick on the streets. He later moved to convalescence, but left. He couldn’t cope with confinement – some patients, he said, ‘were allowed drink’ – he wasn’t and longed for some.
When Vincent Browne broadcast a programme on homelessness, Jimmy wanted to speak but was too overcome with emotion to even go into the building on the night to tell his story. We still miss his visits. An old brown Rosary beads left behind on his last visit will always be a reminder of a free spirit who will continue to make us ask ‘why?’
He challenged us to think about the place of the outsider in our world. The outsider is not someone we should try to change to live our way, and not someone who is seen as just a burden on the State but a fellow citizen whose place is equally important.
We all think we can read into the lives of people who find themselves homeless and sometimes I think fear prevents us from looking further and I found the description the report of the inquest from the Kilkenny Moderator which led to the composition of The Dying Mother’s Lament by John Keegan so descriptive that it should be rewritten in current text books and the lives and deaths of young people on drugs many on the streets or homeless in their heads would benefit from such a description.
“An inquest was held at Corbet’s-town in this county, on the bodies of four human creatures, found dead in a ditch on the lands of Webb’s-borough. It appeared in evidence, that a poor female with three little children had been wandering for some days through that neighbourhood in a state of extreme destitution. They had received charity at a cabin a couple of days before their melancholy death, – the mother appearing in a state of apparent unconsciousness, evidently the effect of extreme mental anxiety. On the same evening (Friday Nov. 27) they were seen on the road, near the spot where their dead bodies were found on the morning of the following Monday. It is supposed they sat down to shelter themselves from the weather, which on that evening was very severe, and that from exhaustion they were unable to proceed until overtaken by the darkness and loneliness of night. When found, the hand of one of the children and the foot of another were eaten away, it is supposed by dogs or swine. The mother appeared to be about thirty years of age, the eldest child (a girl) about nine. A post mortem examination of the bodies was made by a physician, who was of opinion that they had not partaken of any description of food for twenty hours before death. In the stomach of one of the children, he found some portion of an undigested potato. The bodies were much emaciated, and must have been dead for a considerable time before they were discovered.”
In conclusion I repeat what I said at the beginning I am now more convinced than ever that writing, radio and drama do much to pose questions, stimulate debate.
” It belonged to a once powerful and noble family, and it is the offspring of a pencil which was guided by inspiration.”
Quote from The Dihreoch’s Legacy – edited by Tony Delaney.
We need to be reminded people have gone before us and that we are just a link in a chain joined by mystery and if we could acknowledge that fact there would be fewer people searching for a place in our world.