Alice Leahy the Grand Marshall of Clonmel’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade

by Eamonn Wynne of The Nationalist. (11/02/2010)

Alice Leahy, the founder of the homeless agency Trust, will be the Grand Marshall of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Clonmel.

The Fethard woman will lead the parade through the town on Wednesday, March 17th, and will also be the guest speaker at the St. Patrick’s dinner at Hotel Minella the previous night, Tuesday, 16th.

A substantial donation will be made from the event to Trust, the homeless agency founded by Alice Leahy, a former Tipperary Person of the Year who for the past quarter century has been a friend to the homeless in Dublin.

The parade will leave Irishtown at 3.30 and the organisers are hopeful that it will be a bigger and more colourful occasion than previous years, while everyone will also be keeping their fingers crossed for a repeat of the fine sunny weather of last year’s celebration. Almost 20 floats have already been confirmed, including one from the Irish Wheelchair Association, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Music will be provided by Banna Chluain Meala and the Dr. Diarmuid O’Hurley Pipe Band from Cashel.

There will be other attractions, organised in conjunction with the Borough Council and Chamber of Commerce, to keep the crowds in the town centre entertained before and after the parade. These include a food fair in Mitchel Street from 12 noon to 4pm and a display of crafts at the Main Guard. And there will be musical entertainment on the reviewing stand outside the Town Hall in Parnell Street from 2 o’clock onwards.

This year the St. Patrick’s Well Committee is putting the focus on Ss Peter and Paul’s parish, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary. With that in mind the traditional mini parade on St.Patrick’s morning will proceed to 12.30 Mass at Ss Peter and Paul’s instead of noon Mass at St. Mary’s.

The Papal and national Flags will be raised as usual at St. Patrick’s Well at 8 o’clock on St. Patrick’s morning and a jug of water will be brought from the Well for the celebration of the Mass to commemorate the continuation of the Christian tradition in the town for 1,500 years.

The festivities will also include a historical lecture at the Town Hall on Monday night, 15th March on the history of Ss Peter and Paul’s.

Anyone who is looking for further information or any organisation or group that wishes to enter a float in the parade should contact P.J.Long of the St. Patrick’s Well Society on 052-6121432.

Doing the thing that’s nearest

by Margaret Rossiter, The Nationalist.
PDF of this article available here courtesy of The Nationalist.

The camera focused in on a man’s red, swollen and blistered foot. The foot was being tenderly tended to by a woman. While she was applying medication and a plaster and bandage, she spoke warmly to the man. She helped him put on a fresh pair of socks and asked him to come back again in a day or two.

This was the cameo that I tuned into when casually television-channel-hopping on a recent Sunday night. It was a scene in the RTE “Would You Believe” series, about the charity Trust founded by Alice Leahy, the Tipperary woman who was recently the subject of a feature in this newspaper, and who will be a special guest of honour at the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Clonmel.

One hesitates to describe Trust (which serves the homeless) as an organisation, since that implies meetings and records and minutes and bureaucracy. Of course, it has to take cognisance of all of these things. It has to have structure and organisation if it is to do its work.

But the over-riding impression was that of human compassion and service to people who, for all sorts of reasons, find themselves without a home. It is a service given unconditionally. Tea, coffee, chat, clothes-washing, showers, replacement clothes, foot-care, advocacy, all contained within a small, cramped, over-crowded basement rooms.

This containment and this space-limitation, as viewed on television, reinforced the homely, friendly atmosphere of Trust. There was nothing clinical or institutional about it. It is not in receipt of government or HSE support. Alice Leahy doesn’t want it, nor would she take it, because it would, in some way, make the charity “beholden.” It would circumscribe the ability to speak out, to advocate, for the homeless.

Trust has a group of volunteers. A Church of Ireland vicar and her community in Leix provide the cost of the tea and biscuits. A few women look after the “wardrobe.” A retired man spends a few hours a week “just chatting.” “Trustees” take care of the funding.

Alice Leahy, in her recent interview in this newspaper, spoke about her home in Tipperary, where she first imbibed (because it was part of the atmosphere) her sense of service. It was a sense of doing the immediate, the practical, the thing that was nearest, because it was the right thing to do.

It seems to me, that it was a sense embedded in Tipperary women. I recall my grandmother, a farmer, telling me of answering a knock on the door just before midnight in early winter in the first decades of the last century. It was a traveller-man (or tinker-man as she would say, and that in no way pejoratively). His wife was in labour and in trouble.

She grabbed a few towels and walked a half-mile or so to an encampment at the side of the road. There, under an up-turned cart and lying in straw, she found a woman in the last stages of giving birt She delivered the baby, washed and cleaned-up in water heated over a smoking fire.

Finding there was little in the way of coverings, she walked back to her home, returned with some old sheets and blankets, and next day drove in her pony and trap six miles to Cahir to buy baby clothes.

My grandmother told me this story just to illustrate the poverty and isolation of the times, and not because she thought it was unusual, or that what she had done was extra special. It was, to her, just the ordinary, everyday help which one would could give to another.

Neither did I think it was extraordinary when my mother’s first task every morning was that of bringing tea and toast to an old woman who lived in our street, nor that, last thing at night, she would be given a cup of cocoa and tucked into bed, the front door locked, my mother taking away the key. To my mother, this was just what one neighbour did for another.

In a nearby street, my mother-in-law daily cooked a hot nourishing midday meal for a family of young orphaned teenagers. Other neighbours helped supervise and maintain them in their own home. They grew up and became happy fulfilled citizens.

That was then. This is now. Today, I wonder if my grandmother would open her door to anybody who unexpectedly knocked, night or day.

And would the old woman whom my mother befriended, find herself in some nursing home, well-cared for, but away from her own fireplace and the neighbours who dropped in to chat?

I am certain that the orphaned family would be provided with a relay of social workers, or, more probably, separated from each other and taken into State care.

In these changed times, much that was done as part of neighbourhoods and communities has become the responsibility of the State. Indeed, we demand the State’s intervention.

But, from that brief bird’s-eye glimpse into Alice Leahy’s Trust recently, it seemed to me that nothing can quite replace the sort of care that comes from the heart, from one person’s concern for another. What it appeared to lack in space, posh premises, shining equipment, it made up for in old-time neighbourliness, real warmth and love.

It can only be good for those who give and those who receive and even those of us who saw it on television.

A friend to the homeless, taking the outsider in and ‘wasting time with people’ – a remarkable Tipperary woman’s story

Alice Leahy with one of the regular callers to Trust, Ronald, and the former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Eibhlin Byrne.

by Eamonn Lacey of The Nationalist

Taking the ‘outsider’ in is how a remarkable Fethard woman has lived her life.
For the last thirty five years, Alice Leahy has lived with and cared for homeless people, treating the disadvantaged of Dublin as a neighbour, a friend and human beings.

The classic Smokey song ‘Living next door to Alice” – the band even performed it in the ballroom of her home town a long number of years ago – springs to mind when it comes to the special relationship Alice has with ‘outsiders’ forgotten by the system.

Whenever that song was rendered, an appreciative audience would inevitably roar back good naturedly posing the question who exactly was Alice. If that question was ever asked in this country’s capital city the roar would be a deafening one from the homeless in the parks, on the banks of the canal, from the doorways and the cross section of society including solicitors, nurses, doctors, journalists, religious, sporting stars all of whom would have called on Trust for refuge over the years.

The likely response would reflect the phenomenal work of a woman who had reached out to vulnerable men and women on the margins of society for the last thirty five years with Trust and for many years before that through her work with Simon.

Because of Alice and her wonderful staff and group of volunteers, the homeless have had somewhere to go, somebody to listen to and somebody to trust.

Thirty five years ago Alice Leahy co-founded Trust and her inspirational leadership and determination to speak out against exclusion, against bureaucracy and against a system that prevents spending time with people that lies behind its success.

She believes that agencies set up by the system to provide for homeless were not doing so while Trust and other voluntary groups who were at the coalface and put the personal needs of people on the margins first were dismissed.

The Fethard woman is as passionate today about her role of ‘speaking out’ as she was in the seventies when she walked away from her safe pensionable job as a nurse.

She firmly believes that the capacity to make a difference is within everyone. She remembers as a student nurse challenging the matron about the quality of patients meals and that instinctive ability to take on an injustice has been her trademark as an advocate for the real, every day, basic needs of homeless people.

Alice has continued to live her life by those standards, never missing an opportunity to speak out to ensure that every human being is treated the same as another and her desire to see that everybody was entitled to the same dignity and respect as anybody else.

That ability to pose the questions that few dare ask was honed in her days in Macra na Tuaithe in Fethard and she has never lost that .

Even though she has experienced the frustration of dealing with the ‘system’ for decades, she can still feel infuriated by the mechanics of it and its inability to deal with the individual behind the statistics they, the managers of the system, love talking about..

Only recently, while speaking at a housing seminar in Athlone, she sensed the hostility of the ‘system’ as she spoke on the issues close to her heart.

“I just could not get out of the place quickly enough. It is extremely difficult to get the message across and you could feel the hostility in the room when you challenge the system. I wanted to tell them that when you are working with the most vulnerable you cannot cherry pick,” said the former Tipperary Person of the Year.

Alice said people working in the system, the managers of the services, had lost interest in listening to the ordinary person.Spending time talking to and dealing with people who need the services they were supposed to be providing was now beyond them.

“These people managing the system are becoming more and more remote, they have lost touch with what is happening on the ground and with the people they are supposed to serve,” she said.

Alice uses every day to get across the message how important it is to “waste time” with people.

She genuinely fears that in Dail Eireann, debate is stifled because of time constrains and that in journalism the ‘soundbite’ is king and nobody wanted to meet and spend time with people any more.

She abhors the ‘ticked box’ mentality that dominates the system and that is so embedded in society now.

“People leaving university now are buying into this ‘ticked box ‘ concept doing research work that concentrates on ticking boxes rather than dealing with real people. If you don’t give time to people how do you know what is going on. It is sad to see young whiz kids going down this road of filling out the forms, ticking the boxes and creating the statistics but that tells you nothing about the human being,” she said.

“Efficiency is now about dividing people and red tape, we have lost the willingness to be brave and speak out,” she said.

Alice believes that Trust is as relevant today as it was when she co-founded the organisation thirty five years ago.

It has been an incredible success story of survival.

She recalls being at a meeting in Dublin Castle prior to the establishment of Trust and she heard a senior official remark that Trust would not last six months.

She cannot believe how quickly time has passed, something brought home to her recently when she was contacted about attending a Leaving Cert 50th anniversary function.

“I don’t believe I am here that long, but it is a reminder of just how quickly life passes by,” she said.

Alice said she still had an enthusiasm and the adrenalin for the job she does on a daily basis.

“There is a huge energy around Trust. We have a great team here. I believe in what we are doing,” she said.

“In an ideal world we should not be here, but we don’t live in an ideal world. There should be enough people working in the services to provide for the most vulnerable people but that is not the case,” she said.

The introduction of an education programme by Trust which involves a national essay competition is something that Alice is very proud of and she is delighted with the response to that initiative.

“Education is the key, we have to get the message across that everybody should be made welcome and that everybody is important,” she said.

Alice believes that Trust would always have a role to play to combat the belief that many people hold that ‘it’s your own fault’ if you are homeless.

“Sadly if society continues to think in those terms the most needy will be forgotten about. The system wants to put people who need services in one location but if that happens we will inevitably end up with more people in desperate need,” she said.

According to Alice it will never be a case of mission accomplished for Trust, there will always be people who don’t fit in and there will always be a crying need for Trust and other groups to allow the State ‘off the hook,”

On a daily basis her aim and that of everybody associated with Trust is to help the ‘outsider’, to care for them and do the very best they can to provide comfort, friendship and basic needs. “Our aim is to make people fell better going out the door.”

She remembers herself felling like an ‘outsider’ when she moved from home to Dublin leaving Tipperary and ‘beautiful Slievenamon’ .

“I always felt an outsider in Dublin. I love Tipperary, love listening to Slievenamon, you never forget your roots. Trust is there to embrace the outsider,” said Alice who moved to Dublin to train as a nurse in Baggot Street Hospital at eighteen years old in 1961.

Treating everybody as the same is a lesson she learned at a young age growing up in Fethard . Her family lived on the Annsgift estate of the Hughes family.

Four generations of her father’s family had worked on Annsgift and her father was the family steward on the estate.

She came from a family of three boys and two girls and they grew up on the basis that everybody should be treated the same.

Her family had Christmas dinner with Major Hughes and his family every year and although a Protestant, the Major lent Alice’s family a green van to drive to mass each Sunday.

“There was a mutual respect, not a master/servant relationship. Because I met no class distinction I am able to treat everyone the same,” said Alice.

Alice Leahy Congratulates Mayor of Clonmel in supporting call for enquiry into death of woman about to be made Homeless

The Editor
The Nationalist

Dear Sir

I write to congratulate the Mayor of Clonmel Cllr. Denis Dunne in taking up the case of late Brid Cummins in demanding an enquiry into the way in which she was treated by the Local Authority in Galway.

We work with people who are homeless and are very concerned about the fact that people who are vulnerable and in many ways outsiders in our society do not seem to be treated the same as everybody else. In fact, we recently wrote to all 54 councillors on Dublin City Council about a person who died on the street demanding an enquiry and received a very poor response and were forced to pursue the matter with the Minister – a case we are still pursuing.

However, it is very good to see that Clonmel Corporation, led by the Mayor, is prepared to take up cases like this. Unless similar action is taken by local public representatives in all parts of the country those who find themselves outsiders in our society will continue to be treated as second class citizens.

Yours sincerely

Director & Co-Founder