“Jimmy challenged us to think about the place of the outsider in our world.”
Jimmy 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 his aftershave which we held for him. He was generally en route 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 recently 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 on a footpath looking in a TV shop window.
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 could not cope with confinement -some patients, he said, “were allowed to drink” -he wasn’t and longed for some.
I asked his permission to tell his story to the National Crime Forum of which I was a member. 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 an 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 Garda.
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 his 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.
When Vincent Browne broadcast a programme on homelessness, Jimmy was too overcome with emotion to even go into the building on the night to tell his story. He shied away from newcomers -he didn’t want to be asked questions about his life.
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?”