Cool to be kind: an experiment in niceness
Ahead of Clonakilty Random Acts of Kindness Festival, Patrick Freyne set out to discover how people react to acts of altruism on the streets
Of course, some Irish people are just as generous. One person I meet offers me some cannabis (I decline). A few moments earlier, a stranger handed him free sunglasses.
He thinks Ireland is a very kind place. “I don’t receive social welfare and I don’t work. I’m a ‘skipper’. I go to skips and I get a lot of food and I share it.” He’s all about sharing. During our chat he offers another man a chance to get into a festival for free.
Desmond Kane isn’t surprised by random kindness either. That morning he and his son Dylan helped an old person get their shopping over a gate. “They couldn’t open it,” he explains. Desmond was formerly homeless and drug-addicted, but now has a council flat and has joined an evangelical church. “I have had great kindness done to me,” he says.
Mary Brennan from Kilkenny is shopping with some younger relatives. She accepts an ice-lolly. Today she has given money to beggars. “Oh God, I feel so sorry for them. You don’t see that in Kilkenny. They’re young people too. I just associate them with my own [children].”
Over the course of the afternoon I hear a lot of opinions about whether Ireland is kinder than other countries, whether small towns are kinder than cities, whether the past is kinder than the present or young people are kinder than old people. Views vary on all of these things. A few people tell me that the country is wrecked and that altruism is a sham. But I also hear many anecdotes suggesting that genuine acts of kindness are the secret ingredients of a functioning society.
These things don’t need to be heroic. “Always thank the bus driver!” Rita Meagher comes out of a shop to tell me this on seeing me for the second time. “That’s something Irish people do which I think is very nice.” She laughs. “It’s the little things.”
The Random Acts of Kindness Festival is on in Clonakilty from July 19th to July 21st, aokclon.com