‘I think, in his own way, he’s galvanised the community... he’s taught us about the need for compassion’
Inner city community buries homeless man who slept rough for more than 20 years
Ned Delahunty, an 83 year old homeless man, pictured last year. He spent around 20 years sleeping rough in a doorway on Oliver Bond Street in Dublin's south inner city. He died on January 17th and his funeral took place yesterday, March 13th, at John's Lane Church on Thomas Street. Photograph: Eddie Mallin
Few people knew the name of the man in the doorway – but almost everyone knew him to see.
With his wispy white hair and flowing beard, he walked the streets of Dublin’s south inner city with a Dunnes Stores bag in one hand and a bundle of newspapers in the other.
For about 20 years, he used a sheltered alcove on Oliver Bond Street as a place to sleep.
He spent most of his days picking up litter, placing it in bins, or sitting for hours at a time in the local churches.
Children in the area called him “Moses” or “Santy”. Other knew him simply as “Dusty” or “John”. No one knew for sure. He was an intensely private person who refused most offers of support or accommodation.
He died last January, aged 83. In temperatures of close to freezing, he was brought to St James’s Hospital where he died a fortnight later. His funeral was delayed for almost two months to allow time to find relatives, although gardaí weren’t able to find any.
It was a death that might ordinarily have gone unnoticed in the often harsh and hostile world of the inner city.
Yesterday, however, more than 150 people – locals, shopkeepers, regular Massgoers – gathered to remember a man to whom few people had ever spoken. Dozens of floral tributes and cards have been gathering in the doorway where he died over recent weeks.
“I think, in his own way, he’s galvanised the community,” said Jane Forde, a local nun who stayed with him during his final days in hospital.
“You know, people say the country is banjaxed and that we’re a less caring society, but the care and offers of support he got from people shows another side to society. He taught us about the need for compassion and the importance of reaching out to people in need.”
Few knew much about the man in the doorway until he was brought to hospital in January this year. For neighbours such as Teresa Hogan, his background was a mystery.
“For 20 years he was in the same spot every morning and evening, facing my flat,” she says.
“He could have been vulnerable, but everyone looked after him or kept an eye out for him.”
“He always struck me as well-educated or well brought up. He was so clean and so independent. He would dress neatly and tidy up after himself. I don’t know, there was just something about him. And his skin – his skin was beautiful.”
Rumours swirled around about him: some speculated he was previously an academic, others were adamant his brother was a member of the judiciary or the medical establishment. In truth, no one knew.
At a distance
He kept people at a distance. Anyone who offered help or approached him out of the blue – care workers, priests or locals – could either get a gruff “thank you”, or else get drowned in a hail of expletives.