Death of the man in the doorway

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

Sir, – Over the past three years, on my way to and from work, I have passed a doorway, in Oliver Bond Street, Dublin, opposite the flat complex. This doorway was occupied by a homeless man who seemed to be there both morning and evening. He was an elderly man, quiet and seemingly private as he did not invite approach and didn’t respond to my greetings as I passed him.

On Wednesday morning of this week, in temperatures hovering around 0 degrees, I went that way with the firm intention of giving him some help to get something warm for himself. However, I was met by the stark sight of a number of floral tributes in the doorway that was otherwise empty.

I have been reflecting on the life and death of this man whose name I do not know and trying to find some meaning in it for our times. He reminded me in appearance of Rashers Tierney from Strumpet City. In the RTÉ adaptation of that nook, Rashers despairingly curses the “benighted” city of Dublin. The word “benighted” means being in a state of moral or intellectual ignorance. Although we can perhaps recognise this aspect of modern Dublin, I saw another aspect, represented by the floral tributes to this nameless, homeless man. This aspect is more hopeful. It seems to me that the words of John Donne in the poem No Man is an Island are relevant here. No matter the circumstances of any individual, they are a part of the whole and, as such their death “diminishes me”.

In this centenary year of the Dublin lockout I feel that this one story throws up the real challenge of our time. As a society we collectively share a responsibility to challenge the systemic issues that stack the odds against certain people and lead to them living, and sometimes dying, in appalling conditions. But it is also our job to enable the individual’s story to be heard so that they won’t be just a statistic but a real and full human being.

I am sure that there are people who knew this man as a person, but as I only knew him literally in passing I would like to dedicate the full John Donne poem to his memory and also as a reminder to us all of our responsibility as citizens of this State to care, in every sense of this word, about the lives of others. – Yours, etc,

JULIE HOWLEY ,

Mountshannon Road,

Kilmainham, Dublin 8.