Award for river rabbit rescuer

 

A homeless man who rescued his pet rabbit from the River Liffey was this afternoon presented with a compassionate citizen award, by the animal charity Aran.

John Byrne (38) who has spent the last 22 years living on streets of the capital, became something of a celebrity after videos of his dramatic rescue of the rabbit, "Barney", were posted on the internet.

He said he had been sitting on O'Connell Bridge about ten days ago when a youth came along and grabbed Barney by the ears, flinging the animal into the river.

Mr Byrne who is originally from Ballyfermot was back on the bridge this afternoon, this time surrounded by crowds - many of them bearing microphones and notebooks as well as two television cameras - as he was presented with a framed scroll, by Aran director John Carmody.

"As I watched the footage of this helpless man saving the life of a helpless animal tears fell from my eyes and the footage sent a shiver down my spine for such a touching act of kindness," said Mr Carmody.


Mr Carmody told The Irish Times he was hoping the publicity would ensure that "within a few days" Mr Byrne would have a wall on which to hang his citation.

The award came with a supply of carrots for Barney and food for Mr Byrne's Jack Russell-type terrier.

Mr Byrne said he had been told a farmer from Tipperary had offered him a job working with animals and this offered the possibility of gaining his own home.

He said he would be happy to consider the offer even though he had a girlfriend and three children living in Ballyfermot and "Tipperary is a bit far".

Mr Byrne said he had become homeless after domestic issues when he was a young man. Being homeless was getting more difficult in recent years due to the weather and a shortage of hostel beds, he said.

Fellow homeless man Con Darcy said he had given Mr Byrne a dry T-shirt on the evening of the rescue. He said closure of a hostel in Charlemont Street and reductions in accommodation in near Busáras had added to the pressure on available bed spaces in the city.

A Garda spokesman said a youth had been charged with cruelty to animals in connection with the incident and would appear in court later this month.