In life, Michael Byrne, known affectionately as "Old Man Belfield" for quietly roaming the UCD campus for three decades, had no home. In death, he is being gifted a "home from home."
The 71-year-old homeless man, who was found dead in a sleeping bag on the university’s grounds on Monday, is being given a final resting place in the south Dublin countryside.
After seeing the outpouring on social media after his death, Kilternan Cemetery Park and Massey Bros funeral directors are giving him a funeral, burial, plot and headstone free of charge.
"It is a fitting place because for a guy who lived out in the wild, under the stars and under the trees around UCD, he is going to a place like where he lived, a natural place. Our cemetery is out in the country. It is the same type of landscape," said the cemetery's manager Rory Mulhall.
“He is going to a home from home really. What moved us was the whole social media thing. There were thousands of people on social media talking about him and remembering him.”
Mr Byrne's funeral will take place at UCD's Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church in Belfield on Wednesday and his remains will then be taken to Kilternan for burial. Susan Maguire, managing director of Massey Bros on Newtownpark Avenue in Blackrock, is organising his funeral.
The funeral will be streamed by UCD on its website. Covid-19 public restrictions apply to funerals with the current Level 5 restrictions limiting the attendance of mourners to 10.
Last week UCD’s social media post alerting the public to the death of “a fiercely private person” who was quietly looked after by staff and students for more than 30 years drew floods to memories to the man described as a “gentle soul” and a “silent guardian of UCD.”
Mr Mulhall said he remembered “Old Man Belfield” well from his time working as a stone contractor in UCD over the past 20 years. He had regular encounters with Mr Byrne.
“I used to be in there early in the morning. I would have given him sandwiches. More times than not he wouldn’t take anything off you. He would take a cigarette off you though. The very odd time he would take a sandwich,” he said.
“Of all the years I was around there, I never heard him utter a word. He always steered himself away from people. He is a fascinating man to have kept it all in for so long. I know loads of people in or around UCD and I don’t know anyone who he ever spoke to.”
Mr Byrne has no known family members and his next of kin, a man who would only wanted to be identified as “Sam”, has said he hopes the publicity around the man’s death might result in a family member coming forward.