The bells of Christ Church Cathedral rang out over the din of rush hour traffic as the men placed bouquets of flowers and candles on the footpath.
One man stepped forward with a lighter and battled the cold winter breeze to illuminate a series of tea lights laid out in the formation of a cross. Once the candles were burning, the group stood back and stared silently at the spot where a month previously Michal Wasikiewicz had taken his final breath.
Wasikiewicz, a Polish man who had been living in Dublin since 2016, was found dead on Cook Street at 8am on November 6th last.
'I tried to wake him up and touched his face and his hands and he was cold as ice'
Reports at the time described the death of a homeless Polish man as “tragic” but offered little information as to how or why he had ended up in Ireland.
Cesare, who is also from Poland and shared a sleeping bag with Wasikiewicz on the night of his death, also knew little of his friend’s background.
The pair had earlier tried to secure a room at the Merchant’s Quay homeless shelter, but were turned away because Wasikiewicz was deemed too drunk. After walking around the city for a couple of hours, they eventually decided to set themselves up for the night on the steps under St Audoen’s Church, the home of the Polish chaplaincy in Ireland.
The following morning Cesare woke to discover a cold body next to him.
“I tried to wake him up and touched his face and his hands and he was cold as ice,” he explained through a translator.
Marcin, who also knew Wasikiewicz from the streets, had spoken to him on the phone the previous night.
“We were so shocked. I spoke to him that night, I saw him. Everyone liked Michal, he never argued with the other men. Even when he was drunk, he was never aggressive. We know he lived in the United States, he talked a lot about that. But not really about his family. He was a private person.”
‘We lost contact’
Some 2,000km away in the Polish city of Wloclawek, Andrzej Wasikiewicz sat at home with his dog Tutek by his side as he tried to make sense of the phone call he received a few weeks previously from the Polish embassy in Dublin.
More than two years had passed since he last saw his son at Warsaw Modlin international airport.
“He was dressed in new branded clothing and had bought the ticket himself from the money he earned in Denmark, ” his father recalls. “But then we lost contact with him. He never called or visited us after he left Poland. I was furious at him but also concerned. I wondered what had happened.”
Michal Wasikiewicz was born in Poland in 1973, the second of three brothers. His father, a mechanical engineer, and his mother, a chemist, had lived in the US before their children were born.
After their son dropped out of college, and following a short stint in the Polish army, Andrzej bought a plane ticket for him to spend time with friends in Chicago.
A successful factory owner, Andrzej financially supported his son as he found his feet and visited him a few times in the US, where he worked at a service station, fixed slot machines and bought a car so he could travel around the country.
The week before his death Wasikiewicz was hospitalised with health problems, and given a letter by doctors stating that he should not sleep outdoors
After seven years he returned to Europe to help his parents with the family business. However, when his parents retired in 2000, and the business closed, he lost interest in finding work.
“Michal had no idea what he wanted to do so I got in touch with my friend in Denmark who had a building company,” his father said through a translator. “Michal went there and worked as a driver. Then he came back to Poland again to help me maintain our family home with its swimming pool, three dogs and six cats.”
Andrzej soon realised his son was unhappy in Poland and suggested that he consider moving abroad again. In 2016, he waved goodbye to his father and boarded a flight to Dublin. It was the last time Andrzej would see him alive.
According to his friends in Dublin, Wasikiewicz ended up on the streets not long after arriving in Ireland. One remembers meeting him in the queue outside the Capuchin Day Centre in late 2016. They say he never took drugs but was addicted to alcohol.
Wasikiewicz attended a number of detox clinics in the hope of staying sober, finding a job and eventually moving back to the US. A friend who helped him at the time says he never told his family he was homeless but was eager to clean up his life. He temporarily found accommodation but lost the room after he started drinking again.
The week before his death Wasikiewicz was hospitalised with health problems. Upon his release, he was given a letter by doctors stating that he should not sleep outdoors, according to his friends. They believe he died of a heart attack.
Back in Poland, Andrzej spent months waiting for his son’s body to be released for burial. He says he was told to expect a visit from a Garda representative who would take DNA samples, but this never happened.
“Family and friends keep asking me when his funeral will be held. I’ve got the money saved for the funeral and the transport of his body. We’ve got a family grave in the local cemetery.”
In early July his youngest son received a call from the coroner’s office informing him that his son had been buried in Dublin. Andrzej says the caller did not say where in Dublin this had happened. When Andrzej explained he had planned to cremate his son, the coroner’s office offered to exhume and cremate the body and send the urn to Poland, he says. Andrzej rejected this offer and is now planning “a symbolic funeral” for his son and is making arrangements for a gravestone in the local graveyard.
‘Friendly, popular, polite’
A spokesman for the Dublin District Coroner’s court told The Irish Times that it would not comment on individual cases but confirmed it had been in contact with the Wasikiewicz family.
“The remains of any unclaimed or unidentified person who is the subject of a coroner’s enquiry are held at the discretion of the coroner at the Dublin District Mortuary,” he said. “If the deceased remains are unclaimed despite enquiries made by An Garda Síochána, the coroner ultimately directs respectful burial in a designated grave at Glasnevin Cemetery.”
Asked when the results of the inquest into Wasikiewicz’s death would be available, the spokesman said inquests take up to 20 months to complete.
Andrzej has received his son’s death certificate but wants clarity around how he died.
“When I got the phone call from the Polish embassy in Dublin I was very surprised. I couldn’t imagine what had happened. He had money, a phone and new clothes when he was leaving Poland. We were a very rich family and my sons got everything. He was the brainiest and most talented. He was friendly, popular, polite and generous and had plenty of friends,” he says.
“But maybe he was too young when he emigrated to the US. Now I’m wondering, maybe we should have been more strict.”