‘We can’t go on like this’: homeless family of eight’s distress

Dublin family were forced to split up over weekend after failing to find accommodation

Colleen and John McDonagh, who have been homeless for 10 months, had to ask friends to take three of their six children – aged between 2 and 13 – at the weekend as no hotel could accommodate the family.

“We haven’t been together as a family since Thursday,” says Colleen. “I’m not sure I can keep doing this. All we want is a home, where the children can be children.”

Colleen spoke to The Irish Times last September when the Tallaght family had been homeless for a week. They lost the home they had rented for €1,000 a month when it was sold and had that week been placed in four different hotels and B&Bs – in Dún Laoghaire, Navan and Ashbourne, Co Meath and in Dublin city centre.

These placements, sourced with the help of Focus Ireland, were confirmed about 9pm each night, after a day where the couple had been calling hotels on a list provided by South Dublin County Council.


Since October they have been in a hotel in Naas, Co Kildare, commuting between there and the children's schools, some 30km away in Tallaght. Naas had become their base until Thursday when they had to leave.

Booked up

“The hotel was booked up since last year for this weekend. I couldn’t fault the hotel. They have been great to us, but we had to go on Thursday. Homeless services knew we had to go, but no one was in contact.”

They presented to the Homeless Person's Unit in Dublin, which was unable to source accommodation. From 3.30pm Focus Ireland started trying.

“They said ‘It’s not going to be easy’ and asked if we could get friends to take some of the kids. My best friend took the two older girls [Chloe (11) and Sandra (9)] and John’s friend took Michael (12).

“They couldn’t find us anywhere. At 9.30 that night we were sitting in the car, the kids were asleep in the back and John had been up since 3.30am for work. We had to find somewhere, so ended up paying €125 for a room in a hotel.”

On Friday, again the older children stayed with friends while the couple, with John (7), Gerard (5) and Anna (2) stayed in a hotel in Wicklow. On Saturday, again with nowhere to stay, at 8pm a friend offered the keys to their mobile home in Courtown, Co Wexford, for the night.

‘Arguing all the time’

On Sunday night they returned to Naas, where they have a booking until August 1st. “It’s so hard keeping it all together,” says Colleen. “John and I used to never fight. Now we’re arguing all the time. He just works all the hours and comes back and sleeps. My marriage is breaking down. My oldest boy is not the same child. He’s angry, doesn’t understand why he can’t be with his friends.

“My little fella, Gerard, said he was going to ask Santy to get us a house. Stupid things like that that hurt. We don’t want a handout. We didn’t ask for this. I’m terrified something is going to go, and I’ll miss it. We can’t go on like this. We’re not a family any more.”

Eoin Ó Broin TD, Sinn Féin spokesman on housing and the family’s TD, said the McDonagh’s situation showed Government had “lost control of the homelessness crisis”.

“Despite all the announcements and claims that funding is available, for too many families the situation is getting worse.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times