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The homeless hero John Byrne after the media attention

John Brnye on Henry Street

On the third of July this year John Byrne got the attention of the national news media after rescuing his friend Barney from the river Liffey. The event stood out because John is one of Dublin’s homeless citizens and Barney is his pet rabbit.

I decided I would like to sit down with John and find out more about him and had his life changed since he had his 15 minutes in the spotlight.

When interviewing, it’s generally easy to arrange a date and a venue. How do you interview a homeless man who is always accompanied by a rabbit and a do?

One evening I said hello, dropped some change and then set down beside John in an alcove at the end of Arnott’s shop front. It felt surreal in a way, sitting beside a homeless man on a busy pedestrian street as hundreds of commuters and shoppers walked past; voice recorder in hand hoping that all the noise would not ruin the interview.

Hi John, I am a student journalist and I was hoping I could have a quick chat with you. 

Sure no problem.

Would you like a cup of coffee and a sandwich or a cigarette?

No thanks I’m grand and I need to stay here tapping. It’s been quiet so far.

Tapping? Is that what you call begging?

Ha, ah yea, people would think I have loads of money if they see me smoking or eating.

So this is your famous rabbit?

This is Barney; I bought him seven months ago in a pet shop. Some young fella walked up and grabbed Barney and threw him over the bridge. He was meant to be up in court last week for animal cruelty but it was postponed.

So you risked your life and jumped into the liffey, why?

Because he is my child, I love him and I just wanted to save him. I didn’t think I just jumped.

How did you manage to do that?

When I jumped in it was deep, the water went over my head and I touched the bottom. Barney was ok. He was swimming, keeping his head up so I grabbed him and made it to a ledge and held on till the firemen got out to me in the boat.

Were both of you ok?

Grand, just wet.

How did you cope with all the attention?

Ah it didn’t bother me; I’m used to people looking at me. I got hundreds of letters from all over Ireland and from America saying how great and how brave I was. The animal charity gave me the award and some food for Barney and they said that they would get me and my pets a place to live.

Did they?

No. I haven’t heard from them since the day I got the award. 

Does that annoy you?

Yea but it was fine. I have learned not to expect good things to happen for me.

When did you end up living on the street?

I ran away from home when I was thirteen. I had to get away from my stepfather.

Do you still have contact with your mother?

I see her the odd time, she lives in Clondalkin but she is still with him so I can’t go there.

What’s the worst part of sleeping rough?

Ah you get used to the people trying not to look at you. Sleeping on Grafton Street I got pissed on. It’s not very safe. I’m living now in a tent on waste ground behind the Hill16 pub with my girlfriend and nine pets.

Nine pets and a girlfriend, it must be a big tent.

Well we have three rabbits, four hamsters and two dogs. The tent is a big ten man tent so we are grand. I met her on the streets, she’s from Lithuania. She came here three years ago looking for work but found nothing and ended up homeless.

So she is unable to get social welfare, do you?

No she doesn’t and she can’t afford to get back to Lithuania to see her kids. I get the dole.

So basically you are begging to support your animals and your girlfriend? Is it worth it?

Yea, I love them all they are my family. I go out tapping everyday from four to seven. Here or at Londis at Temple Bar. I might get forty euro a day doing it.

Do you abuse alcohol or drugs?

No.

If your girlfriend got pregnant what would you do?

I would get a place to live straight away. I would have to.

How?

I just would. I had a place last Christmas but after it the landlord kicked us out. He knew about my pets from the start but then he changed his mind and kicked us out.

So what does the future hold for you? What do you look forward to?

Nothing, just getting by. No point having dreams. Just maybe try to save up some money. We are fine in the tent. We are warm. Just hope winter’s not as cold as last year when we had the flat.

I had to leave John after twenty minutes and let him tap in peace. I got the sense from John that he was genuine in his answers and that as a human being he was no waster or a drain on society, just a man trying to cope in the circumstances he grew up in. He is thirty-eight years old, homeless since the age of thirteen due to an abusive home life.

I emptied my pocket, slipped him my packet of cigarettes and wished him all the best. No doubt I will see him and Barney again.

 

Irish children seeking fame and fortune

Children in rich countries want to be pop-stars and sport-stars while children in poor countries want to be doctors and lawyers according to a survey published yesterday.

A survey of 4,600 children across the world has revealed almost one in three Irish kids (30%) wants to be an artist and almost one in five (19%) wants to be a professional athlete when they grow up. The story is very different in developing countries where children would prefer to be teachers (23%) or doctors (20%).

The survey was carried out by ChildFund Ireland, an independent Irish registered not-for-profit organisation. They assist children, families and communities in Africa, Asia & the Americas and are funded by child sponsorships, project grants from the Irish Government and Irish Corporations.

According to ChildFund the survey is one of the most comprehensive polls of children’s views in the world. The global survey, Small Voices, BigDreams, polled children aged 10-12 from 44 countries – from Ireland to Zambia.

3,613 children in developing countries and 979 children in developed nations were asked 6 open-ended questions, i.e. no suggested answers were given. The children were asked questions such as what do you want to be when you grow up and what you would do as a political leader to change children’s lives.

Another question asked was what do you most worry about and the poll found that Irish children (19%) worry more about war and terrorism then children in developing nations (14%). Getting sick is the biggest worry for those in the developing world. (23%)

Children in the developing world also seem to put more emphasis on studying with 17% choosing it as an activity if given the choice to do anything they wanted for the day. Less than 1% of Irish children would choose to open their school books.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in charity, children, Dublin City University, Ireland