Irish Examiner October 17, 2018
Donal O’Keeffe spent the night on Spike Island in Cork as part of Focus Ireland’s Shine A Light sleep-out. He spoke to six business leaders who also took part.
Someone once told me, in a small voice, from under sleeping bags piled on wet cardboard: “You couldn’t do this sober.” I remembered that, at 3am last Saturday morning, as the rain spattered my face and I shifted uncomfortably in my sodden sleeping bag. I was sleeping out — or rather, mostly not sleeping — with 60 members of Cork’s business community in the armoury yard on Spike Island, as part of Focus Ireland’s Shine A Light Night sleep-out. I was, foolishly, sober. The same couldn’t be said for two men lying nearby, in convulsions of loud laughter at each other’s jokes.
Shine A Light Night, which started in 2012, raises awareness of homelessness while generating vital funding for Focus Ireland. In 2017 alone, Focus Ireland supported a record 14,500 people who were either homeless or at risk.
Spike Island is steeped in 1,300 years of history, and the island’s guides offer a superb tour of the abandoned prison. It once held 2,300 inmates in brutal conditions. At least 1,300 people died there and it’s said to be haunted. I saw no ghosts but thought it a sad and lonesome place.
In the drizzly, pre-dawn grey of Cork harbour, we boarded the ferry and headed back to our lives, our night of voluntary homelessness over. As we neared the lights of Cobh, I thought about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy arriving here on a cruise ship in 1953, believing themselves washed-up and forgotten and seeing on the waterfront thousands of people waving and cheering, as the Cathedral bells rang out their theme tune, ‘The Dance of the Cuckoos’. I thought of the kindness of strangers that reduced Hollywood stars to tears here, and I thought too of the person who had said to me of sleeping rough: “You couldn’t do this sober.”
When I met Kathleen O’Sullivan, one bitter night last November, she was sheltering in a doorway at the back of the Clayton Hotel. She told me she had had troubles in her life, including the death of her son Anthony, and she had been homeless over a few years. She said she was sleeping on the very spot her own aunt had died seven years earlier.
The night I met Kathleen, she was suffering from pleurisy and pneumonia, and she told me: “I won’t survive another winter on the streets.” Not a month later, on the morning of Wednesday, December 6, 2017, Kathleen O’Sullivan was found dead in that same doorway.
She was 44.
Joe Sheahan – Mortgages.ie
I was listening to the radio and I heard Dick White of Focus Ireland call for volunteers, and I’m delighted to take part for such a worthy cause and hopefully make a small difference. So far, I’ve raised €2,000, and I’m hoping to raise a little bit more.
I’ve met the Focus Ireland team several times in the lead-up to the sleep-out and I’ve been highly impressed by the dedication and energy they bring to the great work they do. I would definitely hope to do this again.
Kate Neville – Neville Jewellers
This is the second time I’ve done the Focus Ireland sleep-out. Like last time, I roped my sister, Eileen, into joining me. We’re working toward raising €5,000. We’ve raised money from suppliers, from family, and from friends.
Spike Island is an interesting venue. We’re isolated here, physically cut off. That’s quite an insight into homelessness, even if we all have the luxury of going home the next morning.
People were imprisoned on Spike for the crime of homelessness. That just brought home to me the image of (homeless mother-of-seven) Margaret Cash in that Garda station, with her children trying to sleep on those plastic seats. We really haven’t come so very far at all.
Norma O’Leary – Nova Broadband
These are frightening times for anyone renting, and we’re all just one pay cheque away from homelessness, from a landlord selling up or deciding they want more money.
We really need as a country to be investing more in social housing, so that we don’t have kids growing up in hotel rooms, and having to move out of those rooms every morning.
We all could be doing more to help people living in homelessness.
Every year Nova Broadband gives €1,000 on top of whatever money we raise for Focus Ireland, and this year so far we’ve raised €2,215.
Cully Allen – Cully and Sully
We had a huge fundraiser, an open garden party on the Boreenmana Road, with cocktails and musical accompaniment by a ukulele orchestra. We wanted to invite all the neighbours. And we raised €6,000. Cully and Sully will match that amount.
There are different types of homelessness, and when you hear about families that can’t put a roof over their heads, it’s important not to belittle the subject.
I don’t think there’s a magic wand solution to homelessness. You’ll always have people who need to be looked after.
It’s important to educate people that it’s not necessarily the fault of the person who is down.
Caroline O’Shea – Applegreen
This is my first time. We raised over €1,000 in sponsorship cards and by attacking customers!
You really wouldn’t realise how bad things have got until you look at what’s happening. We should be doing everything to tackle the homelessness crisis. It’s simply not good enough in this day and age.
It’s fantastic what Focus Ireland is doing, and it should be supported more.
Philip Gillivan – owner Shelbourne Bar and president, Cork Business Association
I’m very proud of the way Cork’s business community has got involved in the Focus Ireland sleepout. In the Shelbourne we’ve raised almost €3,000.