Actor Joe back centre stage after his shoplift drama
'It was a dark time in my life. I won't be going down that road again and I look to the future'
ONE month ago he sparked a national conversation by resorting to stealing for his children's breakfast -- but now Joe Purcell is back doing what he loves.
The Dublin actor is determined to put his dark experience behind him as he prepares to get back on stage.
Mr Purcell (57), from Donomore in Tallaght, Dublin, revealed in the Herald last month how a temporary problem with the family's child benefit payments forced him to steal groceries so his three children would not go hungry.
He was caught and prosecuted and is now doing community service, thankful that a three-month prison sentence was suspended by the courts.
However, things are starting to turn around for Joe and he is set to star in a play at the New Theatre, in Temple Bar.
"It's ironic in a way, but part of the play is about how people from all walks of life can fall upon difficult times, and help can come from the most unexpected places," Joe explained to the Herald.
"It shows how all people have problems and have to overcome them."
Speaking about how the country was gripped by his story, he said: "I'm just keen to put the past behind me now and move forward.
"It was a dark time in my life and when I think back on it I just feel an emptiness inside me," he told the Herald.
"I definitely won't be going back down that road again, and want to look to the future. I'm concentrating now on doing what I love most, and that is being back up on stage. I just hope people don't think my acting is too criminal," he laughed.
As part of his community service, Joe now attends a workshop in Tallaght where he upholsters chairs.
"I go there every Tuesday, and we are also painting pictures for a nursing home."
Taking a break from the demanding preparations, the father -of-three said he has been overwhelmed by the support he has got since going public about his conviction.
"I was very nervous beforehand, but the public needed to know what people can be driven to to put food on the table," he said.
"As a family we are very grateful for the support that the public have shown us," he added.
Joe was convicted at Tallaght District Court of stealing from two shops in Firhouse.
A letter had been sent to his old address asking to confirm details of his children and family circumstances, and when it was not returned to social welfare staff, the Purcells' child benefit was stopped.
"We literally ran out of money, and then ran out of food, and I did not know what I was going to do," Joseph explained.
"I went to the local shops to ask for credit, because I knew I would get money the next Thursday, but the shops refused, explaining that it was company policy.
"I knew my kids would be getting up, and they would be hungry. They are aged nine, 11 and 16. I just knew I couldn't go home with nothing.
"I was nervous and desperate, but I needed food.
"I felt I had nothing to lose, I was either going home with something or nothing."
Judge Anthony Halpin said that the recession has created a new type of poor -- middle class families who cannot buy food for their children.
He ordered Purcell to complete 100 hours community service in lieu of three months in prison.
After the Herald ran his story, several people made donations to Joe Duffy's Liveline show where the actor spoke about his experience.
"The generosity of Irish people, especially in these hard times, is just incredible," Joe said.
His new job is a trilogy of one-act plays exploring human relationships called Blood Ties.
Written and directed by Andy Hinds, it will run at the New Theatre from December 3 until 15. Further details are available at www.thenewtheatre.com. Tickets are priced at €12/€15.