herald

Sunday 23 July 2017

A toothbrush, water and a needle: face of man who died yards from Dail Eireann

Jonathan Corrie
Jonathan Corrie
Shocking: Gardai at the scene on Molesworth Street as Jonathan Corrie's body is removed
Gardai at the scene yesterday

This is the face of the tragic homeless man who was found dead just metres from the Dail.

Jonathan Corrie (43), known as Johnny to his friends, came from a caring family, but struggled with addiction problems since his teens.

Ultimately, he lost his battle with heroin addiction, only to be found on the streets early yesterday.

The young woman who discovered his body spoke to the Herald about the shocking experience.

Sophie Pigot (25) was on her way to work at around 8am when she saw Johnny lying on steps just yards from Leinster House.

Ms Pigot, who works with the international charity Addressing the Unaddressed, said that she knew something was wrong by the way his body was positioned on the ground.

“I was walking on the way to work along Molesworth Street and I saw a man lying in a doorway. He was lying in a very contorted way.

“His hand had gone blue. The way he was lying on the ground, it looked like it was broken,” she explained.

Ms Pigot ran across the road to Leinster House where a garda on duty said that he would contact an ambulance.

“I ran over and checked the man’s pulse. He was cold. I went across to Buswells Hotel and got a white sheet,” she said.

Ms Pigot placed the sheet over his face to cover him from passers-by. When the gardai arrived, she left the scene.

Asked why she decided to help the man, when many would have passed him by, Ms Pigot said she would see something was wrong.

“I think people think it’s okay to see homeless people as invisible,” she said.

Johnny was originally from Castlecomer Road, in Kilkenny City. He was adopted by loving parents Brian and Jean Corrie.

They were known as a respected family in the area and Brian, who passed away in 2007, served as a director of the board of the prestigious Church of Ireland Kilkenny College.

When he was just a teenager Johnny “fell in with a bad crowd” and started to experiment with drink and drugs.

“He showed all the signs of a very addictive personality and when he started drinking he just couldn’t stop,” a source said.

It was when he was around 16 that he experimented with heroin and he wound up in the juvenile justice system – though never for violent offences.

He was given the benefit of the probation services on numerous occasions, but despite the best efforts of his parents, he could not defeat his demons.

“Johnny broke his parents’ hearts in those teenage years,” a source who knew the family said.

As he got older, Johnny lived the transient life of a drug addict and stayed at addresses in Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford and Dublin.

Inevitably, he came in contact with the gardai and had around 40 convictions, mostly for minor offences.

Although he was not a violent man, he pleaded guilty to engaging in threatening, abusive and

insulting behaviour in an incident at Barrowmills, Graiguecullen, in Carlow, on February 20, 2007.

Gardai were called following reports of a disturbance. Johnny was lying outside Barrowmills. He was directed to move on by gardai, but as he was leaving he threatened to return and kill his ex-partner.

He sent a letter of apology to the gardai and said he had drunk a bottle of vodka before the incident.

Despite his problems, sources said that when he was sober, Johnny was a pleasant, intelligent man.

In recent years, he became known to gardai for sleeping in the car park on Drury Street in Dublin’s city centre.  He sometimes slept in city hostels.

He also operated a begging patch with two other men in the area around George’s Street and York Street North.

In recent weeks, people who had seen him described how he was “in bad nick” and he looked as though his health was failing.

When he was found by Ms Pigot, Johnny had been in a doorway, trying to keep warm on a very cold night.

Heart-breaking pictures of the scene showed some of his limited possessions, bottles of water, a toothbrush, letters, a sleeping bag – but also a needle.

“This case is very tragic. He was adopted at a young age and drink and drugs got to him,” a source familiar with the case said.

Johnny is survived by his mother Jean and sister Tanya.

Meanwhile, homeless people sleeping on the streets of Dublin last night have said getting a bed in the city is now next to impossible.

A day after the death of Johnny Corrie, some told the Herald they feared  it could be them next.

Sleeping on the granite steps of the Custom House, one man shivered in his sleeping bag as he told of how rare it is to get a bed in a shelter.

“I ring the freephone number every day, but usually the beds are all full. It’s like a lottery,” he said.

“Sometimes you are told you are 20th in the queue, sometimes 70th.”

“It’s only the start of the winter now and you can feel it on a night like last night. You can’t get warm, and when it rains it’s worse.

“It’s a nightmare. There are people dying on the streets now and it could be me next. It’s frightening when I think about it,” he added.

“I knew Johnny. I heard a few lads talking about it last night and I couldn’t believe it when I heard.

“I last met him at the GPO around a month ago.”

lbyrne@herald.ie

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