Wednesday 17 January 2018

Alone founder Willie let paupers be buried in his grave, says son


Willie Bermingham Junior, Dublin fire brigade, Tara Street
Willie Bermingham Junior, Dublin fire brigade, Tara Street

Founder of Alone charity Willie Bermingham did everything for the elderly living in Ireland, and he even cared for the vulnerable after they died.

The son of the legendary fireman and campaigner has said there is still a shocking level of poverty and hardship nearly 40 years after his father set up Alone.

Willie Jnr is now also a fireman, and speaking on the 25th anniversary of his dad's death he said while a lot of work is being done for the elderly, the gap between the haves and have-nots is still visible.

The campaigning charity worker didn't only do his best for the elderly when they were alive, he was known to step in after they died.


"Sometimes when a person would die and they would have no relatives the priest would tell dad that they would be buried in a pauper's grave," said Willie jnr.

"He had a family plot and he would tell the priest to bury them in it. I think three of them went into his grave before he died himself."

Willie Bermingham died at the young age of just 48 in 1990 after a short battle with cancer.

He is remembered by his family as a hard-working dad and husband, and by the rest of the country as the man who exposed the plight of elderly people living and dying in appalling conditions in the 1970s.

"Dad was on the 'escape tender' in Tara Street and would be the one who would have to go into homes where people had not been seen in days," he said.

"He saw so much sadness and found so many dead in the savage winter of 1976 and 1977 that he wanted to do something. So he gave up drink and cigarettes and saved the money to get posters printed.

"His intention was to stir the conscience of the public a bit with posters about people in Dublin dying alone from cold, hunger, loneliness, depression and illness, and it worked."

It grew from humble beginnings and soon became one of the leading charities to help the elderly.

"People found out quickly enough who was putting up the posters. A schoolboy gave him 14p one day, a pensioner gave him £2, a businessman gave him a tenner. So he sat down in the fire station one day with the £12.14 and asked 'What am I going to do with this?'" he added.

The donations kept coming, and Willie Snr found he was able to give the funding straight to people who needed help.

"Dad was very persuasive, and when people would come offering money he would make use of their skills instead," he said.

"He'd say 'oh you're a roofer, well there's a woman in number 56 such-a-place that has the rain coming in on her, will see what you can do?"

But from those small beginnings and community work came Alone's own housing complex, the first of which was built in 1986 and named 'ALONE Walk' in Artane.

Willie died in April 1990, just a week after turning the sod at Alone's housing complex in Kilmainham, now named after him.


"They are big shoes to fill but I'm immensely proud of my dad and everything he did," said Willie.

"My own son is Willie the 7th. Dad was so quirky he named my younger brother David Francis Bermingham so he would have the initials DFB which also stands for Dublin Fire Brigade.

"But there is still room for more to be done to help the elderly," Willie jnr said.

"I'm still seeing some of the situations that my father put up with," he said. "The numbers might not be as big as in the 1970s, but the severity of the cases is there to see."

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