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Byrne: Help people in Irish hospitals die with dignity

The Hollywood star was speaking at the launch of the Irish Hospice Foundation’s Design and Dignity Fund in the USA.

Gabriel Byrne
Gabriel Byrne
Image: Ian West/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Updated 11.38

HOLLYWOOD IRISH ACTOR Gabriel Byrne has appealed fo8r support for “the simple and transformational changes” taking place in Irish hospitals to make death more bearable.

He spoke about his own experiences of being by a friend’s bedside while they were at the end of their life, and urged people to support the Irish Hospice Foundation’s Design and Dignity project.

The project aims to make the experience of dying “as positive as it can be, both for those going through it and for those left behind”.

Working in partnership with the HSE, it is renovating shabby rooms and re-designing places to make them more comforting and welcoming.

Byrne spoke about his own experience while attending the bedside of a friend who was dying in a Dublin hospital.

“She lived her last hours in a public ward with a television blaring out a football match, all but drowning our final conversation,” he said.

I looked around this depressing place, with the cheap curtain separating her from other patients, walls painted nondescriptly institutional, the awful food, the ubiquitous smell of disinfectant mixed with human odour, and I began to think about the physical environment in which we might spend our final hours, that space which – as the late Seamus Heaney said – is “emptied” and “pure change” happens.

Byrne said he has since come to believe that in hospital aesthetics are as important as function, and that “an aesthetic environment automatically leads to good practice and better care”.

(Irish Hospice/YouTube)

He was speaking in New York where the fund was receiving its American launch, which was attended by other New York-based Irish supporters of the charity, including author Colum McCann.

The Chairman of the Design and Dignity project, Michael O’Reilly, told the event that when people are beyond cure it becomes “a sacred obligation” to attend to death with care and dignity.

“We have completed pilot projects in eleven Irish hospitals. Our dream is to reach hospitals in every county in Ireland. As a charity, we need financial support to see the work through,” he added.

The new book from the IHF, The Gathering – Reflections on Ireland, was launched at the event, with all proceeds going to the Design & Dignity project.

The book is edited by journalist Miriam Donohoe and designed by Steve Averill. It includes reflections on Irish identity from people such as Bono, McCann, Moya Doherty and Brian O’Driscoll.

The late Seamus Heaney also donated a personal reflection just before his death.

Read: Hospice “ready to proceed”, after a little help from a local Oscar-winner>

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