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Dublin: 11 °C Sunday 17 February, 2019

My wife died 20 years ago and my son has autism, Alone has given me a friend

Jim Birch says, “Some days we go for a walk around the area, or go to the shops, other days, when it’s raining, we stay in and have a cup of tea.”

Jim Birch

MY WIFE MARGARET passed away 20 years ago - she was very young. We had been happily married for 20 years before that.

I’ve always worked in hotels and bars, and I was on a lunch break when I first saw Margaret.

I left school and started working in a hotel in Arklow, Co Wicklow when I was only 14 years old. I liked it so much that I kept doing that job for 49 years, but in 30 different bars and hotels.

‘I love meeting people’

My personality suited the hospitality business perfectly. I’m very chatty, I love meeting new people and I talk to everyone.

The first place I worked in Dublin was Conways’ bar in Parnell Street. Then I moved to different areas because I wanted to see a variety of people and cultures.

I have served everybody, from working class customers to celebrities like Jack Doyle, Elizabeth Taylor, or ABBA in fancy hotels. I learned that famous people can get very lonely too - they travel around every second day.

No matter who my customer was, I always looked after people. If, for example, someone got very drunk, I always got them coffee and made sure they got a taxi home. I felt it was my responsibility, and I think that if you are good to people, people are good to you.

Our little family

Margaret and I lived in our house in Killester with our son, Nikki. He’s so lovable, always smiling. He’s 41 now but everybody says that he looks so much younger.

Nikki has never spoken, he has autism. Margaret and I made a will specifying that when one of us died the money would go down to our son and his care. He is down in Kildare where he gets 24-hour care.

I visit him every month, and it gives me comfort to know that there are always professionals taking care of him. And whenever I want I can ring and the staff will let me know how he is.

Good friends

Eight years ago I moved to a complex for older people. I love living here, because I feel part of the community.

We all live alone in the complex so it’s vital that we are all in contact.

There’s a man here, he’s 92. I say hello to him every day, he also lives alone. If someone is sick, one of the others will go to the shops for them.

I was so used to meeting people in the bars every day, I never stopped talking. I’ve been doing that for 49 years. Until one day I retired and suddenly all of that comes to an end.

‘Not talking to people could’ve been the end of me’

I was scared. I was afraid that my mental health might fall down. I had to have somebody to chat, not talking to people anymore is a shock to the system, and I felt like that could be the end of me. My brother-in-law was a fireman like Mr Bermingham, so I quickly thought about Alone. I rang up and asked to join in.

That was two years ago. I was matched with my volunteer - Ionelia. Alone matches you with a volunteer that shares hobbies and has things in common with you. She is young, so at first I thought we might not have much to talk about, but we got on from the very start.

She works in a shop so she understands what is like to work interacting with different people every day. It’s like I’ve known her for 20 years. We have great conversations.

Some days we go for a walk around the area, or go to the shops. Other days, when it’s raining, we stay in and have a cup of tea. We are very good friends now.

Dublin Publicans announced this week that they have raised €200,000 for ALONE, the biggest fundraising donation in the charity’s history. 50% of this donation will go to support its befriending service.


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Jim Birch

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