Fr Kevin Hegarty
Pádraic Colum’s poem ‘An Old Woman of the Roads’ was once a staple of our national school text books. Set in 19th-century rural Ireland, its depiction of the old woman’s desire for the warmth and security of a home gives it universal relevance:
O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!
To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!
I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!
I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!
Och! but I’m weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there’s never a house
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!
And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house – house of my own
Out of the wind’s and the rain’s way.
For over 40 years Fr Peter McVerry has devoted himself to the provision of housing and ancillary services to the homeless. It has been the passion of his priestly ministry. According to the annual report of the Fr Peter McVerry Trust for 2018, released last week, the organisation worked with a record 5,841 people last year, providing services to most of them. The report states that 589 more adults, 205 more families and 480 children have become homeless in the past year.
Fr McVerry fears that the crisis will worsen in the years ahead, as there are 40,000 mortgages in arrears of more than two years. The Central Bank estimates that up to 50 percent of these houses will be repossessed, with consequent homelessness for many of the families involved. While the crisis is most acute in Dublin, there have been increases in homelessness recently in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Kerry and Mayo.
The report indicates that the trust increased its housing stock by 400 units in 2018. It also helped 418 people to exit homelessness. Last week it turned the sod on the building of eight apartments in Dublin 8. It continues to provide drug-treatment services. In September 2018, it expanded its operation by opening a regional office in Drogheda supporting people in Cavan, Louth and Monaghan.
To echo some words of Shakespeare’s Othello, Fr Peter and his co-workers have done the State some service.
The annual report is enriched by personal testimonies of those the trust has helped.
Joanne is one of them. She lived in a hotel room for two years with her two young children before moving into a new two-bedroom apartment at Castle Court in Dublin’s city centre:
“When I walked in I was just overwhelmed, I couldn’t really speak, I was just full of emotion. I couldn’t believe it. I just think the apartments are really beautiful. I really do. I’m just looking forward to actually settling in and just feeling secure and having stability in my life and my kids’ lives.
“Even when it comes to school, if you don’t have stability and you don’t know where you’re going and where you’re to be living, that affects your child. I’m just really looking forward to having a nice life with my kids and having a home and somewhere to call my own.”
The ‘Old Woman of the Road’ and Joanne, centuries apart, different worlds but similar hopes and desires.