John Byrne on Connell Bridge, Dublin in 2011
John Byrne at the Royal Canal yesterday
Royal Canal, Dublin 7
Members of the Polish community in Dublin donated a new tent and provisions for John Byrne who has been homless for 25 years. J
ohn famously saved a rabbit from the River Liffey in 2011.
Sam Boal, of Rollingnews, writes:
As a press photographer I cover a lot of different events; including a lot of heartbreaking stories. This is one such heartbreaking story. John says he has been homeless for the last 25 years.
He’s now living in a tent on the side of the Royal Canal beside Mountjoy Prison, with his mate Daryl and his dogs. I have to admit before doing this assignment I was a bit nervous to approach it.
Everyone has their own idea of what could happen and what people might be like. At first I didn’t recognise John at all, but he recognised me; which took me by surprise. Quickly he let me spend some time with him, whilst members of the Polish community helped to set up a new tent and provisions which they had gathered together to help John move from a one-man to a bigger two-man tent.
John came to public attention in 2011 when he jumped into the River Liffey in Dublin to save his rabbit which had been thrown into the water.
With all the media attention and the fact that he was homeless, most people might have assumed that help for him was not far off.
Unfortunately, seven years on John is still homeless and sheltering in a donated tent.
John and Daryl are accompanied by his four dogs; most of whom have been rescued from the streets. His compassion for his animals is infectious John says that his dogs keep him safe; barking at everything.
They also keep off the massive river rats, which he describes as being two hands big, and that swarm over the canal banks in the early hours of the morning.
Dogs, we say, are ‘man’s best friend.’ For John that seems to be the case. His dogs are better friends to him than any human.
Over the course of our conversation I photographed set up shots, but the one above was natural.
John just picked up his dog and his dog’s gratitude and love shines through. As a press photographer I try to highlight a story in the best way I can. Sometimes this requires a measure of setup due to time constraints and deadlines. I hope that this is not just a nice picture.
I hope it might just help John and those like him to get the proper accommodation they need. I am not naive: it requires more than houses to solve the issue of homelessness.
However people living in our capital city in tents – whose dogs are better friends than any human – is not my idea of a solution either.