‘On Grafton Street in November’  – great lines from Kavanagh’s immortal ‘Raglan Road.’. Now we have a Kilkenny woman on Grafton Street, every weekend of the year  — feeding the homeless, the deprived, the abandoned.  Mary Pierce spends all of every week hunting and searching Kilkenny for any lots of food or clothing. Then on Sunday, husband Brendan and she trundle their van up to Dublin. When Kilkenny citizens are enjoying their cosy ‘second sleep’, Mary is on the road, on her weekly mission to help the weak, the helpless – who await her in droves. She asks no questions, just makes sure that they have at least one good meal in the week. Mary speaks of her ‘clients’ with great affection, never pointing out their faults, being kind, hoping {sometimes in vain} that they will last another six hard days and nights; when she will be up again. She is trying to buy a better van.

We here in Ireland hear a lot about great women of the past. Grainnuaile, Maeve, St Bridget, and many another. But here and now, we have Mary Pierce. She tells sad tales about people living under newspapers, in shop doorways, or in a garden or field.

You know, reader, when you wake up of a night, and you look out the window, and see a lonely yellow streetlight shining on a factory wall:  Chill-Heart old Jack Frost is abroad, going about his deadly job. And you are warm, quite unaware that some poor soul is trying to sleep under a sheet of paper, at the butt of that gloomy wall. A human person, like you. Only not so lucky…

Because a lot of things, good and bad, spring from luck. Think of all the tiny events that had to click in order for you to meet, say, the love of your life. If any one click didn’t happen – that was you both gone on different paths, to different lives, children, fates. The person under that newspaper was once a loved infant, a sweet schoolchild, an ambitious teenager. Then some bad luck got in the way: maybe a loved mammy died too young. Or a careless daddy ran away. Or a fall into bad habits  …. Easy to do. Mary Pierce has seen it all, them all. How does she deal with it? God knows – I certainly do not.

Let me relate an instance: In my time in Australia, ages ago, Jim, a fine Mayo lad, got married. Sought to buy a new home.  Was approved – for a big loan. Big payments. But he earned well, as a bricklayer.  Wife got pregnant. Great joy. Then a Christmas Party hove into view. Jim was no drinker. Had a few, and fell through a shop window. One terrible result: glass cut the tendons in his right arm. The ones that control fingers and thumb. Nobody wants a one-handed brickie. So, no work.. no money.. car goes.. house goes.. marriage fails..  wife goes… then life itself goes  – Jim hangs himself. Just shows how one small event can wreck your life completely

There was no Mary Pierce in Perth in those far days. If there had been, she might have pulled Jim through…

I’m not telling just the stirring tale of Mary Pierce. She can do that fine, is well capable. In these few words, I want to show the story of a few homeless, here and there. Mary and hubby Brendan also do the rounds of Kilkenny City. Aye, we’ve got cold sleepers here in ‘Marbleville’, too. They are everywhere now. Just one slip  – and you could be amongst them. What attracted me to Mary’s efforts was the fact that I had two children who became part of that ‘legion of the lost.’ One finished up being killed, one on Crystal Meth, and then cancer got him. I brought them up as well as I could; both were clever, then they ran amok. And I lost a little Bab to Thalidomide. I’m not seeking sympathy – just showing how one can fall. I did. And it’s not always a poverty thing: I was wealthy at the crucial times. There was no Mary Pierce to offer great unconditional help. My kids, me – we fell through the cracks…

So when you see a tattered person mooching along, with a sad bundle, be kind.

Don’t be like the the horrid drunks who throw beer and water on the night-people.

And when you cruise your wam tig in the night’s small hours, thank some lucky star that you are not one of the forgotten — and that they are frozen and frigid, out there in the dangerous dark, hanging on to this precarious life by the tips of their fingers. And with only one sweet person to hold their sad hand — Mary Pierce of Kilkenny.

Next It’s time for a bit of financial spring-cleaning