A call for mourners to attend the funeral of an Irish man who died in Manchester last month could be the first of many such appeals, the head of the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain has warned.
John Joseph O’Brien, 73, died in the Hulme area of the city on August 9, and has no known relatives. The city council scheduled his funeral to take place this week, but with no mourners expected to attend, the Council of Irish Associations in Manchester appealed for a presence from the city’s Irish communities “to help give your fellow country man a decent well attended funeral”.
Although such events are rare, according to Eddie Gilmore, CEO of Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, they are likely to become more common. “There are an awful lot of Irish people living on their own – probably up to 40,000 elderly Irish living on their own in London,” he told The Irish Catholic, explaining that while most people would have contacts, many are housebound and have become cut off from family and other networks.
“It’s possibly sadly going to be more prominent,” he said, adding that “in theory it’s something which we might be seeing more and more, sadly”.
Manchester-based Dubliner Fr Pat Deegan, whose parish includes part of Hulme, told The Irish Catholic that he had not known Mr O’Brien, despite Church outreaches in the area.
“What we have in the parish here are the Vincent de Paul and the Legion of Mary, who go knocking on doors and visiting the elderly, and a lot of those are Irish and are on their own,” he said, pointing out that even in areas with good community spirit people can fall through cracks. “Sometimes if a person is in, but doesn’t open the door and is a bit of a recluse, there’s very little you can do,” he said.
Part of the problem, he says, is that the character of traditionally Irish neighbourhoods have changed as people have grown older and moved away.
“And then if somebody’s on their own in a house, living alone, as time moves on and parish priests move and people move on, every so often you find that these people do become isolated because the neighbours are no longer there,” he said.