Dublin fireman Willie Bermingham explains why he set up ALONE a charity to care for the elderly.

Fireman Willie Bermingham recalls the series of events that led him to set up him ALONE (A Little Offering Never Ends) the charity which helps older people in need.

There are many organisations throughout Ireland which help people in need. What makes Alone stand out? Willie Bermingham says the basic aim of ALONE is to,

Encourage people to look out for their elderly neighbours, relatives and friends and to try and ensure that you know nothing untoward happens to them. 

Dealing with fires and all manner of serious accidents are the reality of a fireman’s job.  But there was something about a series of events in 1976 and 1977 that pushed Willie Bermingham almost to breaking point.

During that time he and his colleagues made the sad discoveries of eight older people that had died alone in their homes. On 19 February 1977, when he found the eighth person, 

I used some language you know the four letter type, and you would actually light Christmas candles off the language it was that strong, because I was just mad at this continuing to happen.

Something had to be done, but Willie Bermingham didn’t know at that stage exactly what the solution would be, and he became quite depressed about the whole thing. Deciding to draft a poster, which he put up in shops and pubs all over Dublin, it included some stark facts, but ended with a call to action, 

Have you an old person living alone near you?  Call in, make friends, cook a meal, wash a floor, make a bed. Don’t let old people die alone.

Born and brought up in the Catholic faith, Willie Bermingham was taken aback at the Catholic Church’s lack of support at a local level for his initiative. He was even told by one priest that there were no issues regarding elderly people in his parish. Yet from personal experience he knew that this simply was not the case, 

It’s ironic that I’ve come back to several of those churches with the remains of old people who have died in their particular areas.

Willie Bermingham was not put off by this attitude. His posters started to gain attention. Articles about him appeared in newspapers, followed by donations of money from members of the public. ALONE was formed in May 1977, 

I got the idea that I would ask colleagues and friends if they would join with me and start a group, and that’s just the way it happened.

‘Hanly’s People’ was a weekly programme featuring a guest in conversation with presenter David Hanly in a living-room setting for half an hour.  Each guest was someone in the news, making the news, or behind the news. They were drawn from all spheres of public life, including politics and the arts. ‘Hanly’s People’ was first broadcast on 6 October 1986 and ended on 6 June 1991.

This episode of ‘Hanly’s People’ was broadcast on 5 December 1988. The presenter is David Hanly.