Robinson, Heaney honoured with ALONE medal
Published 30/09/2010 | 05:00
Willie Bermingham was a Dublin firefighter so enraged by the circumstances in which he found many older people living, he set up an organisation to combat the isolation and loneliness they suffered.
Twenty years after his death, ALONE (which stands for A Little Offering Never Ends) continues its founder's campaign to raise awareness about vulnerable older people living alone.
Each year, the organisation presents the Willie Bermingham Medal to honour eminent Irish people who have contributed enormously both here and abroad.
The two latest recipients are former President and UN High Commissioner Mary Robinson, and Noble Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. They received the award from Alone and the Irish Gerontological Society at a conference in the National Convention Centre as part of Positive Ageing Week, where both were keynote speakers.
"To receive this medal is a very special honour for me as I remember Willie Bermingham well, I opened a shelter of his just after I was elected President," Mrs Robinson said.
"He was somebody who had come from a background where he knew the hardships in Dublin. He's seen it in his work and he rightly said, we have got to have low-cost housing, that's a right, a human right."
Her fellow recipient, who Mrs Robinson described as "old friend", Seamus Heaney, called Mr Bermingham an "exemplary citizen".
"What I loved about the man was he had a feeling for the solitary and he showed solidarity with the solitary. He was an example of kindness and good citizenship. Willie's organisation was called Alone for A Little Offering Never Ends, well this medal is a big honour that won't end either.
"Willie Bermingham's name will live on for the best of reasons," Mr Heaney said.
Asked about the financial collapse which has resulted in more hardship for the elderly, he added: "It's a disappointing situation, it has to be said, but I suppose like many people, I never quite believed our heady days. I grew up in a different Ireland.
"While this is deadly painful for people, a shocking let-down, and shocking hardship and life for individuals, it has happened before and we got over it but it may take a longer time this time, There is great survival power in the people."