Brendan knows what it's like to be cash-strapped and loves paying back
'Uncle Vincent and Uncle Paul" were vital in bringing charitable assistance to Brendan O'Carroll's cash-strapped family during his childhood in Dublin, the comedian has revealed.
The 175th anniversary of the St Vincent de Paul was celebrated yesterday at a national event attended by President Michael D Higgins and more than 1,000 members of the charity.
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The comedy star, busy with opening a Mrs Brown's Boys show in Manchester, sent a video message to the event at the Convention Centre in Dublin.
Each Christmas, O'Carroll and his wife Jenny donate around €150,000 through the charity's East Region to help families in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. Extra funds are also donated from the Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas shows in Dublin.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, O'Carroll said his mother was widowed with 11 children when the family was living in a council house in Finglas in the 1960s.
"In those lean times, we wouldn't have survived without the St Vincent de Paul," he said. "If it wasn't for my 'Uncle Vincent and Uncle Paul' calling on a Thursday night, we probably would have had nothing.
"I was the youngest of 11 children. We never felt we were poor because everybody around us was in exactly the same boat. We were in a council house in Finglas and we thought we were just the same as everybody else.
"I never felt poor but, having said that, in later years my mother made me aware of the fact that the ESB bill would have been covered by St Vincent de Paul at times, the gas bill would have been covered by the St Vincent de Paul at times, even sometimes the rent. Because you are talking about a widow with 11 kids. It's not easy.
"My mother always made me promise if I ever came into a situation where I was in a position to give back, to make sure and give back."
Brendan's mother Maureen was a Labour TD for Dublin North Central when he was born but lost her seat. In 1964, the family were living in a council house when Brendan's father Gerard died.
He said: "I was just after my ninth birthday when my father died. I went in to see him in hospital on the day of my birthday and he gave me five shillings, two half-crowns, and he asked me what I was going to do with them. I said I was going to buy two more pigeons.
"He was a master cabinetmaker so he said: 'When I get out of this hospital, I'm going to build you the best loft in Finglas'. And I knew he would because he was a brilliant carpenter. So I was delighted. Then, 10 days later, he died. When my mother told me, a thing that crossed my mind was 'What about me f***ing loft'. He suffered from mesothelioma from inhaling asbestos fibres. My mother must have known that his death was on the horizon but I don't know if he knew. I never asked.
"I had brothers and sisters a lot older than me so some of them started to work then and they were bringing in some housekeeping money. During that lean time we wouldn't have survived without the Vincent de Paul for a number of years. Then I started to bring in a few bob myself then."
Speaking of his joy at being able to assist people through St Vincent de Paul, he said: "When it comes to Christmas dinners, we wanted to give St Vincent de Paul the opportunity not just to give people something to help them over the Christmas but to give them the experience of the Christmas as well.
"So it wasn't just a question of why don't we deliver a turkey and ham and a Christmas cake and some goodies to the house, it was why don't we just give them the money to go and get that. So, what we do in conjunction with Dunnes Stores, we give them a shopping card and they are able to go and have the whole shopping experience, pick their own turkey, pick their own ham, pick their own box of biscuits.
"If you can make a difference in someone's life through your own livelihood, it's a wonderful, wonderful thing. And everyone can make a difference. Even the smallest donation makes a difference."
The Irish section of the Society of St Vincent de Paul was set up in Dublin in 1844 and has helped the poor of Ireland from the Famine to the present day.
A network of almost 11,500 volunteers throughout Ireland visit and assist families in strict confidence.
The Society also runs 227 charity shops; 10 hostels; seven resource centres; five holiday centres and over 800 social housing units.