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Monday 19 March 2018

Tributes paid to a beloved fixture of capital's streets

Maeve Sheehan and Niamh Horan

THE death of a homeless man has inspired an impromptu tribute of flowers and cards in an affluent Dublin area.

His name was Thomas Kinsella, 53, who came originally from St Theresa's Gardens in Dublin's inner city.

To the traders, business people and office workers, who passed him each day at his pitch on the path beside the Allied Irish Banks on Upper Baggot Street, he was 'Ossie'.

Ever since news of his death reached the Dublin 4 community last weekend, what began as a single floral tribute at the place where he sat has multiplied into a proliferation of bouquets, cards and candles.

"There is a huge outpouring of affection for him. It is extraordinary and very unusual. It started one morning with flowers laid at the place where he used to sit and grew from there," said Monsignor Patrick Finn of nearby Haddington Road Church.

Why this homeless man should have inspired such affection is a question easily answered, according to those who knew him. He may have been penniless but he was blessed with charm and wit.

He teased celebrities who passed his pitch on their way to the fashionable Espresso Bar. Sometimes he moved to Doheny and Nesbitts, where he bantered with the politicos and punters on their way into the famous pub. He used to boast that Rod Stewart gave him a few quid. He slagged off Bono and was once photographed with Chris Evans, the British broadcaster.

X-Factor-judge Louis Walsh, a patron of the Espresso Bar, recalled: "He was always sitting outside the bank. He knew everybody. I saw him there for the last few years. He was intelligent. I saw all the pictures and the candles. He was a good man."

Ossie's catchphrase, according to Damien Kavanagh, who lives in the area, was: "Can you spare a dime, bud?"

Damien recalled how, for his birthday every year, Ossie gave him a birthday card with two scratch cards tucked inside. If he didn't see him on the street, he would leave it for him in the Waterloo pub.

The Waterloo became a kind of unofficial resting spot for him. Christy Holbrook, who was pub manager for years, knew Ossie well, allowing him to use the bathroom and then feeding him once lunchtime was over: "I used to say, 'When the lunch is over, I'll save you something nice.' Then, even when I wasn't there, he'd still be coming in."

Bernadette Siklosi, who works in the Waterloo pub, kept up the tradition after Christy left, leaving out soup and a sandwich for him. "Just before he died, it was really nice, I met him in Tesco. He really thanked me, 'I appreciate what you're doing, you feeding me,'" she said.

Several days passed before news of Ossie's death reached the community of Upper Baggot Street. He had been missing from his pitch for several days.

Bernadette from the Waterloo had left a sandwich for him at his usual spot but he never showed up. Rumours spread that he had died a poverty-stricken alcohol-related death on the streets.

But a priest who knew him since his youth in Dolphin's Barn said Ossie "was looked after in death".

The priest -- who asked not to be named -- recalled a vibrant young lad who never got a break.

He was a talented footballer who apparently owed his nickname to Ossie Ardiles, the legendary Argentinian footballer. He was jailed for "silly things" in his youth, such as nine months for loitering. Several other spells in jail followed.

"He was a very intelligent fellow" but he "never could settle", said the priest.

Ossie had lately been using a hostel for the homeless in Swords, travelling by bus into his pitch on Baggot Street. He had been drinking heavily and died at the hostel on Saturday, July 23.

His funeral mass was held at St Theresa's Church on Donore Avenue in his home parish. His family, nephews and local people thronged to his service. Flowers were tied to the railings of the flats where he grew up in St Theresa's Gardens. At 5am last Sunday, Christy Holbrook, who now drives a taxi, saw flowers outside the AIB bank where Ossie used to sit.

"A police car was parked on the street, as though it was minding the shrine. The next morning I went back and a candle was burning and there were flowers every where."

Sunday Independent

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