Category: Archive

Dublin Report A silent night, a somber journey, quayside on the Liffey

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

The guy stood four steps down from the quayside wall. The dark brown Liffey swirled around his sneaker-wrapped toes. It was past midnight on the cold eve of Christmas Eve. The young man shivered in his tattered jacket, arms huddled around his thin chest. He was intent on dying.

There was no future. Earlier that night, his girlfriend had left him. She had taken their child, a golden-haired 3-year-old girl.

Their tiny flat on the South Circular Road was also gone. Money was a big part of the problem. They shared the flat and the costs. But in the last month, he just couldn’t find the money to keep up the rent. He drank too much. He smoked too much. He sniffed too much coke.

He wondered where the gaping maw of the freezing Liffey would carry him: Liverpool, France, maybe Spain.

Above the wall, just a few feet away, was Eden Quay, packed with uproarious Christmas revelers from the nearby cabaret pub. The pint-black Liffey grasped the man’s freezing toes. What a difference a short few yards made in life, he thought. Nobody even seemed to know that he was down here on the quayside steps with only a sudden plunge separating life from death.

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Quietly, the musician climbed over the wall. Just before he left the pub, he had watched one of the late-night revelers rush into the bar, shouting at a barman to call the police and the ambulance.

"There’s a lunatic standing on the steps," he yelled at the barman. "Looks like he’s going to jump."

The musician had just finished another pre-Christmas gig in the smoky bar. He didn’t know why he climbed over the wall. Maybe it was because he recognized a kindred spirit.

He sat on the top step just a few feet from the would-be suicide.

"Stay away!" the skinny young guy warned. "Stay away or I’ll jump right now."

Crazy, the musician thought. He estimated that the young man was only about 19. What a stupid way to end a life, he thought but said nothing.

He could see the terror in the young man’s eyes as the river swished at his toes. Probably a drug addict, the musician surmised. He decided not to make any quick move. If the man jumped into the Liffey, he had little or no chance of survival: the tide was high, the current swift, the water cold.

The musician talked quietly and gently, and yet with great urgency. He talked about life. He knew where the scared young man was coming from. And gradually, he coaxed him into talking about himself.

It was a familiar enough story: a pregnant girlfriend, the mother of his daughter, drink and drugs, poverty and Christmas. There was no money. He would be homeless this Christmas. His family didn’t want to know him any more. And he wanted a fix.

The musician listened, waving once in warning at the crowd of Christmas revelers who were beginning to congregate on the other side of the wall, heads craned to see the young lunatic who wanted to jump into the river.

There were no sirens, no ambulances, no policemen. The frightened youngster and he seemed to have this dark, cold, dangerous world totally to themselves.

The musician told his story. It was not all that different except that, unlike the youngster, he had been legally married for years. She had left him for another man, a boyfriend from the past, an old flame, rekindled.

The musician still tried as best as he could to look after his two pre-teen children in a nice house by the sea. There were times when he could hardly pay his mortgage either.

That was why he had to work nights at gigs like the one just finished. Sometimes, he tried to work days, too, when the demands of his children, a boy and a girl, allowed him too.

He told the young man his story. He told how he had contemplated suicide many times. There was a deep channel, scooped out of the sea by a fast-flowing river right opposite his house. Often, he confessed, he had decided to take the easy way out. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

He thought of the people he would have left behind and how they would have felt.

Suicide might be OK for the people who decided to take the option, he said. But it left nothing but sorrow and pain behind. Suicide just wasn’t fair. It was selfish.

The young guy listened. And he realized that what the musician was saying was true. No matter how bad things were, it was always worse for somebody else

Only an hour before, the young guy had sat, only a half pint before him, listening to the musician performing as though he hadn’t a care in the world.

Somewhere in the night, beyond O’Connell Street, a siren sounded.

"Come on, let’s get up before the cops arrive," the musician urged.

"What’s the point of making a scene? You’ve got loads of living to do. You think you’re in trouble? How about me? Come on, out of it. Besides, this place is bloody well freezing!"

The youngster finally agreed. "You go first," he whispered through his chattering teeth.

The musician clambered over the wall, the young man following him. The crowd cheered and applauded as he was ushered into the ambulance that had just arrived. At least he would get a bed for the night, the musician thought. He would survive through Christmas.

Just before he climbed into the ambulance, the young man turned and grasped his hand in gratitude.

"You played very well tonight," he said. "I loved the way you sang ‘Silent Night.’ I was thinking of it down there, down on the steps. I remembered other times . . . it’s funny what a tune will do sometimes."

The musician nodded, shaking hands. And then, the ambulance trundled away into the night, its siren soundless.

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