It was a surprise to discover on the property register that his small cottage was sold for over €50,000. It was a sum probably larger than anything he could have imagined in his lifetime. Block walls and a slate roof, its value probably owed more to its extensive site than to the building.
Stories of him were legion.
One man recalled going there in his teenage years to do some garden work. Anxious that he had done what was wanted, he went to the kitchen door of the cottage and asked the man to come to check the work. The man picked up the Wellington boots he customarily wore and sat down to pull them up. The right boot slipped on easily but when he tried to put his foot into the left boot, there was some obstruction. He handed the boot to the teenage boy and asked him to check to see what was the blockage.
Pushing his hand into the boot, the teenager pulled out a fish. “There’s a fish in here.”
“Oh,” said the man, “I had had forgotten that. I bought it in the town and put in in there so the cat didn’t get it.”
Not familiar with what the etiquette of what one did with fish one found in Wellington boots, the boy was about to throw it away.
“Stop,” said the man, “don’t do that. I’ll have it for my tea.”
The story was told with a smile, but also with pathos. There was a sadness as memories of the man were recalled. He was a man too innocent for this world, a man who worked hard for little reward, a man who was grateful for the little kindnesses he received.
In times past, perhaps the man would have lived a different life, perhaps he would have been a different man. There has been an attitude of handwashing when it comes to responsibility for those who are on the edge of society, if people are a danger neither to themselves or others, then there is no intervention considered, or even possible.
Only encountering the man on a few occasions, generally when he stood at the roadside in the hope someone heading for the town would pick him up, there was always a sense of frustration that someone should have drifted into such a life. His personal hygiene was such that the odour might remain sometime after he had stepped out of the car. Why had he come to such a life?
Why does the sense of responsibility that must justifiably be borne towards every minority and disadvantaged group not extend to a man who would put a fish in his boot?