Fethard Born Alice Leahy, one of the founders of the Trust organisation, which looks after the homeless, was "a wonderful role model for all of us", the Tipperary Association Dublin annual dinner was told.
The tribute came from Governor of Mountjoy John Lonergan, as she was presented with the 2003 Tipperary Person of the Year Award for the tremendous work she has done for those who have fallen on hard times.
Mr. Lonergan, himself a former Tipperary Person of the Year, told the large gathering of Tipperary people who came to honour her in Moran's Red Cow Hotel, that Alice was a “very very wonderful Tipperary person.”
She was presented with a magnificent piece of sculpture in the shape of two hands. Fellow Fethard person Michael Maher, speaking on behalf of sponsors M & J Gleeson and Tipperary Spring Water Company, said it was a particular privilege for him to present the award.
Tipperary Association President Jarlath Daly said they were very proud of the work Alice had done in the main city. He described the work she was doing as amazing. The trophy being presented to her represented a flame of enlightenment.
"Alice is holding that flame, it's an eternal flame of enlightenment and she is one of the hands of the trophy - sculptured by Mr. Daly himself - represented the dignity Alice restored to the homeless, he said. The other hand represented the health that her organisation Trust offered to the homeless in the city, where they came in the mornings for some food, clothing and other care.
The association president reminded the gathering of the words of John Canon Hayes who once said: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” The recipient of the Tipperary Person of the Year 2003 had light a very big candle, he added.
In a moving tribute to Alice, John Lonergan spoke at length about her Fethard background and upbringing and family, all of which helped inspire her to become the very caring and socially aware person she is.
He told how Alice was born in an estate of 400 acres a few miles outside Fethard, now owned by the famous John Magnier. The Leahy family lived on the estate where her grandfather and father were farm stewards.
Alice was one of five children and her father was a wonderful influence on her, a man who loved nature and loved animals and worked on the land all his life and loved the land.
She openly acknowledged that her father, who unfortunately died in 1992, left her a lot of her values.
Alice's mother Hannie was alive and well and attending the Tipperary Person of the Year function, said Mr. Lonergan. She was a wonderful person who lived in tough times and had to be an entrepreneur and an innovator to survive. She did everything at home, she sewed, she knitted, she darned, she cooked, made all kinds of things like jams and was a wonderful provider for the family and a wonderful influence. As well as that Alice's mother carried out a huge amount of voluntary work.
She was one of the first people whom formed Country Markets and she served as secretary/treasurer of that for 31 years and today she is still active at Country Markets.
Today Country Markets has spread all around the country and the first one was created in Fethard and Hannie Leahy played a leading role in that.
“So I think it's wonderful for Hannie Leahy to be here tonight to hear a feedback of a wonderful daughter who has done tremendous work. I know that Hannie Leahy is very proud of her daughter and rightly so.”
“No wonder Alice Leahy has turned out the way she was with a father like that and a mother, it was inevitable that she was going to be somebody that was going to make the difference, and that's what she did,” said Mr. Lonergan.
After her schooling in Fethard Alice went on to study nursing in Dublin. She opened the first intensive care unit in Baggot Street Hospital and was put sister in charge of that unit. In the seventies she got a bit disillusioned with nursing and got attracted to the whole social side of life.
She left nursing in 1973 and joined the caring voluntary sector, the Simon Community. She initiated the first major study ever carried out of the health needs of those who were classed as vagrant, those who had no means and were living rough. That was the forerunner in so many different ways to all of the different services that were developed subsequently.
In 1975 she and a number of others formed the organisation Trust which was about caring for and looking after people who had hit bad times, many of them homeless.
For almost 30 years she has dedicated her life with a small little wonderful team of fulltime and part-time and volunteers around her to care for and serve those who have hit had times.
Trust, said Mr. Lonergan, was very human. He explained how it is a friendly face system that meets the homeless person. Trust welcomes the homeless as human beings with smiles on their faces, the most fundamental thing.
They give them a cup of tea, they change their clothes, they give them a shower, they treat any wounds they might have, they refer them for medical treatment, and they wash their feet.
"There is nothing I suppose greater than serving those at the very bottom of society. It is easy to serve the successful. It is easy to stand shoulder to shoulder. We are all great at that. But we all struggle when it comes to standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are seen as the outcasts, the rejects.
That is what Alice Leahy and her little team do day in day out, providing a most invaluable service to those who are most in need of and they do it with a smile on their face."
Mr. Lonergan paid tribute to Alice Leahy's team, also her husband Charlie and her family for the support they gave her.
He paid tribute also to the “rebel” Alice Leahy. “She is not just a passive woman, There's a rebel in Alice. She doesn't give a spit about democracy. She doesn't give a spit about popularity. If Alice feels something needs to be said she'll say it and she doesn't care who is offended.”
And it's never for herself, it's always on behalf of those who are voiceless. She has written books, she had made videos, she has gone to schools, she has gone for public debate. She has gone the length and breadth of the country with one objective, and that is to raise awareness around the people who are most in need, the voiceless people.
"I do assume that I speak on behalf of all Tipperary people when I say to Alice, well done. You have been a tremendous person. The work she does is the forerunner of many many official statutory services today.”
Alice Leahy was an out reach worker before the term was even identified. She is a wonderful role model for all of us," Mr. Lonergan added.
Accepting the award “for my father and for the people on the streets”, Alice Leahy said she was very moved by such a wonderful honour. She was also delighted to share the same stage with the great hurler Jimmy Doyle, winner of the Hall of Fame Award.
She paid tribute to her wonderful team of colleagues in Trust, the staff, the trustees and all the people who helped them, and to her husband Charlie for the support he gave.
Helping to combat social exclusion
Tipperary Person of the Year Alice Leahy is Director of TRUST, which she co-founded in 1975 and is a non-judgemental, social and health service for people who are homeless. Former Chairperson of the Sentence Review Group, Alice is also a writer, commentator, broadcaster and lecturer, promoting understanding of the needs of the outsider to help combat social exclusion.
Alice Leahy's most recent book 'WITH TRUST IN PLACE Writing from the outside was published by Townhouse just before Christmas and included contributions from a very wide range of people from a High Court judge to a poet who is homeless. That book is part of on-going awareness raising activities which also involve making submissions and preparing papers with a view to influencing public policy.
Education initiatives on the theme "The Outsider' are also a key part of the way Alice has sought to create awareness of the needs of those TRUST seeks to help on a daily basis. The two most successful in recent times include the Trust National Essay Competition for Transition Year Students on the theme of The Outsider (2000-2001) and the Trust National Art Competition for all second level schools on the same theme took place during 2002-2003.
Active in the Simon Community and VSI (Voluntary Service International) for many years before setting up TRUST with others, Alice also served as Assistant Director of Simon Ireland and compiled the REPORT ON MEDICAL CARE FOR THE VAGRANT IN IRELAND in 1974, the first report of its kind published in this country.
Alice is a nurse/midwife by profession and an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
She set up the first Intensive Care Unit of its type in Ireland at the request of the Medical Board at the then Royal City of Dublin Hospital in Baggot Street.
Alice co-authored with Anne Dempsey her first book “Not Just a bed for the Night” in 1995, published by Marino. In addition she contributes articles and comment pieces to a wide range of publications on the theme of the outsider as part of hef promotion of TRUST's awareness and educational programme.
Alice Leahy in describing TRUST always emphasises that everyone is treated as an individual and that form filling and other intrusive approaches are not adopted as many of the people who come in everyday are excluded often because they cannot cope with the everyday pressures and demands we take for granted.
TRUST is located in Bride Road in the basement of the Iveagh Hostel. More information on www.trust-ireland.ie