I HAVE BEEN running the communication and marketing function for UCD since 2004 and in all my years I have never witnessed a response to the scale of our posting of the sad passing of Michael Byrne, or ‘Old Man Belfield’ as he was affectionately known, on January 10 2021. On that day we posted the news at around 8pm, and by 9am the following morning, the post had been shared with tens of thousands of students, graduates with messages of genuine sadness and personal tribute pouring in.
Steve McCarthy and his family had been looking after Michael since his mother first came into contact with him in the 1980s. Steve was Michael’s designated next-of-kin and gave his eulogy at the funeral service arranged in Belfield Church. As COVID-19 restrictions limited the number of people who could attend the funeral, we thought it best that those who took most care of Michael could say their farewell in person. So, along with Gary Smith from UCD Estates, the funeral was attended by Jimmy Fitzsimons from the restaurant, Denise Byrne and Attracta Bell from the shop and Dolores O’Riordan, Vice-President for Global Engagement. Fr Eamonn Bourke officiated, student Alan Fegan played the organ, graduate Declan Wildes was the soloist and student Helen Vysotska did the readings. The service was watched online by more than 11,000 people.
For over 30 years Michael lived in quiet corners of the UCD campus. His footsteps are ingrained in the paths of Woodbine, Nutley and Greenfield, across the N11 flyover into the campus, through the front gates, up the main avenue, by the side of the lake, and along the Oak Walk – settling behind Conway when the weather was poor and over by Rosemount when it was warm. He slipped into buildings, strolled through the science atrium – to the surprise of visiting academics attending conferences. He was a regular in the restaurant, the SU shop, and at other eateries and cafés where he was given his meals or cups of tea and sat amongst the students. His quiet calmness seemed to spread to the students – osmosis-like. Everyone knew Old Man Belfield – or felt that they did.
In January, we had arranged with RTÉ for a Sunday Miscellany on Belfield 50 and, as Michael was so obviously an integral part of the campus, added a piece about him to the programme. We were inundated with enquiries about a memorial in his honour and decided that we could remember him in two appropriate ways: a bench in the memorial Rose Garden by Belfield House, and the Michael Byrne Community Fund to foster and recognise community-building activities at UCD. This fund will support Cothrom Na Féinne Scholarships, as well as UCD in the Community initiatives and an annual student award.
Michael Byrne didn’t have a roof over his head or a home of his own, but he made his home in the Belfield campus. Thank you to those who quietly looked out for Michael and thank you Michael for being part of our lives. We will miss you around campus.
THE ROSE GARDEN
In a fitting tribute to Michael Byrne, a new bench has been installed in the Rose Garden at Belfield House. The Rose Garden was dedicated as a memorial garden in 2015 after three students, Eimear Walsh, Lorcán Miller and Niccolai Schuster died when the balcony they were on collapsed, in Berkeley, California. The first bench in the memorial garden is dedicated to those students who lost their lives in that accident. The second bench is in memory of all students who have died while attending the University. The third recounts a line from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake: “They lived and laughed and loved and left”. Michael’s bench is now the fourth in the rose circle.
The Rose Garden is a beautiful wheelchair-accessible oasis. Visitors are welcome and those who knew Michael may come and think of this gentle, quiet man who was part of the UCD community for so many years.
We’re delighted to have established The Michael Byrne Community Fund as a fitting tribute to Michael. This new fund will foster and recognise community-building activities at UCD, support students from under-represented groups and fund a new student award to recognise achievements in community-building.
We invite the UCD community and friends to pay tribute to Michael via this fund by visiting www.ucd.ie/alumni/michaelbyrne