People need help now not later, says Boston activist

“When I first came to Southill in 1985, Ireland was a different country.  There was 35 per cent unemployment in Limerick and 60 per cent unemployment in Southill.  But there were families who we met and stayed with who were so generous to us in spite of the fact they clearly didn’t have enough money to put a can of beans on the table.  We said we’d never forget that, and we haven’t.

“It seemed to us back then that there were more people who were involved in the church and in the community in Southill, with a few people causing problems but I feel the powers that be aren’t looking after the majority.

“This is the year 2008, this is not the Stone Age.  Why are people trying to raise their families surrounded by burnt-out houses and garbage.  To me it’s  like a cancer.  If you don’t root it out early, the problem will spread to other parts of the city.  A lot of families have been terrorised and burned out of the homes they bought and invested in over the years.  Other people, who could afford to, moved out but an awful lot of people want to stay and quite rightly.  I grew up in a similar area, the Lower End of South Boston, and there was no way anyone would force us out.  Is the accountability with the Government?  With the police?  It’s not for me to say but something’s got to be done for these people,”  Billy says.

“I will continue to fund raise for that Southill Junior School.  The money isn’t big enough to build actual structures but it helps out for lunch programmes, for sports equipment, for school tours.  I don’t have any agenda.  I can go home, back to my eight gran kids, help out my son in business and get back in normal life.  I’m not running for office.  But I felt in ’85 that I had ended up in Southill for a reason, to help the kids in this community.”

Billy has been living by these words since his association began with Southill 23 years ago.

His daughter Andrea won an athletics event in the States and was invited to compete internationally in Limerick.  Out of friendships forged in Southill grew the Southill Children’s Fund, which has raised thousands over the years to buy sports equipment for children, computers for the schools, to arrange day trips for young pupils.

He stayed in touch with the parish, the community groups and families like the Kirwans, the Shines, the Griffins and the Cusacks.

Mass at the Holy Family Church last Saturday night was dedicated to Billy after he presented a cheque for 5,000 to Southill Junior School.  The money was raised during a recent visit to Boston by Adare’s Holy Trinity Abbey Choir, which included singing the Star Spangled Banner in front of 40,000 baseball fans at Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox.

Choir leader Tracey Fitzgerald has been a friend of Billy’s since he first visited Limerick.
Billy, who has worked in the Youth Service programme with the Boston police department, said community policing had worked well in the tough neighborhood he grew up in and would like to see more gardai on the beat in Southill.

“If you had more police in the community, stopping and talking to kids, maybe they would get a wave rather than the finger form the passing kids.  In Boston the police department is involved in a lot of youth programmes and in running sports teams for children.

“I know there are some programmes like that here but it’s a little limited.  Children would respect the police more,” he says.

And the hardcore of criminals who have no regard for the law might respect the force more if the Government bit the bullet and armed the gardai.

“I couldn’t believe it reading the paper last week seeing people complain about the cops being given mace to deal with trouble.  Mace?  The bad guys have guns and people are complaining because they want to give mace to the good guys.  It’s incredible to somebody from the States.”


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