Many people lost a good friend this week when John Glynn passed away. He had suffered through a painful illness and his passing was a release in the end for his family and all his many loved ones in particular the team here at Aisling: Charlie Conquest, Mary Leyne and John Mulvihill to name only a few. (Pic: John second right).
John had been a community worker in the Irish and homeless communities in London for many years and was known all over town as the man to go to if you were in trouble, particularly with alcohol problems. In certain parts, Kilburn and Cricklewood for instance he had an appropriate nickname. When one of the Irish street drinkers went missing word would go around that he was in rehab courtesy of John ‘The Body Snatcher’.
This was not a rare occurrence, John had amazing success with the hardest, most entrenched alcoholics in London. He had many great qualities essential to his chosen vocation as an alcohol worker: he was compassionate and caring but he was also stubborn, persistent and loyal. I never knew him to give up on anyone and hundreds of people owe their lives (and their livers) to him.
John formed a rewarding partnership with the Kairos Community Trust in South East London who would book in so many of John’s clients for detox and rehab on his say so. It was a place very suited to John where no one in need was ever turned away however hard-core and they had amazing success with the toughest most dedicated drinkers, particularly the Irish clients who recognised and benefitted from the community spirit that makes the place such a beacon of hope.
I met John in 1994 at the Irish Book Fair at the London Irish Centre. He was with Deirdre Robinson both of whom were community workers at the centre. I was working at Arlington House, a large homeless hostel in Camden Town home to 250 Irish men out of the 400 living there. We discovered that we had a lot in common, working with so many Irish people living lives of desperate exile. We hatched a plan to start trying to get some of them home to Ireland and the Aisling Project was born.
Over the next 28 years we took hundreds of long term Irish men and women to their homeland for a holiday and a break away from their lives lived on the edge in London. Many were reunited with their families after so long away and the psychological benefits were enormous. Emigration had been a disaster for many young people who left Ireland with such hope only to find themselves old at forty, no longer any use to the subbies, without any support, no family and a social and eventual chemical dependence on alcohol.
John recognised that there was a clear correlation between all these factors and homelessness which hit the Irish in London hard in the 1980’s and 90’s. He set up the Saturday Club at Cricklewood Homeless Concern, which was a drop-in attended by hundreds of local Irish people and where along with food and chat John found a vast reservoir of need to which he could respond. At night he also went on outreach soup runs into the centre of London’s cardboard cities on the Strand, behind the Savoy and Lincoln’s Inn where the posh people complained of tripping over the homeless on the way to the opera.
All this and Aisling too. It is like John Glynn lived several lives, all of them good and yet he had so much more to give. Even in his last days he rang around all of the Aisling people who depended on hearing from him with a kind word or a stern rebuke for falling off the wagon. No judgements but plenty of love and encouragement. There is no one like him, the irreplaceable John Glynn.