Once homeless on the streets of Cork... now he's written a book

Bernard O’Hehir faced a life of struggle, homelessness and addiction — then he turned it around and published an uplifting book, he tells CHRIS DUNNE
Once homeless on the streets of Cork... now he's written a book

UPLIFTING: Bernard O’Hehir with his book Memories And Hope. “It’s about not giving up,” he says

HE may never have finished school, and ended up homeless and battling drugs and alcohol addictions — but Bernard O’Hehir didn’t let all that stop him from achieving his dream of publishing a book.

The result is 'Memories And Hope' — a little book of uplifting messages that we all need to hear and read when life gets tough?

“For me, the book is about not giving up and it is the result of people saying, yes, you are good enough and there is always hope,” says Bernard.

“Given my record in the education system, to say Memories And Hope is a personal achievement for me is putting it mildly. With all that has gone in my life, I never imagined coming this far.”

Becoming homeless opened his eyes to real suffering.

“I came to Cork homeless,” says Bernard, who is originally from Sligo. 

“I know what dark times are.

“I met people in the hostels who were kind, often older than me. I also saw people being taken away in body bags and who self-harmed. I’ve seen it all.”

“I’ve depression and anxiety,” adds Bernard. “I’ve self-harmed and thought about leaving this world. I’ve done lots of things in my life that were wrong, but I want this little book to serve as a chalice of hope to myself and hopefully to so many others.”

Bernard was a wild teenager with a lot of angst.

“I thought nobody loved me,” he recalls. “Stuff happened me as a child that shaped my life. I was angry and resentful.

“I became addicted to drugs and drink. I got in with the wrong crowd. It became out of control. I didn’t go home for ten years, not until my mother passed away last year.”

Bernard put a lot of water under the bridge during that time. He knew he had to reassess his life.

“In 2010, I signed in to a religious rehabilitation centre in northern Italy for seven months,” he says. 

“The therapy involved me going cold turkey. There were no meds. They stripped you down and built you back up again. We worked for 10 to 12 hours a day. It was the best therapy for someone like me.”

Bernard began to see the light.

“I began to love myself again. I got a new perspective. I had no need of drugs.” 

He had a yearning to come back to Ireland and did so.

“I went to an addiction centre in Ladysbridge in East Cork run by a lovely man. The regime was less strict than in Italy but it wasn’t a walk in the park!”

He still earned his daily bread.

“Working out in the fields setting cabbages, I couldn’t be happier. I stayed there for three months.”

Bernard eventually had to learn to fend for himself.

“When I left Ladysbridge I hadn’t many options. I stayed in St Vincent’s hostel in Anglesea Street. I made pals with the older generation. They were nice people. I got a job.”

As he got back on his feet, Bernard decided to help others too.

“A contact I had told me about Penny Dinners. They said I should volunteer with them, and it would be a good way for me to meet people and make friends. Penny Dinners is a fantastic facility helping out the homeless in Cork.

“I never knew there were groups helping the homeless like Penny Dinners and Vincent de Paul.

“I began going out in the van every second Friday with Brendan Dempsey. 

"He’s a great man. We brought the homeless people food, clothes and care packs. When I had a few bob in my pocket I’d go to Tesco and get a loaf or a swiss roll for the people on the streets.”

Brendan began to see the light.

“My eyes were opened to real suffering. I joined another small group who helped the homeless. I knew 99% of homeless people in Cork. The main thing the people wanted was to be listened to. They all have a story to tell.”

Bernard found more kindness on the streets of Cork.

“Paul Walsh of Three Little Piggies cafe provided a haven for homeless people during Storm Ophelia. His support was unbelievable.”

Bernard believed he was on the road to redemption.

“I thought I was on the scrap heap,” he says. 

“I threw away my chance at education and I threw away a lot of opportunities.”

But he saw the opportunity to help others and to give something back.

“When publisher Michael Mulcahy and Lorraine O’Neill approached me about Memories And Hope, it was like a dream come true,” says Bernard.

Where did he get the inspiration for the little book of uplifting messages that we all need to get when life gets tough?

“I came up with the quotes from my own experiences,” says Bernard.

For instance?

“This morning I woke up not so full of life, a certain scary silence hangs over my life. It’s a task I must complete to try and even touch the ground with my feet. I’m struggling, I feel weak, please let me be happy and my life complete, I know I can get through this day not having to deal with life on my own, so all I need is to stay strong and hope is my key.”

Bernard is living in Wellington Road and he finally returned home to Sligo.

“I hadn’t been at home for years,” he says. “I was disgraceful. “

My mother is from Doneraile and when I thought of her and how much she cared for me, I got emotional.

“I remember when she got sick she sent me a picture of a friend pushing her in a wheelchair in hospital. I cried. That should have been me.”

Bernard’s mother passed away last year and adds: “I said goodbye.”

He says everybody can take what they want from the pocket book, 'Memories And Hope'. There are nuggets about family, friends, faith, hope, happiness, poetry, loneliness, success, Sligo and Cork.

“It is available online for €10 and I’d like to invite Cork businesses to stock maybe 50 or a 100 copies and half the proceeds will go to a charity of their choice,” he says.

Bernard knows life is all about choices.

“Life is short. I’m not the person I used to be.”

He picked himself up and dusted himself down. He came out of the darkness into the light.

“A year ago I had nothing. I was struggling. Things can change. I got so much help. I am very proud of this book,” says Bernard. “It signifies hope.”

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