EVEN though Joe Byrne hails from Ballyneill in Tipperary, he has captured the hearts of people across Cork with his selfless acts of good deeds, helping the needy and the vulnerable in the community.
“I’m in business 37 years and I’m very proud of that,” says Joe, who trained in Dublin and worked in London before opening his own hair salon, Joseph’s, on the Glasheen Road.
There is no hair salon like a Joe salon. It is a hive of activity that everyone enjoys visiting, not just to get their hair done, but also to enjoy the banter and craíc there.
On a breezy November day when I visit, the salon is buzzing and the banter flying.
“The hair salon is my baby,” says Joe, smiling happily.
Joe, who is married to Darren, does a huge back-to-school drive every year for families who may be struggling, and he cheers up vulnerable people with free salon appointments for blow-dries, haircuts and hair-do’s at Christmas.
Joe was the recipient of The Pride of Cork Award on November 26 th at the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel. According to the organisers, of the award, Joe “always looks to see what he can do, how he can help and who will benefit most from his ideas”.
For many years Joe has been operating a special day of appointments for the long-term homeless during Christmas week and when Covid hit he gave out vouchers which could be used at his salon once lockdown allowed.
“Flannerys send over cocktail sausages and chips for the clients on that day,” says Joe. “They are so kind.”
During the last lockdown, Joe delivered cards and flowers to vulnerable people who were cocooning.
“I phoned them up for chats too in case they were lonely,” says Joe.
This year, things will be a bit different as Joe has lofty plans afoot to cheer people up and bring some Christmas cheer into their lives.
“On December 12, John Gaffney at Flannery’s bar across the road is providing a marquee where Christmas dinner will be served, and we have a magician lined up to entertain the kids. As well as that, the Kinsale Singers choir will perform for everyone,” says Joe.
Joy will be spread around from the man who has earned the reputation of Cork’s kindest hairdresser.
“It’ll be a fabulous occasion for the homeless and for people living in refuges who have experienced domestic violence,” says Joe.
“The marquee will facilitate social-distancing. John is really generous and he has always been really good to us. He is providing a carvery this year for people who come along to the event.
“In the past 10 years we have had an event near Christmas every year for the vulnerable in the community. Coming up to Christmas we collect thousands of selection boxes and give them out to people in need. It’s not just the children who love them; the adults love them too!
“It is the same with the Easter eggs that we collect that are donated by customers and businesses. Everybody loves them!”
Joe has a lot of helpers.
“My staff are fantastic and so are the communities in the Glasheen area, Wilton, and Togher.
“My husband Darren is great to help out and he co-ordinates a lot of things that we’re involved with.”
Everybody loves getting their hair done at Joseph’s popular hair salon.
“People say to me it is never Christmas until we go and get our hair done. Then Christmas starts!”
Joe’s goodwill has a ripple effect.
“I had one guy who was unkempt and he came in for a shampoo with one of the free vouchers we give out. He and I got chatting and I was quite tactile with him, and he got very emotional,” says Joe.
“Physical contact is so important, both physically and emotionally.”
Joe, the youngest of seven, who has a giving heart, makes friends easily and he keeps up his friendships with people.
“I volunteered with the CASA group in the past and I got friendly with a young lad Ryan O’Hanlon, who has special needs and who was 12 at the time. Ryan is 44 now. We became good friends, enjoying day trips and trips to Lourdes.
"Ryan was my first client and he was like my saviour when I was in my 20s. His love is unconditional. He just loves you. You can see it in his eyes. Ryan’s mother is a wonderful person. Ryan is my best friend after my husband Darren.”
Where did Joe and Darren meet?
“We met in a bar; we made eye contact. We went for coffee and we began dating. Within two years we were married! We had a lovely wedding ceremony in the Triskel and a fabulous reception at Castlemartyr Resort. We have a beautiful home in Douglas; it is very homely. We both love it.”
Why does Joe love doing endless good deeds for the poor, the homeless and the vulnerable in society?
“Because I can,” says Joe.
“People say to me, ‘aren’t you marvellous’. But I’m not marvellous, I am just aware. It could be you or me in the morning.
“I contact various refuges like Edel House or Cuanlee Refuge for abused women and children, or Catriona at Penny Dinners and I find out who needs a bit of help and I help them because I can. I see vulnerable people around me on the streets and I think about how I could help them.
“In the beginning, I started quietly by giving vouchers for a hair appointments. I’m not marvellous or great. I am aware and I love doing it,” says Joe.
He is not only aware of people less well of; he is charitable too.
“Why not give something back if you can? Our customers and Cork businesses and supermarkets are great to donate back-to-school supplies, Easter eggs, selection boxes, etc. Donations come in to the salon all year round,” says Joe.
“Then we dole them out to people who are struggling. It could even be items like pyjamas or pairs of socks. People all know me and they get on board to help out.
“A bag of treats are always here for people who need help. Help is given to the people who need it most; people who are homeless or who are in recovery from addiction, for instance. People get to know you and they ask for help,” says Joe.
He goes the extra mile for people in need.
“We often help out people with their shopping or help pay an ESB bill for them. Catriona at Penny Dinners lets us know if she needs anything. Nobody is left out. Darren helps with the distribution. Darren is my rock.”
Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year, is the busiest time of the year.
“I couldn’t do it without the help of the lads in the salon; they are all wonderful,” says Joe.
“Mel, Vicky, and Janice help look after the people who have vouchers for hair appointments at Christmas.”
December 12 at Flannery’s bar opposite Joseph’s Hair Salon will be a wonderful occasion.
“I have 75 people all lined up to go already,” says Catriona Twomey of Penny Dinners.
“They really appreciate the treat. Joe never stops.
“He is just so good to everybody. He never says no. He is incredible. His staff are brilliant. Darren is brilliant.”
The Christmas spirit of giving and sharing is alive and well.
“Flannerys are always great to cater,” says Catriona.
After Covid, everyone will have a bit of cheer this Christmas and enjoy the fabulous Christmas spirit with all the trimmings.
“Joe pulls out all the stops,” says Catriona.
He has organised a guest of honour.
“I think Santa will be along too!”
People will travel to Flannerys Lounge Bar in style.
“Michael Turtle of Exec Cars is driving people to the venue and back again,” says Catriona.
“They are all so excited.”
Catriona is excited too.
“I’m going of course!”
Joe can relax a bit once he has spread the joy.
“Darren and I love Christmas,” he says. “We enjoy all of it.”
The duo deserve to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year after all their efforts to help the less fortunate.
“At dinner there could be two hours between starters and main course!” says Joe.
He operates an open door policy all year round.
“My door is always open; just come in and ask for help.”