Cast out for a night: A sleep-out on Cork’s Spike Island shines a ghostly light on homelessness crisis

Donal O’Keeffe spent the night on Spike Island in Cork as part of Focus Ireland’s Shine A Light sleep-out. He spoke to six business leaders who also took part

Donal O’Keeffe at the Focus Ireland ‘Shine A Light’ sleep-out at Spike Island, Co Cork. Sixty volunteers slept out in Cork to raise funds to combat homelessness. Picture: Michael O’Sullivan

Someone once told me, in a small voice, from under sleeping bags piled on wet cardboard: “You couldn’t do this sober.” I remembered that, at 3am last Saturday morning, as the rain spattered my face and I shifted uncomfortably in my sodden sleeping bag. I was sleeping out — or rather, mostly not sleeping — with 60 members of Cork’s business community in the armoury yard on Spike Island, as part of Focus Ireland’s Shine A Light Night sleep-out. I was, foolishly, sober. The same couldn’t be said for two men lying nearby, in convulsions of loud laughter at each other’s jokes.

Shine A Light Night, which started in 2012, raises awareness of homelessness while generating vital funding for Focus Ireland. In 2017 alone, Focus Ireland supported a record 14,500 people who were either homeless or at risk.

Spike Island is steeped in 1,300 years of history, and the island’s guides offer a superb tour of the abandoned prison. It once held 2,300 inmates in brutal conditions. At least 1,300 people died there and it’s said to be haunted. I saw no ghosts but thought it a sad and lonesome place.

It was after midnight when I bedded down in my sleeping bag on a sheet of cardboard and wrapped in black plastic. Temperatures were mild, but the wind picked up throughout the night, blowing sheeting left and right, the rain drenching us in our makeshift beds. All night, I found myself checking the time.1.48. 2.25. 3.13. 4.09. Once, I would have sworn I heard bagpipes in the wind. A gate or a metal door banged repeatedly.

Around 5am, I gave up, and got up. I wasn’t alone. Back indoors, we all reflected on our luck that – no matter our mild discomfort – we could go back to our lives, to a hot shower, a change of clothes and a decent breakfast. We might have got a bit wet, but none of us was cold, or hungry, or vulnerable, or ill.

Marion Kiely of Upstream Health and Safety said she found last year’s sleep-out, in Cork City Gaol, much easier: “It was drier, although Spike Island is a very fitting setting.”

Maggie Tobin is from Reenascreena in West Cork and has lived in England for 47 years. She heard about the sleep-out when she was home for a recent holiday and decided to participate. She raised close to €2,000 and told me she feels Ireland has changed a lot, and not all for the better.

“I can see a lot of loneliness, especially with an aging population. We need to be more neighbourly and we need to look out for people more,” said Maggie.

In the canteen, I put it to Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer, a Shine A Light veteran, that his party came to power in 2011. On Census Night 2011, we had 3,808 people sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation. We now have 10,000 homeless, 4,000 of them children.

“For me, homelessness is the greatest issue of our time,” he replied. “I meet friends and former students of mine, who are coping — or not coping — with the issue of homelessness, or looking for affordable housing, social housing, or a place to call home. Politicians are not devoid of emotion, or empathy. We would argue that more people are leaving homelessness now, but we know we are not where we want to be and we recognise that.

“I’m confident Minister Eoghan Murphy will be able to address the homelessness problem, but it will take time. We’ve allocated €2.4bn in the budget and what we need now is delivery. It does affect you when you see people sleeping rough, or living in emergency accommodation. They’re our fellow citizens and they deserve better.”

As we packed our bags and cleared out, I spoke briefly with Dick White of Focus Ireland. Dick professed delight that 60 volunteers had slept out this year in Cork and he expressed his confidence that Shine A Light would reach its 2018 national fundraising target of €1m.

It was still dark as we walked out the gates of the prison, down to the jetty, past the sign to the left for the convicts’ cemetery and past the cottage where Cork’s unofficial patron saint, Little Nellie of Holy God, lived when she was a baby. There was, at a time when homelessness was a crime, a children’s prison on Spike. Nobody knows how many kids are buried there in unmarked graves. Nowadays, Little Nellie lies in the derelict Good Shepherd site in Sunday’s Well, in a pristine grave. Across that site, in an inaccessible mass grave, are at least 30 Magdalene women, all-but unremembered.



In the drizzly, pre-dawn grey of Cork harbour, we boarded the ferry and headed back to our lives, our night of voluntary homelessness over. As we neared the lights of Cobh, I thought about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy arriving here on a cruise ship in 1953, believing themselves washed-up and forgotten and seeing on the waterfront thousands of people waving and cheering, as the Cathedral bells rang out their theme tune, ‘The Dance of the Cuckoos’. I thought of the kindness of strangers that reduced Hollywood stars to tears here, and I thought too of the person who had said to me of sleeping rough: “You couldn’t do this sober.”

When I met Kathleen O’Sullivan, one bitter night last November, she was sheltering in a doorway at the back of the Clayton Hotel. She told me she had had troubles in her life, including the death of her son Anthony, and she had been homeless over a few years. She said she was sleeping on the very spot her own aunt had died seven years earlier.

The night I met Kathleen, she was suffering from pleurisy and pneumonia, and she told me: “I won’t survive another winter on the streets.” Not a month later, on the morning of Wednesday, December 6, 2017, Kathleen O’Sullivan was found dead in that same doorway.

She was 44.

Joe Sheahan –


I was listening to the radio and I heard Dick White of Focus Ireland call for volunteers, and I’m delighted to take part for such a worthy cause and hopefully make a small difference. So far, I’ve raised €2,000, and I’m hoping to raise a little bit more.

I’ve met the Focus Ireland team several times in the lead-up to the sleep-out and I’ve been highly impressed by the dedication and energy they bring to the great work they do. I would definitely hope to do this again.

Kate Neville – Neville Jewellers


This is the second time I’ve done the Focus Ireland sleep-out. Like last time, I roped my sister, Eileen, into joining me. We’re working toward raising €5,000. We’ve raised money from suppliers, from family, and from friends.

Spike Island is an interesting venue. We’re isolated here, physically cut off. That’s quite an insight into homelessness, even if we all have the luxury of going home the next morning.

People were imprisoned on Spike for the crime of homelessness. That just brought home to me the image of (homeless mother-of-seven) Margaret Cash in that Garda station, with her children trying to sleep on those plastic seats. We really haven’t come so very far at all.

Norma O’Leary – Nova Broadband


These are frightening times for anyone renting, and we’re all just one pay cheque away from homelessness, from a landlord selling up or deciding they want more money.

We really need as a country to be investing more in social housing, so that we don’t have kids growing up in hotel rooms, and having to move out of those rooms every morning.

We all could be doing more to help people living in homelessness.

Every year Nova Broadband gives €1,000 on top of whatever money we raise for Focus Ireland, and this year so far we’ve raised €2,215.

Cully Allen – Cully and Sully


We had a huge fundraiser, an open garden party on the Boreenmana Road, with cocktails and musical accompaniment by a ukulele orchestra. We wanted to invite all the neighbours. And we raised €6,000. Cully and Sully will match that amount.

There are different types of homelessness, and when you hear about families that can’t put a roof over their heads, it’s important not to belittle the subject.

I don’t think there’s a magic wand solution to homelessness. You’ll always have people who need to be looked after.

It’s important to educate people that it’s not necessarily the fault of the person who is down.

Caroline O’Shea – Applegreen


This is my first time. We raised over €1,000 in sponsorship cards and by attacking customers!

You really wouldn’t realise how bad things have got until you look at what’s happening. We should be doing everything to tackle the homelessness crisis. It’s simply not good enough in this day and age.

It’s fantastic what Focus Ireland is doing, and it should be supported more.

Philip Gillivan – owner Shelbourne Bar and president, Cork Business Association


I’m very proud of the way Cork’s business community has got involved in the Focus Ireland sleepout. In the Shelbourne we’ve raised almost €3,000.

It’s very important to remember there is a story and a personality to every person in every doorway, and I think it does no harm for any of us to be reminded of that.

The thing with us here is we can all go home in the morning, but the novelty would wear off very quickly if we couldn’t. I’m delighted with the turnout. It really gives you a renewed sense of what’s good about Cork, and about Ireland.



Source: Donal O’Keeffe, The Irish Examiner 

Get into the Swing of All Things Jazz at the 2018 Guinness Cork Jazz ‘Fringe’ Festival!

Fringe Highlights – Dia de Los Muertos Jazz Parade, Unity at St. Lukes, Swing Jive and headliners at new festival venue Cork City Hall, ‘Requiem for Truth’ in Nano Nagle’s Goldie Chapel, Metropole Festival Club, Jazz Photographic Exhibition, and much more!


The 2018 Guinness Cork Jazz Festival will open like never before, kickstarting the bank holiday weekend with an incredible carnival-like ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ (Day of the Dead) Jazz Parade through Cork city centre on Thursday evening, 25th October.


This bright and colourful spectacle of more than 100 musicians, artists and performers, will weave through the streets forming a New Orleans style funeral procession, celebrating both the living and the dead through music, dance and art.


Cork Community ArtLink, who will also host the famous Dragon of Shandon Parade one week later on Halloween night, have created a series of large-scale macabre floats to parade through the city with improvising jazz bands and costumed dancers paying homage to some of the great jazz musicians who are gone from this world.



Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr. Paudie Dineen and Dave McArdle from Cork’s RedFM will officially launch the parade opening this year’s Guinness Cork Jazz Festival at 7pm on Grand Parade. The procession will move off up Oliver Plunkett Street bringing the streets to life with all kinds of jazz, before turning back down Maylor Street and on to Patrick Street, and returning to Grand Parade. With hundreds of schools closed across Cork for Presidential elections the following day (Friday October 26th), it’s the perfect night for families to come out into the city centre to enjoy the music and spectacle of the Jazz Parade and get into the groove for the weekend ahead!


In another first for the festival, a special immersive audio-visual experience fusing jazz, contemporary classical music and electronica has been commissioned to be performed in the beautiful setting of St. Luke’s Church. ‘Unity’ with the David Duffy Quartet combines an impressive lighting show featuring 4k stunning microscopic projections and a live jazz performance asking us to examine what it is that connects, unifies and binds us, on the fringes of the jazz festival.


This year’s festival will also celebrate the golden era of the social dance halls with The Swing Jive on Saturday 27th October at Cork City Hall, where two of Europe’s biggest Jazz dance bands, ‘Meschya Lake and The Dizzy Birds’ and ‘Gentlemen & Gangsters’ will be joined by international dancers and members of the Irish Swing Community who will reacquaint jazz festival party people with the One-Step, Two-Step, Waltz, Foxtrot, Peabody, Balboa, Shag, Lindy Hop, Swing and Jive dances. Dress sharp, polish those shoes and bring your best self for an unforgettable night which promises to be one of the biggest dance events ever seen in Cork city.


And for theatre buffs, the Festival is also presenting a live theatre and jazz show, ‘Requiem for Truth’ in Nano Nagle’s Goldie Chapel. Truth, we are told, is dead. If so, then who organises the funeral? Stomptown Brass, the outrageously energetic 10-piece street-funk band, and Collapsing Horse, the most exciting young theatre company in Ireland, invite you to join them as they take on an audacious task: to host a Funeral for the Truth. Witness the colourful exuberance of the Haitian Voodoo-inspired New Orleans jazz funeral as it smashes up against the mournful, solemn ceremony of Roman Catholicism. An extravagant, chaotic street party, with a dark twist.


This year, Cork City Hall – which is a fantastic new venue for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival – will also play host to festival headliners including the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama (Friday 26th October), British soul singer-songwriter and two-time MOBO award winner, Laura Mvula (Saturday 27th October), and five-time Grammy Award winning jazz collective, the fantastic Maria Schneider Orchestra (Sunday 28th October); all headline acts of international acclaim not to be missed.


As always at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, a huge number of the musicians performing over the weekend will play free open-air gigs at locations across the city as part of the festival Fringe so there really is something for all the family.


Venues include the Festival Club in the Metropole Hotel, Cork City Library on Grand Parade, CIT Cork School of Music, the River Lee Hotel and the now annual Jazz on the Plaza stage on Emmet Place where brass bands and jazz musicians from all over the world will take to the stage every half hour from Friday October 26th to Sunday October 28th from 1pm – 6pm. The Jazz Bites Food Fair on Emmet Place will also keep the masses fed on the finest of artisanal foods while enjoying the music across the city throughout the day.


Atmospheric photographs captured by the Irish Examiner in the early days of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, including images of jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich and Dizzy Gillespie, will appear in a new exhibition at the Triskel Arts Centre. ‘Jazz Memories With The Irish Examiner’ featuring 20 images from the Irish Examiner/Evening Echo archive opens at the Triskel on October 19 and runs until November 2.


Also keep an eye out for the touring Jazz bus, which will bring jazz to the people through routes weaving around Cork, while down on the ground, all sorts of jazz and brass ensembles will bring the streets to life with impromptu walk-abouts and New Orleans Jazz Funeral processions!


The Fringe offers a plethora of interesting, free, and family-friendly entertainment complimenting the main 2018 Guinness Cork Jazz Festival programme which has a fantastic line up of musical acts in headline venues and pubs across the city and county, so this year’s festival ensures there is something on offer for everyone!




To purchase tickets, visit

Follow the festival social channels for the latest news:



Return of the SPAR Cork Airport 5km Runway Run

Running legend Sonia O’Sullivan will join 2,500 runners for the annual SPAR Cork Airport 5K Runway Run on November 02nd. 

Organised by Cork Athletics on behalf of Athletics Ireland, the unique 5km event on Cork Airport’s runway will take place at 23.59 on Friday, November 2. Funds raised will support Cork Airport’s 2018 Charity of the Year, Shine Centre for Autism.

Colin Donnelly, SPAR Sales Director said: “SPAR has a long heritage in athletics sponsorship so the SPAR Cork Airport 5K Runway Run is a natural fit for our brand. Health and wellbeing is a big focus for SPAR and this unique event is a great initiative for all ages because it helps to promote a healthy lifestyle and has the added benefit of offering participants the opportunity to run on an actual runway. We’re very proud to be a part of this venture in association with Athletics Ireland and Cork Airport.”

The SPAR Cork Airport 5K Runway Run at Cork Airport is chip-timed and the third largest running event in Cork.

Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director at Cork Airport, added: “We are delighted to host the Runway Run for the fourth year, and welcome the 2,500 runners taking part this year.

“Cork Airport is extremely busy at the moment, with scheduled flights to over 40 destinations. Holding a midnight event, when no planes are landing or taking off, means participants have a unique chance to run, jog or walk Cork Airport’s normally active runway, along with supporting the vital work being done by Shine.”

Irish Olympian and multiple World Champion Sonia O’Sullivan will travel from her Australian base for the event, joining fellow event ambassadors, personal trainer Karl Henry, and Irish elite long distance runner and fellow Olympian Mick Clohisey of Raheny Shamrock AC on the night.

Registration for SPAR Cork Airport 5K Runway Run is open here. On signing up, participants can avail of a 20% discount by using the code SPAR 20.

Cork Pink Week 2018

As you are probably aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and to celebrate it, the Cork region will, with your help go Pink, from 1st-7thOctober next, in solidarity with all those people worldwide who are affected by this terrible disease.

Cork Pink Week is a community initiative set up by a group of Cork women who have been affected by Breast Cancer. Their ambition being to bring individuals, businesses and communities together by way of realising specific goals, the first raising much needed funds for diagnostic equipment for the Cork University Hospital Breast Cancer Unit while also bringing greater awareness of the excellent cancer care services and facilities in the region.


As an employer, we know that you have a special interest in your employees’ health and wellbeing and that you are actively supporting them to lead healthier and more active lives, together with their families and communities as a whole. You may even have some employees and/or family members who may unfortunately have been diagnosed with cancer over the last number of years, hence my approach to you on behalf of Cork Pink Week.


To raise funds for Diagnostic Machinery in the Breast Care Unit of CorkUniversity Hospital.

The Symptomatic Breast Unit at Cork University Hospital provides care for men and women of the Cork/Kerry area and performed over 30,000 examinations in 2017.  In 2018 they have been fortunate to receive funding for basic replacement of the imaging equipment this will be installed later this year. To ensure they continue to work at the forefront we would be most grateful if you could support us in funding additional enhancing items of equipment which will further augment the benefits of the new equipment.
To date we are truly gratified by the number of private individuals, companies and organisations, who have committed to holding events or donating goods and services to help get this worthy initiative off the ground.


How YOU can help:

  • Sponsor or host your own Pink event on your premises.
  • Support planned events like the ‘Pink Lunch’ at City Hall on the 7thOctober
  • Offer your goods or services – printing costs, hiring of equipment (for catering, PA system), subsidised food and drink,
  • Insurance costs, secretarial services



We invite you to be part of the success of Cork Pink Week, raising awareness and helping to protect our employees, loved ones and communities as a whole in the prevention, early detection and treatment of CANCER.
To know more about this week and especially the celebratory Pink Lunch at Cork City Hall on the 7th October, please visit us on




Sign up:
Let’s work together to make Cork Pink Week a huge contributor to cancer care services in Cork!
If you wish to sponsor an event, hold an event, attend Cork Pink Lunch, conduct a seminar/information briefing for your staff or wish to donate, please contact the following:


Sylvia McHenry
087 2996226            


Miriam Healy
086 8041493






Cork Pink Week in association with the CUH charity number CHY17293. 

CBA President Shines a Light on Homelessness

We are proud to announce that the CBA President, Philip Gillivan, we be taking part in the Focus Ireland, Shine a Light Night 2018 on behalf of the Cork Business Association.



Shine a Light Night is a truly touching event where the Business Community come together for one night to raise vital funds and to stand in solidarity with people experiencing homelessness in Ireland today. Focus Ireland works with people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes across Ireland. They offer individuals and families advice, support, education and housing to help people to have and keep a home. Focus Ireland and the CBA believe that everyone has a right to a place they can call home and Focus Ireland campaigns to address the causes of homelessness.


This year’s Shine a Light Night will take place on Friday 12th October on Spike Island. Over the coming weeks Philip will be fundraising for Focus Ireland with the hope of reaching his goal of €3000 for this very deserving organisation.


If you would like to support Philip on his sleep-out, you can donate HERE.