Lives Remembered

Sean McAuley: West Belfast man spread happiness in short but full life

Sean McAuley was not your stereotype of a homeless man

However bad Sean McAuley may have been feeling, he had a wonderful ability to make others feel good about themselves.

He would be the first one there to help if times were tough. The first to make someone smile. He managed to spread happiness, even if he couldn't find that peace himself.

The west Belfast man, who took his own life aged 34 after years of alcohol and mental health problems, was not your stereotype of a homeless man.

The fourth child of eight born to Eileen and Kieran McAuley, he had a typical upbringing in the tight-knit streets opposite Clonard Monastery.

At St Gall's Primary School he was a happy and popular child, with teachers describing him as the clown of the class, always with a cheeky grin and mischief in his eye.

He loved music from a young age, playing the keyboard and easily picking up tunes by ear. He loved to go out on his bike and enjoyed all the usual things young boys do.

It was early in his teenage years that Sean was first exposed to alcohol. Experimentation gave way to habit and it began to affect his school performance and general state of mind.

After leaving Corpus Christi College he trained as a chef at Belfast Institute but was drinking more heavily, and after moving out of home found himself in and out of hostels and shelters over the next decade or so.

He recalled sleeping rough at one point in the grounds of St Dominic's High School, just yards from the busy Falls Road.

"I was drinking to make myself feel better but it was making me feel worse and adding to my problems. I was drinking to put myself to sleep at night because I was scared."

On several occasions he gave up his bed in night shelters to a younger person outside in a sleeping bag.

Instead of asking for money on the street, he would ask others if they were okay.

Sean tried many times to break his addiction to alcohol, taking part in umpteen programmes and returning to education, but inevitably succumbing again each time.

At one stage he spent around two years with the River of Life Healing Centre and Church outside Dungannon. He worked on projects helping young people and the homeless and went into schools to warn about the dangers of drink and drugs.

Rodger Greenaway from the centre said he made a huge impact.

"Sean would light up the room no matter where he was. He would be speaking sometimes to 100 young people and everyone would by mesmerised by what he was saying," he said.

"He particularly loved Christmas at the centre and would have it looking like Santa's grotto for everyone. Sean was very honest - he was like a wee boy really and everyone here just wanted to mother him."

Those who encountered Sean in hostels, shelters and projects in Belfast also recall a "lovely young man" who could lighten anyone's mood with his presence.

His mother Eileen said when he was sober he did what he could to help others who were homeless, but the tragedy was that he was always unable to help himself.

She said his "life was short but it was very full".

"Sean was a gentleman and wouldn't have hurt anybody," she said.

"He was so witty and loved jokes and fun - one of his best friends described him as like Peter Pan.

"He did so much good for other people but he was lost himself.

"He was an extraordinary young man and we are proud to call him our son."

Sean McAuley's body died on September 22 2018, just a few weeks after he had turned 34.

The large attendance at his funeral and the warm tributes and memories shared by his many friends have provided some comfort about the rich legacy he leaves behind.

Sean is survived by his parents Kieran and Eileen and siblings Claire, Ciaran, Eileen, Gavin, Ryan, Joseph and Michelle.

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Lives Remembered