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GAA Football

Antrim player Patrick Gallagher reflects on GAA sleep out in Belfast

Antrim footballer Patrick Gallagher was overwhelmed by the generosity of people in Belfast during their sleep-out

‘How is Santa going to find me, mummy? We're not in the same place as last week.' – a child with no fixed abode

AFTER a 12-hour shift out on the streets, Patrick Gallagher returned to his home in Glenavy and couldn't get heat into his body.

You could have knocked the Antrim footballer over with a feather when he heard the story about the child with no fixed abode who wondered how on earth Santa would find him on Christmas Eve, for his family were constantly on the move.

Gallagher was one of hundreds of GAA players who decided to sleep out in all the major cities in Ireland on Saturday night to raise awareness of the country's homeless crisis.

At the last count, ‘Gaelic Voices For Change' had raised €185k – with the Belfast branch bringing in €36k – while the bucket collections have yet to be tallied.

“I got an appreciation of what people go through - but it's only one element of it,” explained Gallagher, speaking the day after the sleep out in Belfast.

“Another element of it is a family may have a home but have to constantly move and the kid is asking: ‘How is Santa going to find me, mummy? We're not in the same place as last week. How is Santa going to come with my presents?'

“That was a line that hit me and sums up the uncertainty that children have. People are trying to get jobs but have no fixed abode – so the system needs to be looked at.”

Gallagher was among a party of 50 GAA members who stayed out on the streets of Belfast's city centre on Saturday night.

Gallagher was joined by county team-mates Jack Dowling, Mark Sweeney, Ryan and Conor Murray, while Antrim hurlers Ciaran Johnston and Christy McNaughton took part in the homelessness awareness initiative.

Tyrone footballer Gemma Begley and camog Jane Adams also took part alongside several Slaughtneil players.

“It would have been one of the few weekends the Slaughtneil players had free and they were sleeping out with the rest of us,” Gallagher added.

“We were very lucky because it was actually quite mild on Saturday night compared to last weekend when it was four or five degrees colder, and we were saying to each other: ‘Imagine if we'd done this last week.'

“We'd also the camaraderie of 50 people, whereas a homeless person doesn't have some of the stuff that we had. Sleeping out once was doable because of the amount of us that did it. We got a small glimpse of what people go through night after night after night.”

Asked if he felt empowered or powerless by the experience, Gallagher replied: “In some ways you felt you were making a very small difference and the money we raised for the various charity organisations can do x, y and z with it, so you felt you were doing something concrete.

“We were handing out soup and stew and it is making a difference on the spot but it's not really making a difference long-term.

“I wouldn't say I felt powerless but it's a start and there's a long, long way to go.”

Gallagher tried to get some sleep outside Bedford House in the small hours, but to no avail.

A homeless couple joined them for the night.

“The girl was pregnant, which was horrifying. She was due in eight weeks... They need a house there and then. We couldn't do anything about that. All we could give them was socks, a jacket and soup and stew.”

Gallagher was overwhelmed by the generosity of people when they embarked on bucket collections around the city.

“I've never been a charity collector and you feel awkward asking people for money but so many people stopped and gave us money – people out on their Christmas parties, couples, foreign people.

“There was a guy telling me he plays in a pipe band in an Orange Hall and he gave us £20. He thought it was brilliant to see GAA players out. There was so much generosity from people.”

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