A cut above the rest: Sa­lon of­fers help­ing hand

Irish Examiner - - News - Olivia Kelle­her

Hav­ing a hair­cut is of­ten an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for a long-time home­less per­son. When life is about sur­viv­ing the el­e­ments, hav­ing your hair washed and styled can have a ben­e­fit to your spirit which far out­weighs how you look in the sa­lon mirror.

Cork sa­lon owner Joseph Byrne, who re­cently spent a day cut­ting hair for the home­less, says he has seen peo­ple get vis­i­bly up­set dur­ing the cut­ting process. Many times they are liv­ing a life de­void of touch.

“I had an ex­pe­ri­ence with a man last year where he got very emo­tional be­cause he got his hair sham­pooed. It wasn’t the fact that he was get­ting his hair cut. It was the phys­i­cal con­tact. He was say­ing, ‘I haven’t had this for so long.’ The warmth of the place and the girl wash­ing his hair. I didn’t com­pre­hend all that be­fore.”

Joseph, owner of Joseph’s Hair Sa­lon, says ul­ti­mately in life, we all crave “a bit of TLC”. “When you are do­ing their hair it is ther­a­peu­tic. I am chat­ting away. Peo­ple of­ten tell their story. I get lost with them. They get lost with me and we for­get ev­ery­thing for 20 to 25 min­utes. It is im­por­tant for me that peo­ple feel safe.”

Joseph and his staff at his sa­lon on Glasheen Rd in Cork spent a day cut­ting hair for home­less peo­ple and vul­ner­a­ble women and chil­dren im­pacted by do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Dozens of peo­ple had their hair styled.

Joseph in­sists that home­less­ness does not nec­es­sar­ily mean peo­ple on the streets. To him the term also ap­plies to in­di­vid­u­als in emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“I was in a place re­cently where they had three dou­ble bunk beds in a tiny room and there was a com­mu­nal shower. They are peo­ple with­out a home. They might have a roof over their head but they don’t have a home.”

Mr Byrne says one of the great plea­sures of the day in­volves cut­ting hair for women who are in vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tions. They aren’t get­ting their hair styled on a reg­u­lar ba­sis them­selves and are in­stead plough­ing their scant re­sources into their kids. He de­rives great sat­is­fac­tion from pam­per­ing these women.

How­ever, he ad­mits he has to bury his feel­ings of sor­row when he is cut­ting the hair of young­sters who have been through tough times.

Joseph says it’s im­por­tant to em­pha­sise that the day wasn’t a char­ity event.

“They are not com­ing to a char­ity event. They are com­ing in to a sa­lon to be looked af­ter. But they are of us, just in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

“The other thing to stress is that this isn’t just for Christ­mas be­cause Christ­mas comes and goes. I don’t want peo­ple go­ing in to Jan­uary think­ing ‘that’s it for an­other year’.

“So what I nor­mally do is I have peo­ple in dur­ing the year but the pay­ing cus­tomers wouldn’t know. Even some­times the staff wouldn’t know that peo­ple aren’t pay­ing be­cause I give out vouch­ers. We have com­mu­nion kids in and so on.”

There was a fes­tive en­vi­ron­ment at the sa­lon with the six staff mem­bers giv­ing out se­lec­tion boxes to peo­ple who pre­sented for a hair­cut. Flan­nery’s bar across the road also pro­vided food and drink com­pletely free of charge.

Among those who ar­rived at the sa­lon for a hair­cut was High Hopes choir mem­ber and lo­cal rap­per Jimmy B. Jimmy B (Jimmy O’Brien) led the im­promptu Christ­mas “sing-song” while treat­ing staff and clients to his own orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion.

Jimmy has been heav­ily in­volved in the choir do­ing “a load of gigs” in re­cent years.

“We were in Brus­sels. We were in Lour­des. We were nearly all over the world. We were in the Áras. I am for­ever meet­ing that man (Pres­i­dent Michael D Higgins.) Our coun­try is in good hands with him. We have new mem­bers in the choir all the time. I am go­ing strong look­ing for­ward to the Christ­mas.”

Jimmy paid trib­ute to Caitri­ona Twomey of Cork Penny Din­ners who not only helps the home­less but who has, on oc­ca­sion, been known to as­sist him in writ­ing a song.

He says life is on an up­one ward curve for him and jokes that he is be­com­ing a bit of a lo­cal celebrity.

“I was out­side Elec­tric (bar, on South Mall) with the choir one day and some­how ended up on Neil Pren­dev­ille! It’s all good. It’s pos­i­tive.”

Mean­while, staff at the sa­lon will con­tinue to col­lect items for the home­less and peo­ple in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sit­u­a­tions in the com­ing weeks.

Joseph has ap­pealed to mem­bers of the pub­lic to hand in do­na­tions to his sa­lon in Glasheen. “It is ba­sic things like tooth­paste and tooth­brushes.

“If some­one leaves a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sit­u­a­tion, they have noth­ing. They of­ten don’t even have py­ja­mas. We will take items up to Christ­mas and be­yond. We just want to help. My staff here are great and the pub­lic are amaz­ing.”

Pic­tures: David Keane

Owner Joseph Byrne busy at work dur­ing the spe­cial hair cut­ting day for the home­less for Christ­mas at Joseph’s Hair Sa­lon, Glasheen, Cork.

Joseph Byrne, third right, and Pat Mur­ray of Flan­nery’s Bar, sec­ond left, with staff Darren Kilkenny, Catherine Deasy, Karen Stan­ton, Melissa Con­lon, Aoife O’Car­roll, An­drea O’Sul­li­van, and Ja­nis Casey

Aoife O’Car­roll, chat­ting with a cus­tomer dur­ing the spe­cial day at Joseph’s Hair Sa­lon.

An­drea O’Sul­li­van on duty at Joseph’s Hair Sa­lon for the spe­cial day.

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