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Death of founder of Aisling Return to Ireland Project

Tributes have been paid to the co-founder of the Aisling Return to Ireland project, John Glynn, who died recently (20 August).

Aisling Return to Ireland Project founder John Glynn (right)

John was well known in the community for working with those struggling with alcohol addiction for many years.

He worked with the London Irish Centre and set up a drop-in at Cricklewood Homeless Concern as it was known then.

He set up the Aisling Project in 1994 which to this day supports vulnerable Irish people in the UK who are isolated and in need.

The Aisling Return to Ireland initiative enables many to visit Ireland who wouldn’t normally have the means to do so and reconnect with families and friends who they may not have seen in decades. It also helps long-term emigrants resettle in Ireland.

Aisling announced the sad news via social media saying: “It’s with great sadness we must report that our founder and inspiration John Glynn has died.”

His Aisling co-founder Alex McDonnell paid tribute: “Many people lost a good friend this week when John Glynn passed away. He had suffered through a painful illness and his passing was a release in the end for his family and all his many loved ones in particular the team here.

“John had been a community worker in the Irish and homeless communities in London for many years and was known all over town as the man to go to if you were in trouble, particularly with alcohol problems.

“In certain parts, Kilburn and Cricklewood for instance he had an appropriate nickname. When one of the Irish street drinkers went missing word would go around that he was in rehab courtesy of John ‘The Body Snatcher’.

“This was not a rare occurrence, John had amazing success with the hardest, most entrenched alcoholics in London. He had many great qualities essential to his chosen vocation as an alcohol worker: he was compassionate and caring but he was also stubborn, persistent and loyal. I never knew him to give up on anyone and hundreds of people owe their lives (and their livers) to him.

“John formed a rewarding partnership with the Kairos Community Trust in South East London who would book in so many of John’s clients for detox and rehab on his say so. It was a place very suited to John where no one in need was ever turned away however hardcore and they had amazing success with the toughest most dedicated drinkers, particularly the Irish clients who recognised and benefitted from the community spirit that makes the place such a beacon of hope.

“I met John in 1994 at the Irish Book Fair at the London Irish Centre. He was with Deirdre Robinson both of whom were community workers at the centre. I was working at Arlington House, a large homeless hostel in Camden Town home to 250 Irish men out of the 400 living there. We discovered that we had a lot in common, working with so many Irish people living lives of desperate exile. We hatched a plan to start trying to get some of them home to Ireland and the Aisling Project was born.

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“Over the next 28 years we took hundreds of long term Irish men and women to their homeland for a holiday and a break away from their lives lived on the edge in London. Many were reunited with their families after so long away and the psychological benefits were enormous. Emigration had been a disaster for many young people who left Ireland with such hope only to find themselves old at forty, no longer any use to the subbies, without any support, no family and a social and eventual chemical dependence on alcohol.

“John recognised that they was a clear correlation between all these factors and homelessness which hit the Irish in London hard in the 1980s and 90s.

“He set up the Saturday Club at Cricklewood Homeless Concern which was a drop-in attended by hundreds of local Irish people and where along with food and chat John found a vast reservoir of need to which he could respond. At night he also went on outreach soup runs into the centre of London’s cardboard cities on the Strand, behind the Savoy and Lincoln’s Inn where the posh people complained of tripping over the homeless on their way to the opera.

“All this and Aisling too. It is like John Glynn lived several lives, all of them good and yet he had so much more to give. Even in his last days he rang around all of the Aisling people who depended on hearing from him with a kind word or a stern rebuke for falling off the wagon. No judgements but plenty of love and encouragement. There is no one like him, the irreplaceable John Glynn.”

Safe Home Ireland said: “Our sincere condolences on the sad loss of a very special gentleman. John was one of the most kind, patient, compassionate, non-judgmental, man known. He made time for everyone regardless of status or position. He cared passionately and gave generously. We will fondly remember John forever – Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Kairos Director Mossie Lyons said: “It was with deep sadness that we learnt of the death of John Glynn on Saturday, 20 August.

“John’s friendship with Kairos extended back over the 30 years of the charity’s work with homeless people suffering from addiction.

“There are people who owe their life to John’s care, support and love. Co-founder of the Aisling Return to Ireland trip 28 years ago, John organised a ‘dry trip’ for Kairos residents each year. Many reconnected with family, friends and places of their youth on these trips. Through his work with Brent Community Alcohol Service (BCAS) and the London Irish Centre there are people who continue to thrive and enjoy life. Rest in peace, John, and our condolences to your wife, Kay, and family.”

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