Michael Clifford: Stephen Corrigan was as invisible in death as he was in life

In one strand of Greek philosophy, a person is not fully dead until burial. By that standard, Stephen Corrigan was caught between life and death for the nine years he lay in a bush a few metres from a busy thoroughfare, writes Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford: Stephen Corrigan was as invisible in death as he was in life

In one strand of Greek philosophy, a person is not fully dead until burial. By that standard, Stephen Corrigan was caught between life and death for the nine years he lay in a bush a few metres from a busy thoroughfare, writes Michael Clifford

In one strand of Greek philosophy, a person is not fully dead until burial. By that standard, Stephen Corrigan was caught between life and death for the nine years he lay in a bush a few metres from a busy thoroughfare.

Stephen went missing in November 2011. His skeletal remains were found on April 9 last, in a small housing complex, Lissenfield, just off the Rathmines Rd in Dublin. The discovery occurred during the cutting back of bushes and low-lying trees that had long been left unattended. This week the remains were positively identified.

He was 47 when he was last seen alive. He had mental health difficulties and
was staying in a hostel by night. He was a frequent visitor to the Alice Leahy Trust, a daycare facility in the city centre for those without homes. Dropping in, he might have a wash, or seek help with a minor medical issue.

Frequently he would sit in the common area in the centre, drinking tea in the company of men and women who existed in the same sphere as himself. The room can often be lightened by humour or
quirky personalities. Some among them draw warmth from the company and store it away for the cold hours back outside.

According to Alice Leahy, Stephen wasn’t one to engage in banter. His
personality and condition, not to mind conditioning, kept him quiet. He was never any trouble.

“He did use our service from time to time and like many he was loner,” says Ms Leahy.

“We meet people who are even afraid to sleep in a bed. Some will say that it’s due to a psychiatric condition but for some people the pain of living can be unimaginable.”

Nobody knows how Stephen ended up in Lissenfield. It is entirely plausible that he just drifted in there from the main road a few metres away.

Maybe he was disorientated. Maybe he just wanted to lie down. Maybe he wanted the noise in his head to stop. What we do know is that a person living on the margins, harbouring, as so many do, mental health difficulties, can behave in a manner alien to the rest of society.

After he disappeared he was missed by the small number of people within his orbit.

Alice Leahy searched Palmerstown Park, which he was known to frequent. Psychiatric nurses who knew him also made efforts to locate him.

The gardaí kept trying. His case featured on RTÉ’s Crimecall. And then as the months rolled into years, hope took flight. There was no more anybody could do but wonder what had befallen him.

In 2015 his mother provided a DNA sample to the gardaí to help in their
efforts. Sadly, she died later that year without ever knowing what happened to her son.

In all likelihood, within days, or perhaps hours, of having disappeared from the view of those who knew him, Stephen Corrigan was breathing no more, lost in the undergrowth of foliage, just as
he had been lost in life.

Ms Leahy reflected this week that nearly every day over the last nine years she walked within metres of where he lay, just off the Rathmines Rd.

There is a possibility that he was the victim of a violent attack and his body
disposed in the bushes. While gardaí have as yet no reason to believe so, violence is a constant threat out on the margins.

Stephen’s temporary resting place was heavy with the symbolism of a society which had no place or role for him. Lissenfield, now a small estate of high-end apartments and townhouses, was once the family seat of Richard Mulcahy,
right-hand man to Michael Collins during the War of Independence.

Across the road sits the imposing
building of the Church Of Mary Immaculate Refuge of Sinners. The church is crowned with a famous green dome,
symbolising a beacon for the masses at a time when the church’s writ ruled.

Back in those days, the Stephen
Corrigans were locked away as an
embarrassment, an arrangement with which society in general was largely complicit.

Just over the fence from Lissenfield is a splendid all-weather rugby pitch attached to St Mary’s College, one of the State’s
fee-paying schools. Would the dead man’s chances of achieving some peace or
contentment have been much better had he had the privilege of a private education?

Ms Leahy this week traced to the tender years of life the damage that propels some to the margins of society.

“For so many people the pain of their childhood experiences have never been expressed or dealt with appropriately,” she says.

People from any walk of life can die in awful circumstances, their bodies hidden or taken away. Murder victims have been disposed of in isolated places, like mountains or infrequently visited corners of rural Ireland. The bodies of drowning
victims are sometimes never recovered, the sea refusing to give them up for a
decent burial.

There is, however, something very poignant about a man who was invisible while on the streets laying there just yards from bustling life for so many years.

It’s as if society at large kept walking past him in death as it had in life, regarding him as a potential threat or an embarrassment, an extended arm attached to a paper cup.

There are things that can be done for the Stephen Corrigans out there.

The lack of mental health services in the community is a scandal. Last February the Mental Health Commission
published a report pointing out that there was “an almost total absence” of community mental health services across the State.

Basic supports such as crisis houses, high-support hostels, specialist rehabilitative units, and psychiatric intensive care units are simply not there.

This huge hole in services was noted in the ‘Vision For Change’ document back in 2006, but little has changed. In such a
milieu, it is those at the margins, highly vulnerable and dependant, who suffer the most.

Other supports are also required but the political will to ease the pain of people on the margins appears to be driven only by the latest outrage or tragedy. Much wringing of hands follows for a period and then everybody goes back to concentrating on “the issues” that affect society in general.

Stephen Corrigan’s remains were moved soon after discovery last April. He is now in the city morgue, another staging post on his journey from life to a final resting place.

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