An ever-present fixture on UCD’s campus for years, Michael Byrne (affectionately known by students and staff as ‘Old Man Belfield’) passed away on January 11, 2021.
Beloved by students and staff alike, Michael Byrne’s absence will be felt dearly by those who saw him around campus during their time in university. In the wake of his passing, many within the university voiced their respects and adoration for Michael, with students, alumni and staff gathering virtually to attend his funeral service via UCD’s Youtube channel on January 20, 2021.
Nevertheless, for a man who has had such a mythic role in the university experience of thousands of UCD students over recent years, Michael Byrne’s memory should be honoured long-term, and students should be given the chance to celebrate the memory of ‘Old Man Belfield’.
With the infamous ‘egg’, along with other structures and statues scattered around the campus, UCD is no stranger to commemorating its most beloved figures on campus grounds, and there is no reason why the university should not place a physical memorial piece on campus in honour of Michael Byrne. A physical structure on campus in memory of Michael Byrne would allow students who saw Michael during their time at UCD to celebrate his memory, as well as encourage the story of ‘Old Man Belfield’ to be passed onto students in future years. The tale of ‘Old Man Belfield’ should not be forgotten with his passing, and a physical reminder of him and the impact he had on students here during his lifetime can give future students a chance to learn about one of UCD’s most beloved characters.
However, the unfortunate passing of Michael Byrne also presents UCD with the opportunity to make real change for the homeless community around Dublin. UCD’s various student-led charity events and days throughout the year have fostered a real sense of community and giving amongst staff and students alike. Be it the annual RAG Week or the various charity days organised by College Officers of the UCDSU, students are encouraged to give what they can to meaningful causes that make a difference to the less fortunate.
Considering that Michael Byrne was himself homeless, a fitting tribute to his memory would be to commemorate a day in the student calendar in honour of ‘Old Man Belfield’ where the UCD community can make donations to various homeless shelters, food banks and charities around Dublin in Michael Byrne’s name, as well as engage with and help the homeless community around them. UCD must, at the very least, explore the possibility of making January 11th, the day of his passing, ‘Michael Byrne Day’, in honour of a man who made the university experience so unique for so many.
Another possibility for UCD is to establish a foundation in Michael Byrne’s name. Whilst actively helping the homeless community does not strictly fall under UCD’s remit, the university’s willingness to extend its support to Michael Byrne makes it evident that UCD has both the means and the desire to help in some capacity. The simplest way for UCD to do so would be through a one-time donation, but we would like to see a long-term foundation established in Michael Byrne’s name where students, staff and alumni can donate.
However, for this to happen it is imperative that UCD provide a detailed plan on how they could support such a foundation, what they intend to do with the money, and how donations can be made. Considering the size of UCD’s student body, as well as the vast number of alumni and staff who have also encountered Michael Byrne around campus, there is the potential for UCD to establish a foundation in his name that could impact the lives of so many homeless people around Dublin.
Nevertheless, this responsibility should not just lie with the University Management Team. We are also encouraging student societies and the UCDSU to explore what role they can play in preserving the memory of ‘Old Man Belfield’ for future students.
Not much was known about Michael Byrne, but he was a man who made the UCD experience so unique for so many. A mainstay on campus for years until his unfortunate passing, ‘Old Man Belfield’ deserves to be remembered and beloved by UCD and its students for years to come. He may no longer be around on campus, but the memory of him remains, and UCD must honour it appropriately.