‘Keyno’ Keane McLoughlin from Kilbarrack with one of his pieces submitted for the alternative Valentine’s exhibition at Liberty Hall. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Celebrating the ‘unloved’ at Dublin’s alternative Valentine’s event


Keane McLoughlin, aka Keano, is 19 and wearing a slogan t-shirt with the words “hugs not drugs”. He shows me his painting, full of colour and photos, of the special person in his life, his little sister Robyn.

Keano didn’t do art at school, but loves it now he’s on a rehabilitation course with Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme (KCCP), and “I’m good at it now”. He starting drinking and smoking weed at 13, but he’s been off them for a couple of years. “It’s changed my life.” He’s hoping to get a job, as a plumber or an electrician. How about Valentine’s day? “I don’t like it. I don’t see the point in it. You can show love to people on another day.” His other painting on display is about homelessness, with the words “Everybody needs help sometimes”.

This is an alternative Valentine’s Day event, reaching out to people who are homeless or have mental health difficulties and the explosion of activity by KCCP participants in Dublin’s Liberty Hall has music, film and art, and an exhibition “celebrating the unloved”.

Over in the corner Nick Costello is talking to a group before leading Qui Gong and in another room they’re showing short films; the sound of someone singing wafts out. There’s a cheesy corner with “easy singles” of chat-up lines jotted on cheese slices. At a table Patricia O’Hanlon is showing Joanna Dunne, Sean Kelly, Aishling Byrne and Ger Molloy how Vimala Rodgers’ handwriting can change your life: “writing reflects where we are. Are we going to upgrade it? It’s empowering.” Byrne doesn’t chose the B in her name, so she’s losing energy - “does that mean if I close the B, all my money will stay with me?”!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/image.jpg
‘Cheesy’ chat-up lines written on ‘EasiSingles’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Marian Clarke co-ordinates the hive of KCCP activity – 39 people on fulltime rehab programmes, children in afterschool, 147 in counselling last year, and community development. People drop in and out today, many whose lives have been helped by KCCP.

Derek Williams says Valentine’s is “difficult enough for most people, even if you’re in love, when you fall out of love it’s worse!” A wood sculptor and acupuncturist , he likes to work with people who can’t afford acupuncture through KCCP and Merchant’s Quay (where one of his wood carvings is displayed). His own life used to be “kinda heavy”. “I feel loved now. I didn’t in the past.”

People shouldn’t jump into a relationship for comfort or because of loneliness. You need to find comfort in yourself first, then others

Joe Bradshaw is very chatty, and shows off his paintings – of a bridge and a sunset. Aged 54, he’s a recovering alcoholic. After a tough childhood, an alcoholic father, suicide attempts and addiction, he is now 12 years off the drink. Looking at his paintings “brings me back to calmness”. He was in a bad place for years, he says, but now he looks forward to every morning in the rehabilitation course where his group does maths, art, computers, acupuncture, English and history. Today he says, “I’m a positive person”.!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/image.jpg
Nathan Batt, winner of the National Family Support Art competition. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Danny Blake is a volunteer with KCCP. “I got so much out of the programme [a few years ago]. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. It’s like college for people who don’t have the headspace to go there. People find hidden talents.” How about Valentine’s Day? – “no comment. I love myself. I didn’t for a long time, which is key. I would have been heavy on the drink, which doesn’t make a relationship healthy. People shouldn’t jump into a relationship for comfort or because of loneliness. You need to find comfort in yourself first, then others.”

He’s 28, “still kinda young”, and talks about helping those younger “so they don’t make the same mistakes”. KCCP’s teenage evening drop-in is great, with activities, and a pool table. “We try to keep them in, so they’re off the street. They can have their banter in that room, not outside.” KCCP is “like a big family. Some people feel more at home there than at home.”

Tiernan Williams is manager of the reachout project and an integrative psychotherapist. “Our philosophy is looking after people from the cradle to the grave. So with eviction in particular, you’re looking at the whole family effect. We try to cut it off at the pass.” It’s an integrated approach, with drug rehab, supporting parents, reaching out to young kids who may be attracted to gangs to create a “pro-social environment”.

“People dealing with drink or drugs can be very self-focused on their problems. Add mental health issues – and death, and debt, are usually around the corner. We’re trying to draw people out.”