Ash Gomez remembers Michael Byrne, who died January 11th 2021
Like any other student, I had noticed "Old Man Belfield" wandering around campus very quickly into my time at UCD. I initially felt very sad for him as I watched him walk slowly around campus, head slightly bent down and rarely making eye contact. But as I realised that he was a staple of campus life, I also felt extremely curious to understand who he was and why he spent his time at UCD.
It wasn't until my third year that I learned his name was Michael. I began working for the Students' Union shops, where Michael stopped in for meals. Everyday around lunch time, he would stand by the drinks fridge and patiently wait for the staff to notice him. Then, one of us would fetch him his coffee, sandwich, bag of crisps, and a chocolate bar. He would give a nod as his items were handed over but say nothing, and then be on his way.
I had hoped that this small connection to Michael might offer more insight into the mystery that surrounded him, but my coworkers knew very little about him as well. Even the seasoned employees who had clocked decades of working at the shops claimed that he had simply always been around. No one was quite sure if he could not speak or preferred not to, but we certainly never heard a word out of him. One of my colleagues attempted to gift him some gloves once, and Michael firmly shook his head at the sight of them. Despite all of the missing pieces to understanding Michael, a few facts about him became very clear: he valued his privacy, he was content with his life, and he considered UCD to be his home.
If some good came from his passing, I am glad that students now know his name. Although "Old Man Belfield" is an affectionate title, I much preferred when I was able to refer to him as Michael. It made me think of how someone must have picked that name out for him, and how he probably held it close to his chest, like he did with all of his life at UCD. I hope that Michael would not be embarrassed by the publicity that his passing has garnered, and instead understand that the students appreciated him in the same quiet way that he lived his life.
Rest in peace, Michael Byrne.