It’s half-time on Thursday night in the Aviva. The buzz around the ground is notably subdued apart from the raucous corner of Swiss fans. Thomas Hynes is wandering around the pitch, dodging the sprinklers to avoid getting his suit wet, waiting to appear on the stadium’s big screens.
An hour before kick-off Hynes was presented with the John Sherlock Service to Football Award. He received this award for his dedication to using football as a tool to break down barriers in society. But with the first 45 minutes being rather drab, anyone who’s familiar with Thomas will know his focus is on Ireland’s shortcomings, rather than the award he is on the pitch for.
“I could do a better job than all of them down on that pitch. Look at the age of me,” he joked before being whisked down from the posh seats and in front of a camera.
Most people win these types of awards when they retire. Thomas Hynes isn’t like most people, though.
As he’s standing down on the Lansdowne turf being applauded, it’s impossible for the mind to not meander back a few days to when Hynes himself was doing the applauding. However, the venue was less grandiose than the Aviva Stadium.
Hynes was on his feet applauding comedic duo Totally Wired off the stage in Mountjoy Prison. They were the headline act at a comedy show organised by the Bohemian Foundation for the people in custody in the prison.
'Let's just have fun'
The Totally Wired lads were nervous standing beneath the stained-glass window in the prison chapel. But after that first joke had everyone laughing, they grew in confidence.
“There was a little bit of nerves but then when the first big laugh came I went, ‘ah, let’s just have fun,’” Emmet Quinn, one half of Totally Wired, said.
Lorcan Hughes, the other half of the duo, said that he thought he might recognise some faces from where he grew up.
“If it had been about 10 or 15 years ago then I would have recognised faces. I made sure I said I was from Crumlin so they didn’t kill me,” Hughes joked.
Away from the jokes, both Quinn and Hughes insisted that they jumped at the opportunity to perform in Mountjoy. This gig in Mountjoy was their ninth in the space of a week and they enjoyed it the most.
“I would definitely do this again. The best part was when one guy came up after and said: ‘Man you brightened up my day’ and for that, it was totally worth it,” Quinn said.
Lorcan Hughes said, “We’re both totally buzzing after it. A guy came up to me and said, ‘I haven’t laughed that much in ages’ and it just made me feel worth it.”
The experience of playing a gig in Mountjoy is something the Totally Wired duo are keen to repeat. Lorcan Hughes explained that the people in Mountjoy “want to be addressed.”
“It’s a real Dublin thing that they want to be roasted. They want to be addressed because you can’t go in there and pretend that you’re not in Mountjoy. We would definitely do this again,” he said.
Hynes is always quick to reinforce the point that bringing the outside world into the prison is central to the voluntary work of the Bohemian Foundation succeeding. It helps to destigmatise the conversation around prison and people in custody.
Challenging the narrative
This works both ways, according to Thomas Hynes. He believes that for the people in custody it lets them see there are supports for them upon release.
For the public, it helps them to challenge the shallow, one-dimensional element that dominates any discussion of the Irish Prison Service.
It must be said that Hynes and the Bohemian Foundation are aided and encouraged at all times by the governors of Mountjoy Prison - Eddie Mullins and Donnacha Walsh.
They are open-minded with every proposal the Foundation brings to them and none of this would be possible without their support, Hynes says. He adds that by working in tandem, it is possible to change lives.
Dr Dana Walrath, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at the Global Brain Health Institute, works to destigmatise Alzheimer's disease and dementia. She was in the audience in Mountjoy and drew comparisons between her work and that of Hynes and the Bohemian Foundation.
“My work is about dementia, stigma and dehumanisation and I think prisoners are people. Look at the word we use. We call them ‘prisoner’ instead of incarcerated people,” she explained.
“They’re people who’ve had so much of their identity stripped away. That’s why when I first met Thomas and he asked me to volunteer in the prison, I thought ‘absolutely,’” she said.
“This aligns with a lot of the other things that I’m doing and it’s beautiful what’s happening here. Thinking about what happens to people who have to spend their whole life in prison, what that does for their health and how we can make it so their lives aren’t lost. That they can really be useful and contribute. They’ve got so much talent,” Dr Walrath said.
If one thing is certain it’s that Thomas Hynes won’t stop his voluntary work now that it has been recognised with an award. He built the Bohemian Foundation on the principle that they don’t start anything that has a definitive end point. With many more people to help, Thomas isn’t going away any time soon.