A LONE teddy bear and a nightlight attached to Shannon Bridge in Limerick City is the work of a man who suffered personal tragedy and hopes his simple symbol will save lives.
Beside the cute bear is a notice displaying the number of support services for anyone who may find themselves in a dark place, or feeling drawn to the water.
Life-saving teddies have been placed at sites all over the country, usually in places people go if they are struggling. They have even travelled to the United States.
Dublin-born Mick Ryan lost his son, Sean Paul (22), to suicide 19 years ago.
In his memory, Mick started placing bears, a solar light, and a notice inviting people to call him if they need.
“It never leaves you but he’s inspiring me to do this and try to help other people, to save lives.”
Mick says he has received hundreds of calls to date, all times of day and night.
“I tell people I’m not a counsellor, just and ordinary fella. But it can help for them to have someone to talk to,” he told the Limerick Post.
“Sometimes they’re on the phone and they don’t want to give their name, but after talking for a while they will. Sometimes it’s just knowing that someone will listen that helps.”
Since he placed his first teddy on a bridge and started a Facebook page to spread his drive to shine a little light in the darkness, he has been contacted by people from all over the country.
Mick has been co-operating with support organisations like Samaritans and Pieta House, whose numbers are placed beside the teddies.
Despite the amount of pointless vandalism that generally occurs, Mick notes that he is not surprised that his teddies go unmolested.
“Everyone knows someone who has been affected by suicide. Even when there are two or three young lads and one of them’s showing off in drink, one of the others will tell him not to touch that teddy, that it’s there to help and that they know someone who died by suicide.”
A group of bikers spotted the teddy and have taken the idea to the United States, where they place the bears at suitable locations along their routes.
“I got a call one day from a man to thank me for saving his son’s life. He said his son saw the teddy and went home to tell his parents what he had intended to do. Now they know what’s going on and they are able to help him”.
In the days after Sean Paul died, a white dove began visiting Mick’s home, flying into the garage where the young man lost his life.
Taking it as a sign, Mick started a site (seanpauldoves.com), on which he invites people to have a dove or doves released in memory of a loved one in return for a donation of €50 to Pieta House.
“I know Sean Paul is still with us. It’s because of him that this is happening. He’s sending me out there to do what I do.
“If there are a hundred teddies and they save one life a year, that’s a hundred lives saved. Not only that, it’s a hundred families that are saved from terrible grief.”
Anyone who would like to know more about placing a teddy, or releasing doves, can contact Mike here