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‘There are a lot of sound people out there’: Amy Huberman, Paul Brady, Joseph O’Connor and more share their stories of kindness from strangers

Random Acts of Kindness Day, which falls today, offers salutary reminder that small gestures can elevate someone else’s mood. Here, several well-known names share their stories

Random Acts Montage  - Rob Doyle
Rob Doyle, author

‘Rather than twist the knife, he offered me words of sympathy, condolence’

When I was 11 years old, football was my life. I followed Manchester United, like my father. One Sunday, we went out to my uncle Frank’s house to watch the big match against Liverpool, the bitter enemy. Frank followed – still follows – Liverpool. When United went one, then two goals behind, my world collapsed. I’d never known such anguish. As I felt tears welling up, I tried desperately to suppress them – how mortifying, to cry at a football match. My uncle Frank, elated at seeing the old adversaries brought to their knees, noticed the tears I was trying to hide. Rather than gloat, twist the knife, or simply keep revelling in the ecstasy of triumph, he reined in his euphoria and offered me words of sympathy, condolence. Even at that age, it struck me as a noble, dignified way for a man to behave. It would be years before I read Albert Camus’s beautiful definition of what it means to be a man: never humiliating anyone.

Random Acts Montage  - Amy Huberman
Amy Huberman, actor and author

‘There are a lot of sound people out there’

This random act of kindness happened only recently. I was so moved by it as it was deeply personal. I had spoken before about regretting not having more of my dad’s coats from when he worked as a fashion designer, even more so after he had passed away in 2022. I was too young to really appreciate them at his peak. All I wanted to wear was purple flecky bomber jackets (it was the 90s I’m sorry!!). This lovely woman I had only spoken to once or twice before, got in touch a few months ago after seeing one of my dad’s coats in her local charity shop and ended up getting it for me before it was gone. It was so thoughtful of her, just so kind, and the coat is even more treasured now as it came into my life in such a lovely way. There are a lot of sound people out there.

Random Acts Montage  - Paul Howard
Paul Howard, author and the creator of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly

‘It makes my day every single time’

You go away on holidays, then you arrive home to find that someone has put milk in your fridge and bread in your cupboard. It makes my day every single time it happens. These days it’s my mother-in-law and father-in-law who do it. But in the past, I’ve come home from the airport to find a sliced pan and a litre of milk waiting for me – and never discovered who, among the handful of people who had keys to my door, had put them there. I think this might be a uniquely Irish act of kindness. An English friend once asked me, “What, would you drop dead if you came home from holidays and you couldn’t have tea and toast?” But tea and toast isn’t the point. It’s just someone’s saying, “Welcome home. We missed you.”

Random Acts Montage  - Katie Hannon
Katie Hannon, RTÉ broadcaster

‘A middle-aged woman leans in and demands to know if I am okay’

It’s snowing and I’m driving an elderly car in a line of traffic crawling up an icy incline in a south Dublin suburb. I attempt to change gears in this car that l’ve never liked driving, but it refuses to co-operate. It takes me a while to accept that the gearbox has chosen this moment to die. I am fighting a rising sense of panic as the car horns get going when there’s a rap on my window. I roll it down expecting an earful. A middle-aged woman with immaculate hair and make-up sporting – I swear – a long fur coat, leans in and demands to know if I am okay. I explain my predicament. She swings into action and orders the occupants of several cars to get out and help. They meekly obey and within minutes a small posse of strangers is pushing my car through the snow and ice and off the road. Car safely secured she then insists I accept a lift home. Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear full-length fur. (Fake, I hope).

Random Acts Montage  - Joseph O'Connor
Joseph O’Connor, author

‘This act of trust and kindness will remain with me a long time’

Three kilometres from home, the yellow fuel light flicked on. I drove into the garage, filled up, went to pay. My card was declined. I’d no cash. “Not my problem,” the manager said. “€80, bud.”

“I’ll go to a machine and get it,” I said. “Be back in half an hour.”

“If you leave without paying, I’ll call the guards.”

“But I don’t have €80 on me.”

“Not my problem.”

A middle-aged man behind me in the queue said, “I’ll pay.” “But you don’t know him from Adam,” said the manager. “That’s up to me,” said the stranger, handing over €80. “I’ll wait here,” he said to me. “Drop it back to me in a few minutes.” I drove to a machine, got €80, drove back to the garage, handed over the money gratefully. The stranger and I shook hands and he drove off into the rain. This act of trust and kindness will remain with me a long time. As will the faint but unmistakable look of resentful disappointment in the manager’s otherwise beautiful eyes.

Random Acts Montage  - Jan Brierton
Jan Brierton, poet

‘A simple hello and a gentle smile… it shifted my mood’

Weekday mornings last year, the usual scramble. 7am: rouse the sleepers. 7.10: breakfast on the table. 7.15: make lunch. 7.20: dishes in the sink. 7.30: clean teeth. 7.45: cycle to school. 8am: a hug (and a kiss if I’m lucky) at the pedestrian crossing. Then turn around and head home to prepare myself for the day.

Every morning, no matter how dark, wet or cold, there she was. This lady with a fluffy little dog running around at her feet most times on a lead, sometimes running free at the green in the cul de sac I passed through on my bike. We’d acknowledged each other each morning in a shy kind of way. We might catch each other’s eye, we’d never ignore each other and yet we never passed a word between us.

I didn’t realise just how far from myself I had got in the early months of 2023. A fog had descended and sometimes I really wanted to be invisible. But every day I had to shepherd my son to school no matter how much I didn’t feel up to it. And one dark morning in early February she stopped when we caught each other’s eye as we often did.

Her random act of kindness; a simple hello and a gentle smile. We spoke for a minute, I can’t even remember what about, but her “hello” took me out of my head and shifted my mood. And as the mornings got brighter so too did our hellos and I think maybe our moods too. Sometimes we waved at each other, as the weeks went on, we even shared our names, so the morning greeting was now “Hello Jan!” “Hello Lorena!” That simple act of kindness, one person, one smile, one hello, lifted me when I needed lifting. Thank you, Lorena, x.

Random Acts Montage  - Paul Brady
Paul Brady, singer-songwriter

‘Next minute Mary tapped my shoulder and said, ‘Look who’s here!’

I was approaching a big roundie birthday a few years back and keenly anticipating an upcoming party, to be shared with a long-time friend of mine whose similar roundie birthday fell in the same week. Much as I was looking forward to the event, my wife Mary and I were lamenting the fact that, while our daughter Sarah in the UK was able to make the trip home, our son Colm, living in New Zealand, wasn’t going to be there. The big day arrived and everyone was milling around, hugging and catching up. Next minute Mary tapped my shoulder and said, ‘Look who’s here!’ I looked around and there was our son Colm! Apparently I’d already walked past him and didn’t see him. My friend of the shared birthday had secretly contacted Colm, organised and paid for his travel from New Zealand so he could be at the party and never mentioned a word. I was blown away. What a wonderful thing to do!

Random Acts Montage  - John Boyne
John Boyne, novelist

‘He extended the hand of friendship’

In mid-2003, I was at a low ebb. By chance, I happened to hear a radio interview with Anthony Minghella, whose film, The Talented Mr Ripley, had affected me deeply. A young writer who’d published two unsuccessful novels and then been dropped by my publisher, I wrote to him, asking for advice. Incredibly, he invited me to London, reading and offering notes on Crippen, the novel I was working on. His support helped me sell the book to Penguin. An Oscar-winning director with no reason to support an unknown Irish writer, he extended the hand of friendship. Our last communication came in 2008, when I invited him to the premiere of the film adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Tragically, he died that year, aged 54. Without Anthony, my career would not have happened. In his memory, I’ve tried to pay that forward in my own life, doing all I can to help young writers.

Random Acts Montage  - PJ Gallagher
PJ Gallagher, comedian, broadcaster, and author

‘One night I was having a particularly tough time’

When I went into St Pat’s for the first time, it was probably one of the most intimidating scenarios of my life. Not only because I was so unwell, but just walking into this big, unknown place. I didn’t know what a mental hospital looked like, where to sit, what to do. One night I was having a particularly tough time. One of the other patients came over and gave me one of those Italian-style biscuits you get with coffee. She had a chat with me and I went off to bed that night feeling happier. Every single night I was there, for two months, she gave me those biscuits. On my last day when I was leaving she came over and emptied a whole load of them into my bag so I could have still them with my coffee at home. Such a small thing but it made such a difference. It turns out the gift of cheap, bargain-basement biscotti can do wonders for your mental health.