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St Brigid's Church in the lower east side of Manhattan where Grace Farrell died of exposure

Homeless Irish woman freezes to death in New York City

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St Brigid's Church in the lower east side of Manhattan where Grace Farrell died of exposure

Read more: Remembering Grace: A personal account from an old Irish friend

Grace Farrell, 35, an Irish woman who came to New York with big dreams of a career in art was found dead from exposure in front of St. Brigid’s Church -- a church founded by Irish immigrants in the 1840s -- in the Lower East Village section of Manhattan on Sunday morning.

Farrell, who had slept though the bitterly cold night wrapped in thin blankets that provided her no protection from the biting wind, apparently died from exposure. A homeless friend named Tony, whom she had shared a meal with the night before, reportedly discovered her lifeless body at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, according to the New York Daily News. New York Daily News.

She is believed to be the first person to die of the cold in New York this winter.

Farrell’s body was discovered in an alcove area adjacent to St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B, a church that was founded by Irish people fleeing the Famine. After the discovery the police taped off the area on Avenue B between St. Brigid's Church and the next door school where homeless people often seek shelter during the night.

Farrell, originally from Co. Cork, arrived in the U.S. in 1993 at the age of 17 with a plan to study art here and make a name for herself in the city. But a growing alcohol dependency and a failed abusive marriage left her estranged from husband and son, who is now thought to be about nine years old.

Farrell’s acquaintances added that she often told them her mother lives in the Bronx. But Farrell’s former life seemed far away from her more recent one of sleeping rough in Tompkins Square Park and scrounging meals. In recent years she became a well-known face in the area.

Patrick Moloney, a Melkite priest  who ministers in the area said there were many similar cases “There are a couple of girls deep into the abuse of prescription drugs, OxyContin and codeine, making cocktails,” he said. “This is not the first time we’ve had a frozen person. There’s one young man, I’ve seen him next to death, and he won’t go in,”he told Jim Dwyer of The New York Times.

Orla Kelleher, the executive director of the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers and also a member of the Irish Volunteers for the Homeless organization, said the homeless problem in New York is getting worse due to the recession.

“We have seen a noticeable rise in the number of homeless people availing of our services this year. They’d be people of all ages, from young people to people in their sixties,” she told the Irish Voice.

“The majority of these people would not be Irish, but in many cases when we are given the name of someone who may need our help we find that it’s often refused.”

Shame about their circumstances, or fear that their plight will become better known, seem to prevent many Irish people in difficulty from accepting assistance when it is offered. Often there may be a drug or alcohol dependency to contend with as well, complicating the ability of social services like Irish Volunteers for the Homeless to offer lasting help.

“The majority of our work doesn’t take us that far down into the city,” says Kelleher of where Farrell died, “but we will go down if we’re given any information suggesting we should. The thing to remember is that we will offer any help we can if we’re asked.”

The NYPD have confirmed that while the cause of Farrell’s death is under investigation, her death is not being investigated as a crime.

"Every time I would make her smile, her eyes would change color, blue to green," an old boyfriend identified only as English told the Daily News.

“She’d wake up in the morning with the shakes. She had an addiction,” he added.

Read more: Remembering Grace: A personal account from an old Irish friend

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