Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has spoken  out on the lack of facilities and concern for dying patients in Ireland.

He appealed for support for the dying in Ireland, saying death needs to made more bearable for those at the end of their lives and for family and friends left behind.

Speaking in New York, he praised the work being spearheaded by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF), the national charity which is dedicated to all matters related to dying, death and bereavement in Ireland.

He spoke angrily about a disturbing scene he witnessed in a Dublin hospital concerning a dying friend.

“I attended the bedside of a friend who was dying in a Dublin hospital. She lived her last hours in a public ward with a television blaring out a football match, all but drowning our final conversation”, he said.

“I looked around this depressing place, with the cheap curtain separating her from other patients, walls painted nondescriptly institutional, the awful food, the ubiquitous smell of disinfectant mixed with human odor, and I began to think about the physical environment in which we might spend our final hours, that space which – as the late Seamus Heaney said – is "emptied" and "pure change" happens.

“I have since come to believe that in-hospital aesthetics are as important as function, that both are in fact closely linked. And that an aesthetic environment automatically leads to good practice and better care,” added Byrne.

The actor stated that the IHF’s Design and Dignity project was already changing things for the better.

“In cooperation with hospital staff, they are providing design expertise to create spaces where bad news can be broken, where those who have got the dreaded call to fly home to be with a loved one near death can have the space and the privacy for final words and where families can be with someone who has just passed away, in dignified and respectful surroundings.”

The event was hosted by prominent Irish Americans, Loretta Brennan Glucksman and Tom Moran, President and CEO of Mutual of America.

Meanwhile, writer Colum McCann spoke of the ‘rawness’ of the journey that so many emigres have to make back to Ireland to say goodbye to someone close. “When you lose a loved one and when you know that person is being looked after well, it’s so much easier to return”, he said. “It is also much easier to come back to your other life.”

The new book from the Irish Hospice Foundation, ‘The Gathering – Reflections on Ireland,’ was also launched at the event with all proceeds destined for the IHF’s Design & Dignity project. The 256 page, hardback book, is edited by journalist Miriam Donohoe and designed by Steve Averill, widely acclaimed for his work with U2.

It is full of striking images and compelling stories from The Gathering 2013 – the  year in which the diaspora has been returning in great numbers to cities, towns and villages across Ireland. The book also features inspiring reflections on Irish identity from some of the Ireland’s best writers and influential Irish American leaders. Bono and Colum McCann are contributors to the book as are Moya Doherty, Brian O’Driscoll, Loretta Brennan Glucksman and IrishCentral founder Niall O’Dowd. The late Seamus Heaney also donated a personal reflection just before his death. His widow Marie Heaney and daughter, Catherine Ann attended the launch.