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strum-pet city king Dublin's best-loved busker reveals suicide attempt and how he's now helping others after living on streets

Beloved 'Mick the Busker' has a bigger fan base than stars on the X Factor

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Locals and tourists love to hear Mick in the city centre.

Locals and tourists love to hear Mick in the city centre.

Locals and tourists love to hear Mick in the city centre.

Last year in lockdown, one of Dublin's best-loved street buskers tried to take his own life.

Known as 'Mick the Busker' and a familiar figure on Henry Street for more than a decade, Mick McLoughlin (43) had fallen into a black hole.

"I've had mental health issues for a few years," Mick tells the Sunday World. "I've always worn my heart on my sleeve. I'm always able to speak about it, but with the lockdown I was living on my own. It was tough not being able to go out and be a busker and do my thing.

"Everything got to me, and that was how I just gave up. I tried to take my life and there is no way I should be here talking to you today, but somehow I woke up."

Going back, Mick, who has had a smash hit online with a powerful video of The Auld Triangle, which was filmed as he strutted down a deserted Henry Street, recalls how his troubles began after Ireland's 2008 property crash.

At one point he ended up homeless and sleeping rough for two years on Henry Street, where he established a regular fanbase for his busking.

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'Mick The Busker' is known for his singing on Henry Street

'Mick The Busker' is known for his singing on Henry Street

'Mick The Busker' is known for his singing on Henry Street

Before that, Mick, a native of Coolock on Dublin's northside, was part of the army of construction workers enjoying full employment during the Celtic Tiger era.

"I was working in the building trade doing fire protection, and when it went belly up I took redundancy," Mick tells me. "I was at home and bored when I picked up a guitar my father had bought me. I decided that day I was going busking for the craic.

"I was highly surprised how it went. Afterwards I counted my earnings and I went, 'OK, that wasn't too bad,' so I continued to do it."

Mick was doing well for a couple of years, but then singers with amps started appearing on the scene and he soon found that he couldn't compete with them.

"I couldn't afford to buy that kind of equipment, so I decided then that I was going to knock the busking on the head," he says.

Guitar

"But there was a man called Archie who used to pass me every morning and give me a fiver and a cup of coffee. He got to know me because one of my favourite songs is Declan O'Rourke's Galileo and he loved it. So I used to sing that for him every morning.

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Mick with partner Leonitia

Mick with partner Leonitia

Mick with partner Leonitia

"Then I happened to say it to him about knocking it on the head. He said, 'Ah for jaysus sake, Mick, who's gonna sing for me then!'

"A couple of days later he came back with a receipt, and on the receipt there was an amp, a microphone and a microphone stand, all the leads I needed… and a new guitar.

"Archie had bought me everything I needed to keep going and to compete with the amps. He wasn't letting me give up. So I continued and I was giving him better versions of songs and doing songs I wouldn't normally be able to do. That changed my whole focus as a musician, that I could do everything different.

"It became my mission then to repay Archie every day as best I could, until one day he didn't appear. And that day turned into a week, and that week turned into two weeks.

"After two weeks a chap approached me. 'You're Mick, aren't you?" he said. It was Archie's son who then requested me to play at his father's funeral the following morning.

"He explained to me that before Archie died the last words out of his mouth to his son were, 'If you do not get Mick the Busker to sing at my funeral I'll haunt you for the rest of your life.' I was also asked to get up and speak at the funeral and talk about how I knew Archie.

"So I was making a connection with people without realising it. Now I could write a book about the amount of people who have told me I've made a difference to them. They tell me I'm part of Dublin.

"There were people travelling up from the country to maybe go shopping, and part of their day they said was to come and see me singing in town.

"So I felt that I was there to keep what we have left of a Dublin culture alive with the voice I have and the songs I've been given through Luke Kelly or Ronnie Drew.

"Ronnie's son, Phelim Drew, appeared in front of me one day as I was half way through Dublin In The Rare Oul Times, and the words out of his young lad's mouth were, 'Jaysus, that's like listening to me granda!'

"It just happened that I ended up sounding like Ronnie after I got laryngitis and my voice dropped two full keys. And then it's been honed over the years standing on that street."

Mick has empathy for people living on the streets, having been through that experience himself.

"I wrote a song called The Homeless Song that's on YouTube," he tells me. "I give a bit of a rant at the end about how we've lost our way as a society and we've lost the love of each other.

"It killed me to walk down Henry Street the other day and see nine tents on the street. I was that man standing on the street with a cup and being looked down upon. And when I tell people that I was homeless for two years they kind of go, 'Really, you were homeless, like!'

"And I go, 'Yeah, but just because I was homeless does that make you look at me in a different way? They're homeless, but they're human too. They're no different to any one of you. It's your negative attitude that brings the poor man down when he's feeling blue.'"

Mick says his mental health is a constant struggle, but he has now found love with his partner, Leonitia, who helped him get his life back on track.

Messages

"I had got kind of lost," he says, "I got caught up in being 'Mick The Busker', this whole musician kind of thing, and I forgot who I was.

"Leonitia took time out of her own life to show me what I was worth and the difference that I was making to other people like her. She used to come and see me busk. Literally without her I'd be dead."

Mick has a Facebook page called Big Boys Do Cry to support people like himself through their struggles.

"I get messages from lads all the time," he adds. "My phone number is public and I'll talk to anyone. I don't want anyone else to feel the way I did, that there's no hope. There's always hope."

Check out Mick the Busker's brilliant version of the Auld Triangle on Youtube

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