A HOMELESS man who was a permanent and popular fixture around University College Dublin (UCD) for decades may have been a best man and godfather who "disappeared off the face of the Earth" over 40 years ago.
Michael Byrne, otherwise known as 'Old Man Belfield', was pronounced dead after being found in an unresponsive state at the south Dublin university campus on January 11.
Not a lot is known about the mysterious, rough-sleeping 71-year-old, though two people have come forward since his death with information that may help to shed some light on his identity.
Colm O'Brien, a Dubliner around the same age as Byrne, believes him to be an old friend who went missing in the late 70s and has not been heard from since.
After getting in touch with Mr Byrne's next of kin, it became clear to Mr O'Brien that the timelines are consistent with his version of events.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he said: "I had a friend, Michael Byrne, who was the best man at my wedding and a godfather to my daughter.
"After he went missing, we never heard from him or saw him again.
"It seemed like he just disappeared off the face of the Earth.
"A group of friends we used to share believed me must have emigrated to America but we weren't sure and we never found out what happened.
"Then, when I saw the newspaper articles and photographs last week, I thought, 'here is a man with the same name as Michael and with strikingly similar features'.
"I dug out the old photos of him when he was the best man at my wedding and they look very alike.
Michael Byrne, affectionately known as “Old Man Belfield” by students and staff, sadly passed away on Monday 11 January 2021.
A fiercely private person, we thank those of you who quietly looked out for Michael.
We will miss him around the campus.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. pic.twitter.com/3Dnbdjyssf
— University College Dublin (@ucddublin) January 11, 2021
"It might not be him, it might be someone else, but it's important to rule him out."
Michael's unofficial next-of-kin agrees with Colm that the "resemblance is uncanny".
In an unrelated instance, another person has contacted gardai claiming to have a missing relative called Michael Byrne - also unheard from for several decades.
There has been an outpour of public sentiment following the tragic news of Michael's death.
UCD said in a statement: "Michael Byrne, affectionately known as 'Old Man Belfield' by students and staff, sadly passed away on Monday 11 January 2021.
"A fiercely private person, we thank those of you who quietly looked out for Michael. We will miss him around the campus. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam."
An investigation is underway into the circumstances surrounding his death, a garda spokesman has confirmed.
He said: "Gardaí were called to the University campus following the discovery of the man’s body shortly after 12 noon. He was pronounced dead at the scene and his body has since been removed to the Dublin City Morgue. The scene is currently preserved.
"The Coroner has been notified and a post-mortem examination has been arranged for Tuesday 12th January.
"The results of a post mortem will determine the course of the Garda investigation.
"There is no further information available at this time."