Bermingham, William (‘Willie’) Patrick (1942–90), founder of ALONE, was born 29 March 1942 in Inchicore, Dublin, third among seven children of William Bermingham, bellman on a fuel cart, and Mary Bermingham (née Dalgarno). He was educated at St Michael's School, Inchicore, and Capel St. Technical School, Dublin. He had several jobs – bellman on a fuel cart, gravedigger, builder's helper, bouncer, trader in horses and cattle, antiques dealer – before joining the Dublin Fire Brigade (1964).
Working with the brigade's ambulance service, shocked and angered by his experience of impoverished old people dying alone in conditions of appalling squalor, he reduced his cigarette consumption to finance two hundred posters, ‘Old people die alone’ which he distributed around Dublin; he raised awareness, gained public support, and in 1977 founded ALONE (‘A Little Offering Never Ends’). A voluntary organisation, financed mainly by unsolicited donations, it sought to expose the conditions in which the elderly poor lived, and to provide food, clothing, and counselling. With photo-journalist Liam Ó Cuanaigh, he wrote Alone: an account of some old people discovered in Dublin in 1978 (1978; reprinted five times), vividly depicting the conditions in which they lived and died, Alone again (1982), and Alone once more (1989). Houses for the elderly were built at Alone Walk, Brookfield Avenue, Artane (1986) and in Bermingham Place, Kilmainham Lane, Dublin (completed 1991), and named after him; as an alternative to a pauper's grave, the ALONE Millennium burial plot was acquired at Glasnevin cemetery (1988).
Always ready to respond to people in distress, he visited 3,500 old people. His anger never lessened; described by a public official as a little terrier of a man who would not take no for an answer when it came to the old, he unremittingly lobbied the government, TDs, and statutory bodies, including the lord mayor's office, the Eastern Health Board, and Dublin corporation, demanding the coordination of their policies and the organisation of a task force for the relief of the elderly. In 1982 the Special Housing Needs of the Elderly scheme was established by the Department of the Environment. The number of volunteers and donations increased with the years, and a trust was formed ensuring that after Bermingham's death ALONE continued its work.
He received Dublin corporation's People of the Year silver medal (1979), an hon. LLD (1988) from Dublin University, and the International Fireman of the Year award. He was a man of courage and generosity and had a sense of humour, and lived at 3 Canal Terrace, Bluebell, Co. Dublin. He died 23 April 1990 in Dublin; his funeral service was held in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, and he was buried in St Mary's cemetery, Lucan, Co. Dublin. He married (1972) Marie Kelly, who continued his work after his death; they had three sons and two daughters.