Ireland’s longest-standing mental health campaigner dies
By Rachel O'Rourke
This week saw a ceremony marking the life of Irish founder of mental health lobby group Mad Pride, John McCarthy, who has died aged 61.
“Charasmatic” and “colourful” McCarthy, as described by Ireland’s biggest newspapers who paid tribute to him, was diagnosed with motor-neurone disease in 2009 and died on Tuesday after years of fighting for the rights of those touched by mental illness.
The campaigner, who had written a column called ‘The Human Condition’ in the Cork Independent since 2009, “had touched a nerve with many,” the newspaper said.
In August 2011, he wrote an in-depth and moving account of his motor neurone disease, describing what it felt like to face the prospect of death.
McCarthy grew up in Shandon in Cork and trained as a plasterer before going into business as an auctioneer. After serving the army in Uganda and Kosovo for a short while, he keenly wrote poetry and quickly set up Mad Pride to fight for the abolition of forced electro-convulsive therapy as well as the human rights of people suffering with, what he called, “the normality of madness”.
He ran in the Irish 2007 General Election as part of a mental health platform and contributed to the documentaries ‘Behind the Wall’ and ‘Lives Less Lived’ about the institutionalisation of a woman called ‘Josie’.
McCarthy was highly commended by the Cork Independent for his reporting on mental health after it won its Headline Regional Newspaper of the Year 2011.
Along with writing about his own battle with mental health conditions, he campaigned for greater transparency and compassion in the Irish system and was appointed to the Implementation Group for the National Disability Strategy by Minister Kathleen Lynch, who said of him: “John McCarthy was a truly inspirational man who was a long time campaigner for mental health reform. In recognition of his work and contribution, I recently appointed him to the Implementation Group for the National Disability Strategy and I was very much looking forward to working with him.
"I regret that I will not now have that opportunity as people with the drive, determination and infectious enthusiasm that John had are exactly what is needed to bring about meaningful change. Any time I met John, I always came away with a smile and a laugh and I will miss him, both personally and professionally.”
McCarthy, who left behind a wife and two children, died at his home in Montenotte in Cork City. He was buried yesterday and a procession in Cork City centre followed the ceremony. Tributes to the campaigner have been published in the Cork Independent.