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Ex-rugby hero Gerry 'Ginger' McLoughlin reveals his battle with depression


ANGUISH: Gerry McLoughlin says he lost the will to live after
his marriage of 30 years ended. Photo: Sean Curtin

ANGUISH: Gerry McLoughlin says he lost the will to live after his marriage of 30 years ended. Photo: Sean Curtin

ANGUISH: Gerry McLoughlin says he lost the will to live after his marriage of 30 years ended. Photo: Sean Curtin

A FORMER Irish rugby star brought a room to complete silence when he recalled how he was on the brink of suicide after his marriage broke down.

Gerry 'Ginger' McLoughlin -- the current mayor of Limerick -- is best known for scoring a try in Twickenham while dragging half the English pack over the line during Ireland's successful Triple Crown campaign in 1982. He also starred in Munster's famous victory over the visiting All-Blacks team in 1978.

However, the Labour councillor admitted that one of the hardest battles he ever had to overcome was emerging from the depths of depression when his marriage of 30 years ended more than a decade ago.

At the time he was running a pub business in Wales and said he had lost the will to live.

"I had been successful in most things I had done. I had raised a family, I had travelled all over the world, I had played rugby at the highest level and built a little empire in Wales. I never thought that a normal person could end up in the throes of depression," he said.

"I had emigrated to Wales and I found myself divorced after a very happy 30 years of marriage and then I came back and you feel a failure. Ten years ago you would be looked upon as a failure. I didn't know how to cope with it and being a man, I was probably too proud to mention it to anybody. I didn't actually realise I was going through depression."

Mr McLoughlin was speaking in his office in City Hall in Limerick on Friday where he hosted a coffee morning for Console -- a charity that supports people bereaved through suicide. During a highly emotional speech, the well-known Limerick man recalled how he attempted to deal with his own difficulties.

He recalled travelling to Wales in horrific weather conditions when he wasn't mentally fit for the journeys. "I drove a car in terrible conditions and thought what if I died tonight? It doesn't make a difference to me. You can't think straight, so every second of the day you are just taken up with doing things for the sake of doing them."

"I was suicidal I've no doubt. Life really didn't mean much to me. I thought that's it. I've achieved what I've achieved and that's it. What's the point? I lost the will to live for a couple of months but at the same time I never went out to commit suicide. It lasted three of four months. I couldn't get off the couch, I couldn't go for a cycle, I couldn't go for a shower. It was a very depressing time and you didn't want to be burdening yourself with your problems."

Console chief executive Paul Kelly said he was completely surprised by Mr McLoughlin's speech and said he was "a very brave and courageous man" for speaking so openly.

"We were all taken aback here today. I didn't expect him to come out like this.

"He brought it right out into the open. Most of us try to keep it a big secret and keep it in the dark but at the same time there are very few families that are not affected by it and that needs to change," Mr Kelly said.

Physical therapist to the world's top athletes, Ger Hartmann (52) from Limerick, also spoke of his anguish after nine friends took their own lives.

"When I was 23 years old, one of my schoolmates attempted suicide from the fifth floor of his family building and dropped to his death. I knew him since the age of six and was the first person over to him. A few seconds after the fall or death, his mam opened the window three floors below and looked down at her son. I vividly recall that memory of a mother looking down on her son and looking up again at the window he came out of and seeing the nylon drape blowing out with the wind.

"We read about suicide the whole time, but when you have touched it, felt it and smelt it even, it is powerful and has a lifetime effect. Suicide put a dagger through me."

Last year, 525 people in Ireland took their own lives. Console can be contacted on 1800 201 890 or www.console.ie.

Sunday Independent