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Saturday 17 March 2018

John McCarthy

The inspirational campaigner never gave up his fight to make Irish society a better place for all, writes Ralph Riegel

IN 28 years in journalism, no-one ever walked me into as many rows over stories as John McCarthy. The final maelstrom was created several years ago when John -- who lost a brave battle against Motor Neurone Disease (MND) last week -- got me to do a story involving a man with serious psychiatric and alcohol-addiction problems.

The result was the recipient of John's kindness -- and my story -- threatened to have me shot and subjected John to a torrent of vile abuse at his home in Montenotte in Cork.

But it didn't deter John. He never turned anyone away who called to him looking for help. It was also impossible to be annoyed with John, with his ready smile, humour and ability to laugh at himself.

When I heard John had been diagnosed with MND -- a disease he described as "creeping paralysis" -- it struck me as particularly cruel for someone who so clearly loved an active life and worked so hard to change society.

John fought throughout his life to raise awareness of mental health issues and helped found the successful Mad Pride campaign. He also worked to help various charities and was a supporter of Concern for over 20 years.

Even after he was diagnosed with MND, he continued to write a popular column for the Cork Independent and was planning to write a book with PJ Coogan of 96FM.

Last August, in an interview with Jonathan Healy of NewsTalk, John spoke eloquently of what it was like to face such an unrelenting disease. "We are going through hell right now -- I'm dying. I cannot stop this disease destroying my body but I can prevent it destroying my mind and spirit," he said.

"It creeps over your body like a rapist -- this MND is relentless. I am stuck in the bed most of the time. Outings are rare and tiring. Taking a leak is an absolute nightmare. Putting on socks, underwear, pants -- it is exhausting. Sitting up in a chair is also exhausting. I'm not able to walk. Basically, my life is gone to shite," he said.

But John stressed that the silver lining in his battle was the incredible support and love of his family, particularly his wife, Liz, and their two children: "It is love at its best."

He said that what caused him most distress was the realisation he wouldn't see his grandchildren grow up.

"It breaks my heart that I will not know them as men. I get pangs of jealousy when I see the other two grandads, playing, walking with the boys," he explained.

John's determination to change our world led him to contest the 2007 election for Cork North Central. He gained 702 votes and laughed that he'd never realised there were as many liars north of the River Lee, having been promised thousands of first preferences.

John's son, David, said his father had been an inspiration to all through his lifelong determination to help others and the courage he showed in battling his illness.

John McCarthy died at his home last Tuesday at the age of 61. Cork, Ireland and this mad planet of ours is all the poorer for John's passing.

Sunday Independent

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