Remembering John McCarthy


Today marks the third anniversary of the death of John McCarthy, he was a social activist and mental health campaigner who used cannabis medicinally to help with the effects of motor neuron disease.

John was a decades long campaigner on issues, most notably on mental health and he founded the group Mad Pride Ireland, which looked to open up debate on the issue.

Following his diagnosis with MND someone suggested cannabis to John as an aid, and he experimented with eating cannabis.

He wrote about his experience on his blog, in the local paper, and also spoke about it at the legalise cannabis protest in Cork in 2011.

In one blog post on his experience with cannabis he wrote:

“Six months ago somebody asked me “have you tried cannabis for the pain” and I said no and I did. My son recorded me walking on my I Phone that day.  I am sixty one. I had smoked cannabis in the U.S. as a student, in 1971, not seen it since.

And I am a criminal now, because I take a pinch of cannabis, as much as the old lads long ago did with snuff, in a yogurt on the days I am not going out. I eat it. It helps. I am not cured but my medical team tells me the chemical reaction of the cannabis on my brain may have released the spasticity of my mussels

I am in less pain, I can walk a few steps, I can have a dignified pee, I am not cured, it is all getting worse in some ways, but I have to wonder how much easier all this could have been if I had access to cannabis two years ago.

I have no idea what I am doing, how much to take, when where how. I can get no medical advice. It is against the law.”

On January 12th 2012 an opinion piece I wrote about John following his death appeared in the Cork newspaper the Evening Echo.

Below is the text:

I first met John McCarthy in May of last year outside the Bishop Lucey park on Grand Parade. I had just heard him make a speech about using cannabis medicinally, to treat his motor neuron disease. He was speaking at an event to legalise cannabis – an annual event that takes place in Cork and Dublin.

While maybe not his typical audience he clearly enjoyed speaking on the subject and many in attendance were genuinely moved by his story. He spoke intelligently and logically, and while not advocating or denouncing cannabis recreationally, he spoke honestly about the medical benefits he was getting from it. The benefits included cannabis allowing him to temporarily walk and offering some pain relief.

I had read some of his articles in this paper on the subject (2015 edit: it was actually the Cork Independent), and heard one or two things about the man from friends. Upon hearing him speak and talking briefly with him afterwards, I understood clearly why many respected him. I was pleased a man of his caliber was speaking honestly on a sometimes taboo subject.

I stopped by briefly at Fitzgerald’s park last year for the Mad Pride day and was highly impressed with the event. The people I spoke to about the event couldn’t have had higher praise for John and what he had done with the movement since 2008. Now is not the time to think of such matters, but Mad Pride 2012 will hopefully be on the cards, to continue his legacy.

What Mad Pride and his other work including his writings The Human Condition did to highlight the issues of mental illness, and bring them out in the open is only of benefit to society. Seeing him on RTE back in September last year in the documentary ‘Behind the Walls’ reminded me about the seriousness of the issues he campaigned for.

I can’t claim to be a friend of John’s: we spoke occasionally on-line and in person, though generally short conversations each time he left an impression. I have no doubt many will believe that he was an honest and active campaigner for the issues he felt needed to be addressed.

The most recent and sadly now last time we spoke in person, was when he dropped in to the Occupy Cork camp on South Mall back in November. He addressed all those attending that day’s general assembly, and he spoke as ever honestly on a range of social issues. He was well received by all and was greeted with a massive round of applause. Again he had left an impression, and not just on me.

Facebook has been full of messages of condolences and remembrance. When I see what others are saying it’s comforting to know he touched many people’s lives. People like John are hard to come by and on a week when we also lost an honest journalist in Mary Raftery, one can only hope there are more people out there who’ll tell it like it is.

Since John’s passing three years ago I have had the privelege to work with his son David during a referendum campaign. He is a fine man, much like his father, and today my thoughts are with him and the rest of the McCarthy family and their friends.

A collection of John’s articles, is available in the book The Human Condition.

I would also recommend watching the documentary ‘Behind the Walls’ to see some of the reasons why he campaigned on issues.

You can also check out Mad Pride Ireland to find out more about the group he established, and which has continued to grow each year.

Below is a clip of John speaking at the legalise cannabis protest in Cork in 2011, where you can see his honest testimony on the medicinal benefits of cannabis.


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