Dromahair is a small picturesque village nestled in the hilly north west of Leitrim in Yeats country. It is mentioned in Yeats’ poem “The man who dreamed of Faeryland” The River Bonnet runs through to Lough Gill where lies the Lake Isle of Innisfree – another of Yeats’ poems. It is the ancestral home of the Kings of the Breifne whose kingdom stretched from Kells in County Meath through Cavan, Leitrim and Sligo. Their castle ruins remain in the village.
It is in this idyllic setting that in the cold January of 2004 the local County Councillor John McTernan awoke early one morning and wandered into his kitchen to see his son’s cigarettes still lying on the armchair. Strange, as he always kept them in his pocket. Out the corner of his eye he saw the light on in the brick shed they had both been building. He made his way out and, as he says now, he just knew. When he entered his heart was already breaking. He held the legs of his now deceased son and cried out for his wife. But, at the age of 24 he had gone – Garry McTernan had took his own life.
As his cousin, I received the phone call only a couple of hours later. Like everyone else who heard the news, the world spun. The next 48 hours were a whirlwind of travel, grief and grimly celebrating a beautiful life.
I could write about the awesome and amusing things Garry did in his life just by being my cousin. As daft as a brush, hilarious lad who was lost too soon at 24. A whole life of opportunities and experiences stretching out in front of him. Yet now gone. How often is a similar story told when a young man takes his own life?
My aunt has since set up a couple of different charities in Ireland aimed at raising awareness of suicide and tackling it, whilst also addressing its aftermath. Because Garry was just one of several young men in that area who had took their own life. And that is a sad fact – that young men see others taking their lives and it somehow plays in their own consciousness.
Amongst other things, my aunt commissioned and launched some years back the first app aimed at showing where assistance and advice could be found for those with suicidal thoughts and those who want to help identify some telling signs. The take away from that is that we can all play a role however little. Here in Liverpool Chasing the Stigma has launched the Hub of Hope where such support can be found.
My aunt and I, when we meet, talk about suicide and its impact a lot. Every time I hear of another needless death I think back to that day so many years ago that is still fresh in the memory. Whether it is famous people or those few knew. All are tragic, though some break your heart even further. Are we finally sitting up when we hear of such tales? Is there any real change?
Suicide has since defined my aunt’s life. She holds to the theory that many do not wish to die except at that split second. How life changes. How life ends, in a moment. We talk of how life expectancy drops for Irish people when they move to the UK and how they are disproportionately affected by suicide in that community. How too many men, of all communities, see suicide as a way out. How too few go out and ask for help.
It is good that the conversation is changing and we can play a role in that. But still too many people – especially men – take their own lives. Still too many devastated families and friends are left behind to pick up pieces that will never go together the same again.
Amongst men suicide remains the single biggest cause of death under the age of 45 in the UK. Initiatives such as This Is Me supported by Mayor Anderson, or the training provided by the Zero Suicide Alliance play an important part is helping us tackle this problem. A problem that casts its dark net far and wide; but for far too many people is only too personal.
The village name of Dromahair translates as the Ridge of Two Demons. It describes the hills that rise around the village. Sadly, for many people, those demons are only too real. On International Men’s Day we should all commit to playing our part in tackling them.
The Hub of Hope is an online resource of help that is available near you. Visit www.hubofhope.co.uk for more information.
Zero Suicide Alliance training for staff is available the LCC Learning Hub.