Families of five young neighbours who died by suicide over 15 months plead for more help

NewsBy Lynne Kelleher
Fiona Mackey and Valerie Hynes
Fiona Mackey and Valerie Hynes

It is the tiny details which haunt those left behind.

Two close-knit neighbours in a Cork community constantly replay over and over the last moments leading up to the deaths of their son and nephew in nearby fields just months apart.

With Cork city experiencing a worrying rise in suicides in the past month, the relatives of the young boys are pleading with the government to step in with round-the-clock help to stop more loss of life.

Fiona Mackey never worked on a Saturday, but the day she lost her 14-year-old son, she was preparing to leave her job when she saw ambulances rushing past, unaware they were speeding to the field where John (below) had just died.

“Ambulances and fire brigades were flying through and I was on Facebook and I wrote ‘Jesus there must be an awful crash out the new Mallow Road’,” says the mother-of-four. 

“It was about six o’clock and then three guards came in and I knew straight away,” says Fiona, who has set up the Circle of Hope support group with the families of four other young people who died of suicide.

In the small pocket of the north side, the close-knit communities of Ballyvolane and Dublin Hill were left reeling with five suicides of young neighbours who were all connected in just over a year between the end of 2012 and the start of 2014.

Valerie Haynes remembers every minute detail of her terrified run to the field in the northside estate after an anguished phone call from her sister Lynda, who was with the lifeless body of her 20 year-old-son Corey O’Callaghan (below).

“My sister had rang and all I heard was ‘the field, the field’. I ran. 

“But we got to see him. It was a comfort. We got to hug him,” she says quietly. “But it plays on my mind.  Every step I took from the house to the field – I don’t know how I didn’t break my legs – it will always stay in my mind.”

The deep trauma of the suicide in the family in April 2013 has left such an impact that the most ordinary routines of everyday life have never been the same.

“My mam watches the clock every Sunday at 9.25. That’s when I opened the door and she knew looking at my face. Every Sunday there is a sting at that time. My sister can’t do phone calls,” says Valerie.

Both women are speaking out about their grief in the wake of a rise in suicides in Cork which has devastated families in the city.

“One is one too many,” says Valerie. “It’s devastating. It’s frightening.  We can’t wait any more for the government and all the red tape. There is someone passing every day, every week. There are too many kids. They’re not doing enough.

“They need to put in an emergency plan. People need somewhere they can go 24 hours. People are waiting on appointments. I call it Death Row. They need to go into schools and talk about suicide. We are planning on marching on the Dáil in the New Year.”

Local Sinn Fein councillor and member of Shine a Light Suicide and Mental Health Awareness group, Mick Nugent, says it is vital there are round-the-clock services for people who are feeling suicidal or have mental health issues in Cork City.

He says: “There needs to be mental services available 24/7 outside of an A&E.”

Circle of Hope was formed two years ago in the Ballyvolane and Dublin Hill area of northside Cork – in memory of residents Maria Martin, Corey O’Callaghan (20), Brian Carroll (16), John Mackey (14) and Daniel Mulcahy (20) – who all died within 15 months.

“They all knew each other. Brian was my John’s best friend,” says Fiona.

In the months after the death of her son’s best friend, his worried mother Fiona would go into his room every day and shake the quilt to make sure her grief-stricken son was still alive.

“Brian was only 16 when he passed away on July 4, 2014. Just two days short of four months later John had done the same thing in the same place,” she says.

In heartbreaking notes left behind, John, who had also been deeply affected by the death of a young friend from asthma that year, tried to explain the desperate pain he was feeling which led him to take his own life on November 2014.

“He left a note to a whole group of us, including his sisters and myself and his friends. Then he wrote a private letter to his dad apologising, that he did this not to cause us pain but to release his pain. Pain was the main word,” says Fiona.

Valerie says her nephew came home after a night out to write a letter to explain his suicide to his family before leaving again shortly afterwards.

“He just felt he couldn’t stay here anymore,” she says with tears in her eyes. “That he wasn’t for this world. He apologised to all his friends. He was out that Saturday night with all his friends and his sister.”

A plaque to the five who died by suicide erected by Circle of Hope

Clinical manager with Pieta House Cork, Sylvia O’Driscoll-Wong, says there has been a surge in numbers attending their service in the Cork city in the last month and they are now working with two schools in Cork where young students have taken their own lives in recent weeks.

She says: “We have just started a bereavement service as well as suicide intervention. Because of the increase in suicides the service has been accessed by people who need a bereavement service.”

The National Suicide Research Foundation said a reported statistic of 16 suicides in Cork City since the start of November is “not substantiated by the facts”, adding that the factual information indicates three cases of suicide in Cork City since the start of November.

It can be difficult to officially quantify the exact number of suicides in the past month as State statistics often must be confirmed by an inquest, but Cork city councillor Mick Finn said he personally knows of eight suicides in the past month.

He said: “Central government needs to act with urgency and resource school-based well-being and resilience programmes, fill vacant psychiatry and psychology posts in the city and county and increase access to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, which have waiting lists of two years.”