June 13, 2008

Publication: Irish Examiner

Date: Monday, June 9, 2008 Page: 10

Author: Eoin English and Donal Mickey

Headline: Thousands turn out for first Mad Pride day Madness was embraced and celebrated yesterday during the country's first Mad Pride Day. In fact, the thousands who attended the pioneering event in Cork's Fitzgerald's Park had to pass a normality test conducted by rubber chicken wielding clowns positioned at the gates. Only those who displayed signs of madness got in most of them holding their sides with laughter.

Mental health campaigner and event organiser, John McCarthy, said he was overwhelmed by the turnout estimated at around 5,000. "It's a very emotional day for me," he said, "The citizens of Cork have turned out to embrace mad people and say we love you. "I've seen people walking around here today who live in isolation, who are shunned because of mental illness or depression. "But they are being hugged today, they're laughing. There is a sense of hope here today, and a sense of future change." The event was designed to tackle both the stigma and loneliness associated with mental health illness.

Mr McCarthy said he hoped the day would not alone encourage people with mental illness to find solidarity within their community, but also prompt wider society to do more to help people recovering from such illnesses. "Today is a day all about being normal. In essence, what we have is the community waking up to its own responsibility to itself," he said He also dismissed criticism of his use of the word "mad". "The proof of the success of this event is in the turnout," he said. The free family fun day featured clowns, face painters, street theatre, live 'music and a food fair. It was supported financially by Cork City Council.

Mr McCarthy said he is confident of securing more city funding for another event next year. And he hopes the initiative will be adopted by other Irish cities. "This is about opening debate around the issue. The court of public opinion is where this battle will be won or lost, and Mad Pride is a way that we can break down barriers," he said. The patrons of Mad Pride Day included Mary Davis of Special Olympics Ireland, Cork City Council, Declan Ryan and The One Foundation, the Health Service Executive, as well as entertainers Jimmy McCarthy, Freddie White and Ger Wolfe.

Similar Mad Pride days have been held in the UK, Canada, the US and across Europe. Meanwhile, up to 3,000 bikers rode into Killarney for a rally at the weekend. Top of the range Harley-Davidsons attracted thousands of interested onlookers to the Ireland Bike Fest headquarters at the Gleneagle Hotel, where a tented bike village was the hub of activity. Quirky three-wheelers, with handlebars well above the head of the drivers, and some of the most spectacular two-wheelers on the market also caught the public's gaze. About 1,000 bikes took part in a charity ride through the streets of Killarney to raise funds for Muscular Dystrophy Ireland. "It's been an absolutely fantastic event which brought great crowds to Killarney. There was hardly an empty bed in town," said Lorraine O'Shea, of the organising committee. Some of the bikers came from France and Germany, with one man boasting a €200,000 custom-built model from the lads at the Orange County Chopper shop, in the US. Blake Cashman from Knocknaheeny, with his king Charles puppy Tuppence, at the Mad Pride Ireland festival in Fitzgerald's Park, Cork, yesterday Andrew McCarthy from Kerry Pike is 'tested' by the 'normality testers' at the Mad Pride Ireland festival in Fitzgerald's Park Ciaran Odium from Coachford, Co Cork, makes friends with a snake at the Cork Chamber Family Day at Fota House. Luke Forde from Glanmire, Co Cork, with a bearded dragon at the Cork Chamber Family Day at Fota House. Ryan Easton, Lixnaw, Co Kerry, stands next to a custom built Harley Davidson during the Ireland Bike Fest at the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, yesterday. Picture: Denis Minihane