My friend Joe

Per­haps noth­ing could have lifted him from de­spair when he took his own life:

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Ro­nan McGreevy,

In April last year, I was work­ing in Lon­don when I thought about call­ing in on my old buddy Joe Crilly. Joe and I knew each other for nearly 20 years. We met in the 1990s in Lon­don when I was a re­porter with the Ir­ish Post and he was the arts ed­i­tor.

As of­ten as time would al­low, we met for pints and banter. Joe was mar­vel­lous com­pany as he rolled cig­a­rettes and spun yarns in his Ar­magh bari­tone – hardly leav­ened by 30 years liv­ing in Lon­don.

This time, though, I de­cided to forgo the pints and the banter. Pints meant hang­overs and I wanted to keep a clear head. There would al­ways be a next time. But there was not a next time. A few weeks later, Joe left his apart­ment in Lon­don and took a flight to Barcelona. He left his phone be­hind him. His friends and fam­ily pan­icked and posted mes­sages on his Face­book page urg­ing him to look af­ter him­self.

Span­ish po­lice man­aged to find him. He re­as­sured them he was al­right and just needed time to think about things and clear his head. The po­lice let him go.

Joe took a train across the bor­der into France and ended his life in a ho­tel room in Per­pig­nan.

He suf­fered from pe­ri­odic bouts of de­pres­sion. He would state mat­ter-of-factly that he was on med­i­ca­tion and it was un­der con­trol. No one of us sus­pected it would ever come to this.

Done dif­fer­ently

When some­body dies by sui­cide, im­me­di­ate thoughts are for his or her clos­est fam­ily mem­bers – in this case his son Red­mond and his large lov­ing fam­ily of broth­ers, sis­ters, nieces and neph­ews.

Was there some­thing I should have done dif­fer­ently? Many of us who were friends of Joe asked them­selves the same ques­tions in the af­ter­math of his death. What if we had met in Lon­don in April? Joe and I al­ways had in­tense con­ser­va­tions. Maybe, he might have un­bur­dened him­self of his trou­bles and felt bet­ter for it.

There was a group of us for­mer Ir­ish Post em­ploy­ees who would meet up once or twice a year to go walk­ing and talk­ing. I used to joke that the pho­to­graphs we took re­sem­bled an age­ing indie band get­ting to­gether for one last tour.

The pre­vi­ous au­tumn we went walk­ing in the glens of Antrim. Joe didn’t need to dis­cern the colour of the paving stones to know the char­ac­ter of ev­ery vil­lage we passed through.

Per­haps if we had met up as a group, Joe might have felt up­lifted by our com­pany, but we were all do­ing other things. Busy­ness is of­ten a by­word for not do­ing the right thing by friends and fam­ily.

Per­haps, noth­ing or no­body could have lifted Joe out of the fath­om­less pit of de­spair he found him­self in when he took his own life. If those who die by sui­cide could see the pain they leave be­hind, would they con­clude that life was worth liv­ing? Al­ter­na­tively, would they con­clude that liv­ing in this world was not worth the pain no mat­ter who they hurt in tak­ing their own lives?

Sui­cide pre­ven­tion char­i­ties do a lot to talk peo­ple out of their de­spair, but, for many, life is a con­stant strug­gle against the dark­ness and the dark­ness some­times wins.

I used to be­lieve that as peo­ple got older, they learned to cope bet­ter, to be more com­fort­able in their own skins and to come to terms with the vi­cis­si­tudes of life. Joe’s death at the age of 55 dis­abused me of that be­lief.

His re­mains were taken home and buried in the church­yard of Bal­ly­macash near the shores of Lough Neagh where he grew up. It was at a som­bre post-fu­neral gath­er­ing I sug­gested we put to­gether a col­lec­tion of his plays. This is the ori­gins of The Crilly Tril­ogy.

Joe was al­ways a friend of mine first and fore­most. I knew of his rep­u­ta­tion as a play­wright, though I had never seen any of his plays. I was liv­ing in Lon­don when they were staged in Ire­land, and liv­ing in Ire­land by the time they were staged in Lon­don.

His two plays pro­duced each side of the mil­len­nium, Sec­ond-Hand Thun­der and On McQuil­lan’s Hill, gar­nered such good re­views that he was pro­filed in the Guardian and The Ir­ish Times. Prior to that Joe had been an ac­tor. Act­ing left him dis­il­lu­sioned. He ad­mit­ted frankly that he couldn’t deal with the in­evitable re­jec­tions which are the lot of the ac­tor. He had much more con­trol too as a writer, not a per­former.

At that time, I had naive pre­ten­sions of be­ing a screen­writer. Joe sent me an early draft of the third play in the tril­ogy, Kitty & Damna­tion, which was even­tu­ally pro­duced in 2009. Joe had a fa­cil­ity with lan­guage which is unique and be­cause it is unique, it is ex­tremely rare.

There is a baroque qual­ity to much of the di­a­logue in his plays though they are al­ways ac­ces­si­ble and ex­tremely funny. I read Kitty & Damna­tion with envy. “I’m only fool­ing my­self,” I con­cluded of my own am­bi­tions.

Ter­ri­ble non­sense Joe left the North in 1982 as a teenager, but the North never left him. Sec­ond-Hand Thun­der and On McQuil­lan’s Hill are con­tem­po­rary to many of the is­sues hap­pen­ing at the time in the North. Sec­ond-Hand Thun­der is loosely based around the ter­ri­ble non­sense that went on at Drum­cree ev­ery year and On McQuil­lan’s Hill on the large-scale pris­oner re­leases which went on af­ter the Good Fri­day agree­ment.

He had no time for sec­tar­i­an­ism and re­garded its per­pet­u­a­tors on both sides with equal dis­tain.

I put The Crilly Tril­ogy to­gether over the pe­riod of some months. Ev­ery­thing I asked for from oth­ers, I got. Hugh Bon­neville, one of the most in-de­mand Bri­tish ac­tors, from Down­ton Abbey to Padding­ton, sup­plied a pref­ace. He and Joe had been con­tem­po­raries from the Na­tional Youth The­atre in Lon­don.

“I was blown away by the tum­bling, lyri­cal flow of lan­guage and the rel­ish of telling a tale,” Bon­neville wrote. The Crilly Tril­ogy is avail­able to buy on­line at or­pen­press.com

From left: Martin Doyle, Ro­nan McGreevy, David Smith, Joe Crilly (at back) and Michéal Cough­lan (wear­ing sun­glasses).

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