Martin Barry: BBC documentary is a moving take on Cork journalist’s life and last wish

Martin Barry: BBC documentary is a moving take on Cork journalist’s life and last wish

Laura McDaid is a Coleraine-born journalist. In late April 2005, she was with Corkman Martin Barry – her 30-year-old friend and former boyfriend – when he died by assisted suicide in Zurich. The night before he passed away, he asked McDaid to fulfil a final wish: to find his birth mother and give her a message.

McDaid’s account of her time with Barry, and her quest to locate his birth mother, is told in a compelling radio documentary series, The Last Request, broadcast each day this week via BBC Radio 4.

The new series – made with producer Kerry Jamison – vividly portrays Barry’s spirited personality. It includes memories from his close friends, including screen actor Aidan O’Hare, who credits Barry with spurring him on to become an actor.

The series includes recordings – which McDaid had never heard before – of Barry speaking to his friend Paul McDermott about his life during his final months alive. It also includes accounts from McDaid of insensitive media coverage in the wake of Barry’s death.

In terms of finding the woman who had to give Barry up for adoption, we hear how McDaid didn’t have many clues to work from. She knew Barry’s date of birth – December 7, 1974 – and that his original name was likely Emmanuel Murphy. She knew he was born in Bessborough, the mother and baby home on the outskirts of Cork city. Barry also believed his birth mother was a teacher.

Bessborough, the facility run by the Sacred Heart order of nuns in Cork, where Martin Barry was born. Picture: Denis Scannell

McDaid had first met Barry – who grew up in Glasheen, Cork – in 2001. She was a cub reporter working her first job at the Northside People newspaper in Dublin.

In 2002, they moved to Japan. Barry got broadcasting work ahead of that year’s football World Cup finals. Then his world caved in. Recurring cramps became unbearable. He was twice taken to hospital by ambulance and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Most people with MS, especially today with superior treatments, live long and fruitful lives. Barry was unlucky: he had a very aggressive strain of the disease. Within months of his diagnosis, he was in a wheelchair and starting to go blind.

The couple moved back to live in Cork. They split up the following year, but remained close friends. Barry’s health continued to deteriorate. He was suffering from persistent, crippling pain and decided to end his life with the help of Dignitas, the Swiss-based assisted dying agency.

McDaid agreed, at his request, to accompany him to Switzerland. She didn’t agree with his actions, but she didn’t want him to die alone. The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland also spoke out at the time of his death, worried ab

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