The human rights campaigner, who died earlier this week after a two-year battle with motor neurone disease, broke with tradition by not removing to a church for a religious ceremony, but instead holding a humanist service at the funeral home.
Although not religious, John, 61, did believe in some greater power, and liked the idea that we might one day dissolve back into the chemical elements of the universe and, at some stage, explode back into some other life form.
So, as was his wish, it was to celebrate life and not death that hundreds gathered yesterday at his unorthodox funeral service in Cork.
Planned by John to the finest detail, he was laid out in a plain wooden casket, with no crosses or religious icons, and a casual shirt and jacket, with no tie.
The service began with a poem read by his close friend and storyteller Pat “The Hat” Speight.
The poem, You, was dedicated to his wife Liz.
John’s brother Liam, and one of his closest friends, sang Bantry Bay. The poem, The Lamp, was read, while an old Irish ballad, The Parting Glass, was also sung.
The service was 10 minutes long and ended with a short speech by John’s son, David, and another poem, I Have To Let You Go, written by John.
“Everyone who knew Dad loved him and people who didn’t know him loved him, he was that kind of man. He will be sadly missed but he will go on,” he said.
Music was played on the cello and flute by John’s close friends and included You’ll Never Walk Alone, classical songs and hits from Cats, and West Side Story.
Pat “The Hat” said: “There are people in life who chip away at the problems they see, John McCarthy went in with a JCB and tried to knock it down. He attacked it and didn’t take no for an answer. Even before he started campaigning for mental health he was working for communities in Africa and he was always looking for money for some cause.
“When he got sick he always said he didn’t want any sympathy from us. Cork is poorer for his passing, the mad community and Ireland too. But although he is gone, he will never be forgotten.”
Lifelong friend Benny Walsh said John was the most genuine man you every met.
“We grew up together in North Cork. Of course we had our falling outs — John was very outspoken, but it was because of his frankness that everyone loved him. He always spoke his mind.
“It’s very sad because he was just at the peak of his powers when the motor neurone struck.”
John was laid to rest at Curraghkippane graveyard, not far from where patients from a psychiatric hospital — the very people John fought for — are buried in a mass grave.