Dead Rabbit pub entrepreneur who battled alcoholism urges addicts to seek support

AT the age of 23, north Belfast man Jack McGarry appeared to have it all.

He had just been named best barman in the world in recognition of the astonishing success story that is The Dead Rabbit - a cult New York bar he and a friend co-founded in 2013.

Born and raised in Ardoyne he was living the 'American dream' after quitting his job at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast to take a gamble on the new venture in the US.

The Dead Rabbit - named after a New York gang of Irish inmigrants, best known from the film Gangs of New York which featured Liam Neeson - was an instant hit.

But while riding high on the success of the bar, three years after the opening in spring 2016, the young bar-owner was on suicide watch in a Manhattan hospital after downing a lethal cocktail of prescription medication and alcohol.

Jack McGarry from the Dead Rabbitt Bar in New York speaks about about his addiction Picture Mal McCann.

A recovering alcoholic who has battled with depression, the 30-year-old has been sober since that night, which he describes as his "huge wake-up call".

He continues to attend weekly therapy sessions and AA meetings in New York. His new love is running.

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Despite being teetotal, he continues to work in the industry with the bar's co-founder and fellow Belfast man, Sean Muldoon, and the pair have spent the past year researching a book about the best whiskies in Ireland.

Passionate about the need to raise awareness about mental illness, they are back on home soil to promote the book and donate £10,000 to Northern Ireland charity, Aware, which supports those affected by depression.

Following a week in which a Northern Ireland coroner held an inquest into the deaths of four alcoholic men to highlight the dangers of drinking and links to mental health problems, Mr McGarry said he had also lost people close to him through addiction and suicide in Belfast.

Sean Muldoon, co-owner of The Dead Rabbit in New York, with Liam Neeson and the Celtic Cross from Gangs of New York

He openly spoke about his own experience and how "lucky" he was to be able to afford rehab services and crisis counsellings after a "reckless" period in which "he let people down".

"I realised the wheels were coming off after I achieved many of my initial dreams with the Dead Rabbit in-terms of recognition of World's Best Bar and World's Best Bartender. The pressures of that and my addictions compounded my mental health problems," he said.

"I went to the doctor and was given benzodiazepines. They said, take them as you need. I mean that's the worst thing you can say to an addict. I was taking them like smarties.

"I immediately thought I was cured and started drinking heavily. A lot of people die with mixing alcohol and benzos.

The plush interior of the Dead Rabbit

"I then started to try and stop drinking for a few months, but my medication dependence went through the roof and things got even worse. On March 25 2016, I called the ambulance and was taken into hospital where my pumped my stomach and I was put on suicide watch for a week.

"It was in there that I realised that I was an alcoholic and that was the main driver of my anxiety and depression problems. The doctor said I shouldn't be here. She took me off all the medications and sent me to out-patient rehabilitation. I combined this with weekly therapy sessions and AA meetings. These were the initial steps to getting better."

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As someone working at the heart of the drinks industry, he has also changed the nature of his job so that he was more involved now in the "operations" side of the business - to remove himself from "triggering situations".

Coming from an area in the city which experienced a horrendous 'cluster' of suicides among teenage boys over a decade ago - 13 their took their own lives in six weeks - both Mr McGarry and Mr Muldoon, who is also from Ardoyne, spoke of the importance of "seeking help".

Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon from the Dead Rabbit Picture Mal McCann.

"My aim in speaking out is let people know that they aren't alone," added Mr McGarry.

"But my advice is, you have to be ready, truly ready to make serious changes. Unfortunately, this generally involves a bottom - the low point so you can start to come back up. Once you've got that energy, get to a meeting, talk about your problems, don't be afraid."

Proceeds of the book From Barley To Blarney will be given to mental health charity Aware

:: ROYALTIES from all sales of 'The Dead Rabbit' Irish whiskey have been given to a charity which supports people from across the north living with depression.

Ardoyne men Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry made the donation at the launch of their book into the history of Irish whiskey.

'From Barley to Blarney, a Whiskey Lover’s Guide to Ireland,' looks at more than 20 Irish distilleries and dozens of landmark pubs, including Belfast's Duke of York and Kelly's Cellars as well as Johnny Joe McCollum's in Cushendall.

Mr Muldoon said they had dedicated a previous book to "kids in north Belfast" whose worlds had been "rocked by depression and suicide".

"We're proud to continue to support this important cause. Jack has been very candid about sharing his story and we hope it will help to break down the stigma around mental health and encourage others to seek help when they need it.”

Karen Collins, Chief Executive of Aware said they delighted to receive the donation and that it will go towards offering support groups and wellbeing programmes to promote positive mental health and help recovery from depression,

For further information about the support services provided by AWARE, visit https://www.aware-ni.org/