Limerick’s Carmody leaves ’em laughing
CORK, Ireland––Disbanding, 21 years after bringing multi-issue grassroots animal rights activism to Ireland, the Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN) on October 25, 2016 finished with a rally in Cork against lackadaisical official responses to complaints about cruelty to animals.
Allied animal advocacy organizations from Limerick, Clare, Galway, Dublin, Kildare, Offaly and Tipperary joined ARAN founder John Carmody, 35, who announced in April 2016 that the Cork protest would be his last as leader of the organization he formed in his mid-teens and built to international prominence, with a reported support base of more than 13,000 activists, donors, and letter-writers on behalf of animal causes.
Only two convicted by Irish courts
Irish justice minister Maureen O’Sullivan recently admitted in parliamentary questioning that only two people had been convicted by Irish courts of cruelty to animals in the first three-quarters of 2016.
The Cork marchers also spotlighted the failure of the Irish government to effectively address hare coursing, misuse of animals in circuses and other entertainment, and abuse and neglect in commercial dog breeding.
To some extent too, the Cork rally was in memory of Anne Fitzgerald, who was among Carmody’s longtime role models and inspirations. A cofounder of the Cork Animal Care Society in October 2000, Fitzgerald died on June 20, 2011.
“There was never a time,” recalled Carmody, “when she would not go out of her way to attend our demonstrations, regardless where they were held. I have many fond memories of Anne, including speaking for many an hour on the phone almost every week. Anne’s life was completely focused around saving the lives of cats and kittens,” Carmody said, “and educating about the importance of spaying and neutering.”
Another of Carmody’s role models and inspirations was John Fitzgerald, of Callan, County Cork, who first witnessed hare coursing in his early teens, circa 1960.
Discovering that he was not alone in his revulsion at what he saw, John Fitzgerald sought to organize anti-coursing protests, but found himself up against the social class system, entrenched under centuries of British rule and not visibly weakened by the first half century of Irish independence.
Much as British landlords had maintained their authority by hiring mercenary militias, politically influential hare coursers employed out-and-out thugs in various capacities, who responded to John Fitzgerald’s activism with violence and threats of violence, as John Fitzgerald recounted in his 2008 book Bad Hare Days.
While the Fitzgeralds and others had addressed animal issues one at a time, Carmody realized early that making headway on any animal issues in Ireland would require broad-fronted activism directed not so much at changing any one abuse as at changing the entire framework of cultural values that allowed a multitude of abuses to persist.
This was essentially the same realization that brought about the rise of the animal rights movement a generation earlier in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia, through which multi-faceted organizations had emerged and grown after much older animal advocacy charities narrowly focused on dogs, cats, antivivisectionism, vegetarianism, and opposition to hunting, trapping, and fur had stalled.
Modeled on PETA
Carmody built ARAN in emulation of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in particular, often working with in collaboration with PETA on international campaigns, but ARAN did not always follow the PETA model, as Carmody remained attentive to what would work in Ireland, not just what might have worked somewhere else.
“Outspoken and often controversial Limerick man John Carmody, at just 14 years of age, was stirred into action after seeing brutal images of skinned seals on the front cover of a national newspaper,” recounted Limerick Post reporter Alan Jacques.
“The group started out taking on local stores that sold furs; boycotting circuses that would roll into the city with captive animals; encouraging people to spay and neuter their animals; campaigning against blood sports; and promoting alternatives to dissection in local schools,” Jacques recalled.
Law dated to 1911
“They ended up running national campaigns to expose animal abuse, along with campaigning for stronger laws and educating people about how they can live kinder.
“When Carmody formed ARAN,” Jacques noted, “Ireland had an antiquated law protecting animals that dated to 1911. But, through political lobbying, racy and provocative stunts, hard-hitting investigations, celebrity involvement, education, grassroots activism, and media awareness, Carmody and his group helped change all that.
“The groups’ impressive list of achievements include prompting Irish charities to adopt a ‘no fur’ policy; pushing Ireland to back a European Union-wide ban on the importation of seal skins; campaigning for the new [but as yet lightly enforced Animal Health and Welfare Act; lobbying for the Dog Breeding Establishments Act to help regulate puppy breeding, and helping to reduce the death rate in pounds by promoting spaying and neutering and adopting instead of buying animals.”
Goats & horses
Effectively a fulltime animal rights activist since age 16, Carmody for years helped to support ARAN by taking a variety of clerical and sales jobs, working from his parents’ home in Carew, a Limerick suburb where goats and horses grazed in vacant lots.
Carmody was for a time perhaps best known for leading nude demonstrations against the fur trade, as part of the PETA “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign, and as a two-time participant in the PETA-sponsored “Running of the Nudes” protest against bull-running and bullfighting in Pamplona, Spain.
Returning home on July 7, 2005, after the 2005 “Running of the Nudes,” Carmody and his Limerick friend Shane Kiely had a day-long stopover in London, England, where they were to change planes, and decided to go sight-seeing.
Catching a train to King’s Cross, Carmody and Kiely had just stashed their bags in a subway station locker when a suicide bomber protesting against British involvement in the U.S. war in Iraq detonated his explosives on the far side of a corridor wall.
That bomb was among three set off more-or-less simultaneously, killing 52 people.
“The mayhem will stick in my mind for ages,” Carmody told the Limerick Post.
In May 2009 ARAN achieved a groundbreaking exposé of conditions at a pig breeding facility based in County Cavan, Ireland, after an employee contacted ARAN to report pigs had been killed with sledgehammers.
The pig farm worker also described sickly live pigs being dumped to die among others who were already dead. Video disclosed cannibalism among the pigs.
“We worked quietly behind the scenes with the employee,” Carmody said, “capturing the cruelty on video through a camera phone. Once we had enough cruelty documented, we contacted the Department of Agriculture and local Gardai (police) with details of the cruelty and laws that were broken.”
Then ARAN went public with the footage and released it to national press with immediate pick up.
Dublin Zoo & Duffy’s Circus
Carmody in late 2010 distributed photos to media showing “a family of gorillas languishing at the Dublin Zoo in a dull, cramped metal enclosure,” he recalled. After almost a year of exposés and follow-ups, the zoo on August 26, 2011 unveiled plans for a new enclosure with “streams, dense vegetation, small hills and rocky outcrops, and forest paths with hidden viewing points for visitors,” Carmody said.
Another ARAN campaign came to a memorable conclusion when in June 2013 Tom Duffy’s Circus quit exhibiting lions and tigers.
ARAN and Animal Defenders International had pursued Duffy’s Circus with frequent protests since November 2005, following ADI undercover investigations of seven circuses that toured Ireland in 2000 and 2003.
Circus Belly Wein
ARAN had also won resolutions from the governing councils in Drogheda, Wicklow, Monaghan, and Waterford against allowing circuses to exhibit animals on public land.
In March and April 2016, just before Carmody’s decision to fold ARAN, ARAN and Animal Defenders International organizations a series of protests that sent the German-based Circus Belly Wein on to France after only two months of a planned nine-month tour of Ireland. The Circus Belly Wein had arrived in Ireland after being prevented from performing in the Netherlands. The three Circus Belly Wein elephants, ages 45, 45, and 47, are significantly older than ringmaster and trapeze performer Nadia Scholl, 30, who may be among the last ringmasters in Europe to travel with elephants.
“And happy days to them”
“I have had mixed feelings for the last couple of years,” Carmody acknowledged to Jacques of the Limerick Post and ANIMALS 24-7. “Should I stay or should I go, and my decision was never going to be black and white. But after 21 years, it’s now time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.
“Campaigning alongside hundreds of other volunteers and with the backing of thousands of supporters, ARAN was able to inspire the nation to be kinder and more active in the campaign against cruelty to animals.
“I can assure our supporters that our efforts will last forever. I bet our opposition, the ones who’ve profited off animals, will be opening the bottles of champagne with this news, and happy days to them, but we would hope that they too can take a message away about considering animals and their feelings and just leaving them alone.
“I cannot thank enough our supporters, the groups we’ve worked with and everyone who’s been pro-active all these years with ARAN,” Carmody finished. “My final message to everyone as founder of the group is to be kind, to treat people and animals with respect, and live every single day like it’s your last.”