Parents of Jack Downey (19) speak out about how drugs ‘destroyed’ their only child

‘People have to stand up and speak ... we are all too casual about what is going on among young people in Ireland’

Jack Downey (19) from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, pictured with his mother Elaine. Photograph: Clonmel Óg Hurling and Football Facebook page.

The parents of two students who died after ingesting dangerous substances have warned young people about the consequences of taking illegal drugs.

Elaine and Johnny Downey, parents of Jack Downey, who died after ingesting an illegal substance at the Indiependence festival in Co Cork earlier this month, said they allowed friends and family to see Jack in the hospital to show them how drugs had "destroyed" his life.

“We were duty-bound to let every single person who came to that hospital see Jack Downey, the fine man that he was, destroyed. Destroyed by what happened,” Ms Downey said in an interview with the Sunday Independent.

His father, a garda in Clonmel, said: "They all saw Jack tubed up and wired up. There was a shock factor".


He added: “He was on dialysis. His liver was totally destroyed. All his organs had failed”.

Ms Downey said she was concerned that so many young people were willing to take the risk of using illegal substances such as MDMA.

“Many young people today are different from how our lives used to be. They want a buzz. Many of them are sensible, educated, bright young people with great futures,” she said. “But all it takes is one big mistake and the results are awful and horrendous. And there is always someone there preying on them.”

The 19-year-old was the their only child and had just completed his first year of accountancy studies at Cork Institute of Technology. He was very passionate about GAA and was the goalkeeper for Clonmel Óg hurlers and the free-taker for Clonmel Óg footballers.

Ms Downey said the last words he said to her were: “Mam, I love you. You’re my best friend.”

"We can't let what happened to Jack happen to any other boy or girl. People have to stand up and speak. The young people need to look out for each other," she said. "And people should be willing to pull youngsters aside if they are doing what they shouldn't be doing, even if they get a tongue-lashing for intervening. We are all too casual about what is going on among young people in Ireland. "

Local priest Fr Michael Toomey said the tragedy was a "wake-up call" for any parent in Ireland who believes their children would never experience such a fate.

Patricia and Denis Ryan, the parents of John Ryan (20), who died in May after ingesting what is understood to be illegal drugs, criticised the normalisation of dangerous substances.

John collapsed in a house in Limerick City over the May bank holiday weekend after taking an unknown substance.

“We don’t want any other family to go through what we’ve been through. People must not let the use of drugs be normalised. Drugs are everywhere. They are so freely available, it’s scary,” Ms Ryan told the same newspaper.“We don’t want John’s death to be in vain. This issue needs to be highlighted more.”

Her husband called for data to be collected on the number of people who die from drugs.

“They should be publishing a headcount on drugs deaths just like they do with road fatalities,” Mr Ryan said. “Drugs are now so cheap, they are cheaper than alcohol.”

Ms Ryan said every family and every young person needs to be aware of the dangers of drugs.

“You always think it’s not going to happen to you,” she said.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times