Kevin McCarthy, a proud Irishman and teller of tales

He would often go to Wembley or Lords with a sign slung around his neck saying: “Wrinkly Needs Tickets.”

Monday, 11th July — By Tom Foot

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Kevin with his wife Tricia

KEVIN McCarthy, who has died aged 84, was a passionate campaigner for peace and social justice, a lover of dance, travel, alcohol abstinence – and everything Irish.

A social worker in Camden and active union organiser for National and Local Government Officers (Nalgo) – a precursor to Unison – for decades, who lived in West Hampstead for 40 years, he played a key role in supporting Irish families after the King’s Cross fire in 1987.

For more than 30 years he organised a mass for the victims on the anniversary of the disaster in the Blessed Sacrament Church in Copenhagen Street, while also laying wreaths for the victims at the cemetery in East Finchley.

He could tell a good tale too, often reliving stories of how he was in Tiananmen Square in 1989, his kidnapping in South America and his knack for wangling his way into major sporting events. He would often go to Wembley or Lords with a sign slung around his neck saying: “Wrinkly Needs Tickets.”

His wife Tricia Teahan, said this week: “He was through and through a campaigner. He went around with badges on his cap and was always finding a cause. He was always supporting marches – he was there to support a cause all the time.”

The couple met just under 30 years ago at an Irish Step Dancing group in Queen’s Park.

Now a complementary therapist, Ms Teahen said: “He was just coming out of the Camden social workers’ strike at that time. He was interesting, he had been to China. He had learned the language. He was full of adventure, and loved travelling. He would also find the Irish wherever he went abroad. When he went to Argentina, he found people playing hurling and that some of them had Irish and Spanish names.

“He was in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He was kidnapped by the local police in Mexico in 1982, after they tried to take money off him.”

Kevin McCarthy in his younger years

Originally from Mell, a small parish in Drogheda in County Louth, he was born into a family of eight – five boys and three girls. He left when he was 25 for London to study social work, the start of a 40-year career mainly in mental health social work in Camden and Kensington and Chelsea.

In 2017, the New Journal reported on the 30th anniversary of the King’s Cross fire telling the story of how Mr McCarthy still laid wreaths for the dead, including the former La Sainte Union Catholic school pupil Treena Chappell, and his hero Michael Holden, who dragged several passengers to safety. Both are buried in St Pancras and Islington cemetery.

Mr McCarthy said at the time: “I think I do it for my mother – she wanted me to be a priest, but I think social work was the closest thing to that.”

He would spend his summer holidays watching Gaelic football and hurling. When he didn’t have a ticket for the big games he was “99 per cent successful” with his Wrinkly sign system, Tricia said, recalling how he recently made it into football’s European Cup at Wembley.

Tricia said: “Being Irish was a key part of his identity – he was incredibly proud of it. He was also a pioneer – meaning that he never drank alcohol and belonged to the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.

“He ate well, he cooked for himself and he always had a sweet tooth. He loved doughnuts and liquorice allsorts. He was always so happy. All he needed really was a copy of the Guardian, and a pen. He always did news­paper research, had a lot of cuttings. He was following Brexit really deeply. But Covid really interfered with his way of life.”

A regular with stories at the New Journal’s office in Camden Town, Mr McCarthy died on June 4 from vascular dementia.

There is a church service at the Sacred Heart Church in Quex Road from 1pm on July 21 before a cremation.

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