The Strokestown Democrat

After a very stressful few years, Emmett Corcoran reflects on his cancer journey, politics, a high profile role in the local media… and the meaning of life

“I just think individuals and groups need to reflect on themselves and not expect politicians and the Government to solve problems we can solve ourselves”. Emmett Corcoran, pictured in Strokestown last week. Pic: Kieran Croghan

Well-known Strokestown resident Emmett Corcoran has endured an extremely challenging four years. A former national by-election candidate in Roscommon-South Leitrim, Mr Corcoran had a high profile period as Editor of the relaunched (but now defunct) Democrat newspaper. In recent years he has been centrally involved in a long-running saga over the seizure of his phone by Gardaí and the issue of the right of journalists to protect their sources. In 2019, Emmett’s life took a harrowing turn when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He is now in full remission. He recently shared his story with Roscommon People reporter Dan Dooner


DD: It’s good to see you looking so well. Can you talk to me about your recent battle with illness and how you first discovered there was a problem?

EC: On February 25th, 2019 I got a real sharp pain right at the top of my right testicle. Straight away I said to myself ‘God that would be awful if that was cancer’ – not really thinking in a million years that it could be.

DD: And like most men you went straight to the doctor, right?

EC: Well…the pain got worse over the next few weeks and then I went to the doctor.

DD: And?

EC: It was diagnosed as a possible hernia but by mid-March I couldn’t hack the pain and got the auld lad to bring me to Mullingar Hospital at two o’clock one morning.

DD: What was going through your head?

EC: I was sent off to the Mater (Hospital) but by that stage the questioning had become more pointed and my own worst nightmares were being imagined. I knew it wasn’t going to be good.

DD: You weren’t surprised then when the bad news was delivered?

EC: No. When the consultant in Mullingar came in to break it, he put his hand on my hand and said ‘I’ve very bad news. You have cancer’. I replied ‘I know, what’s next?’

DD: How old were you at that time and what was the outlook like?

EC: I was only 27. The prognosis was good, thankfully. But it was still tough to come to terms with it. I deal with problems by accepting the worst case scenario and anything better than that is a bonus.

DD: The worst case scenario is pretty final though?

EC: I’d accepted in my own mind that if it was my time to check out then so be it. But I was absolutely terrified about the impact it would have on my wife Larissa, my brothers, parents and other people around me.

DD: Four years on, how are things now?

EC: I’m in full remission thankfully. I have had a few follow-on procedures and among the hangovers are hyperalgesia and allodynia, basically nerve damage. It’s being managed quite well but there is a battery of tablets every day.

DD: Are there ‘hangovers’ from a psychological standpoint?

EC: There’s also the ‘masculinity’ element to losing a testicle…it’s only natural (laughs). I suppose I was a married man at that stage and was never going to win any beauty pageants anyway!

DD: What advice would you give to men in that high-risk age category of 25 to 40?

EC: The same for those in other age categories. Check yourself. I knew something wasn’t right for a long time. I felt it while having a shower initially and it was just ‘off’. You never want to face up to it being something else but it’s so important to catch that ‘something else’ early. Accept your own mortality and say ‘It can happen to me’ and then go talk to your GP in good time.

DD: Sound advice. So you’re now ready for a return to politics then? (He ran as an Independent candidate in the 2014 by-election in Roscommon-South Leitrim, polling 1,262 number ones).

EC: (Laughs) I’ll probably be politically adjacent for the rest of my life but as for a return to electoral politics that’s not on the cards. I don’t think my wife would forgive me if I put myself through that again!

DD: How do you view Irish politics now?

EC: When I first got involved I was young and naïve enough to think politics could be a mechanism for change…but you quickly become cynical with the system. It’s just so broken and it’s designed to beat out good people.

DD: So there is no mechanism for change…

EC: I’ve just come to the conclusion that if I want to do some good in the world then I’ll just do it on a person-to-person basis. It’s all about giving back as much as you can.

DD: How can the system be fixed?

EC: I don’t think it’s possible and I don’t want that to sound hopeless. I just think individuals and groups need to reflect on themselves and not expect politicians and the Government to solve problems we can solve ourselves.

DD: You’d be in favour of a decentralisation of power then?

EC: Yes, decisions should be made as close to the people they affect as possible. It’s just common sense in my opinion. The rewetting of bogs, for example. This is an EU directive, a decision made around 2,000 miles away and it’s going to affect people in the west and northwest of Ireland. Where’s the logic in that?

DD: So how do we instigate change if not through the system?

EC: You start by having conversations with people and seeing where they’re at. An uncle of mine told me years ago ‘All I can try and do is minimise the sum total of human suffering on the planet, one day at a time’. That resonated with me.

DD: So look closer to home?

EC: Since I got sick I have spoken to a lot of people who have been diagnosed with cancer. I’ve got more reward out of telling them it gets better than anything I ever did when I was in politics.

DD: You were also editor-in-chief of the now defunct (Strokestown-based) Democrat newspaper. Was there any reward in that?

EC: (Laughs). That’s a grand title! The Democrat was Phelim O’Neill’s idea, my business partner. We saw an opportunity there because newspapers are important. We looked at Shannonside Northern Sound’s model and decided to do something a bit more regional. It was a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ in terms of work commitments because you’re still working very long weeks and for less money than there was in politics!

DD: You can sing that!

EC: (Laughs). It was never about the money. I thought it was a nice way of keeping the locality informed but there was also ego involved there again, and I have to be honest about that.

DD: You broke a couple of big stories…

EC: Yeah and I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the 24-hour news cycle and sitting up until half past three in the morning typing like hell to get the stories away. Then working on my own column for another two hours. Jesus, there’s no way I’d have the energy for it now.

DD: One of those stories was the night of violence following the repossession of a home in Falsk in Strokestown. You subsequently ended up in the High Court after Gardaí sought access to the phone you recorded the incident on. What can you tell us about that?

EC: To be perfectly honest, if it had just been about me, with everything else I was going through, I might just have given up.

DD: How tough did it get?

EC: I’ll be quite honest about it. I found myself at the door of the psychiatric unit in Roscommon at one stage just between the stress of that case, the cancer and everything else. It all happened at once in a matter of days.

DD: Where did you find the strength to keep going?

EC: I remember lying in the hospital bed in the Mater and saying to myself ‘Emmett, you have the two biggest battles of your life coming up. Do you want to just give up now and save everyone the aggro?’ I don’t really know how to explain it but something just kept saying ‘You don’t have to give up now, you can always give up tomorrow’. That’s what I kept telling myself every day as the pressure grew. Then as I got stronger with treatment I realised that it was actually really important not to give up because of the principle of the whole thing.

DD: It paid off for you eventually…

EC: It was never really about me but about the principle. And the Supreme Court have seen that right…after four years, two months and however many days! It was the right decision and it has far-reaching effects on not just journalists but on how everyone is treated in terms of the court and the matter of full disclosure.

DD: What have those past four years, two months and however many days taught you?

EC: One of the lessons I’ve learned is that it’s so relieving just to shed yourself of ego, pride and hubris and realise that you are only a lump of organic matter on the planet for 80 or 90 years.

DD: If you’re lucky!

EC: Yes. There’s nothing special about you. You’re not going to change the world all on your own. You can have good ideas and bad ideas or you can be a good person or a nasty person.

DD: So what is there to learn?

EC: The one thing I learned coming face to face with my own mortality was what I really wanted when I died. Did I want to die rich? No, money never motivated me. Did I want to die loved by everyone? No, that’s just a fool’s dream if ever there was one. No, for me it’s dying with as contrite a heart as possible and knowing that you treated everyone as well as you possibly could. Also accepting your own frailties, faults and flaws…and realising ‘Yeah, I’m not perfect but I tried’.