Emmet ‘Hopper’ Ryan’s life, and death, leaves an indelible mark on family and friends, writes Peter O’Connell
HOPPER Ryan’s family cannot suppress their laughter. Even in death, talk of their husband, father and brother has them in stitches. It encapsulates the Hopper Effect.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder, many years ago, Hopper took his own life on July 1, 2012.
Although devastated, his wife, Sophie and their children, Laura (18), Ben (16) and Sam (15), were not surprised. This dark moment had been looming on the horizon most of his children’s lives. They knew it was likely that Emmet ‘Hopper’ Ryan would take his leave of life in this way.
“I remember having big chats with him about suicide,” Laura reflected.
“He always said he wouldn’t but I knew he would some day. Because he was so open about it, we knew when it happened that it wasn’t our fault. He had told us what was going on in his mind but we just couldn’t do anything about it. He was so open about it. That’s what has made it easier to deal with. I know people who have had someone in the family die by suicide totally out of the blue. Dad was always so open about it and the whole family would talk about it.”
Hopper is buried in Lisdeen graveyard, which has views of the Shannon Estuary.
“He has a view over Poulnasherry Bay. There’s a lot of his close friends there,” said Mark Ryan, Hopper’s brother.
While his family are not masking their ongoing pain at his absence, they remember Hopper with love and affection. He even had his funeral organised to a tee.
“He asked for a song at his funeral. It was This Monkey is Gone to Heaven. That was sang at the grave,” said Sophie in Kilkee last Saturday.
“That depicts the type of character that he was. He was a larger than life character. He was very funny. He struggled but he did very well in his life,” she smiled.
“At the grave we were all singing and everything. It was the weirdest thing,” Laura laughed.
Hopper’s quirky sense of humour was evident on the day he died. He left a scattering of suicide notes but the recipients had to find them first.
“In typical Hopper style, he laid out a treasure hunt to try and find the notes,” Sophie said, throwing her eyes skyward.
“We were laughing mad and saying ‘this is so strange, this is so weird’. It put joy into finding a suicide note.
He left a note for every single one of us. He said the most lovely things in it,” Laura noted, acknowledging it was a bizarre, tragic yet humorous scenario.
Hopper was born and raised on the Strand Line in Kilkee. He was the third youngest of eight boys and three girls.
“He grew up to the sound of the tide coming in and out. The sound of the sea was there all his childhood. It just got into his blood,” Mark said.
Hopper wrote his own epitaph, which reads Tá creidiunt agam san fharraige (I believe in the sea).
“It was the only place he was happy,” Sophie said softly.
In spite of the multitude of benign memories of her husband, Sophie has moments when thoughts of Hopper evoke bouts of anger at the manner of his passing.
“In the lead up to Father’s Day, I was very emotional that they didn’t have their dad there. You get angry as well. You hear of people getting cancer and not being able to do anything about it. You think, ‘they don’t have a choice’. But from all his years living with bipolar, I knew the pain he was in as well. We all did. It was very apparent the pain he was in and he was heading that way again. He just couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t go down that road,” Sophie believes.
Growing up, Hopper fished in every rock pool and when he was a little older he snorkelled, spearing flatfish.
He fished and hunted with his father, Paddy, in the rivers and fields of West Clare and around the Loop. Hopper developed a deep love and knowledge of nature and all of its wild creatures and seasonal visitors. His father’s sudden death, at the age of 55, was a traumatic event in his youth and was a wound he carried all of his life.
“He used to drive us mad. He’d say ‘we’ll go for a short walk’. But we wouldn’t be back till nightfall. He’d bring us up Rehy Hill. He used to drive us mental but it was what he loved. He’d take off for the whole day just walking around the loop. He’d bring us fishing for lug worms and digging up razor fish,” Laura recalled.
After an excellent Leaving Cert, Hopper tried college for a while, graduating in aquaculture and working at a fish farm in Kerry. However, the lure of the sea and Loop Head Peninsula was just too much and he soon returned, just as the local fishing community was experiencing a boom – with salmon, spur dogfish, hake and crab all at a premium. His physical strength and resilience helped as he struggled to keep an even keel in his battle with bipolar disorder. His easy way, wit, love of fun and of company helped him to develop a wide circle of close and supportive friends.
“He was great fun to be around and it would be no exaggeration to say he was loved by nearly everyone who met him and whenever he fell under the black dogs of depression, he was lifted by them all,” Mark feels.
Hopper will be remembered on Sunday when the inaugural Hopper’s Way fundraiser will be held. “It was our good friend Dixie Collins who came up with the name. We were sitting here chatting, asking what could we call the event? When he said ‘Hopper’s Way’, we all said ‘that’s it’,” Laura said.
Participants can elect to walk, run, cycle, swim, kayak or row from Carrigaholt to Kilbaha. Pieta House will benefit from money collected at the event.
“It’s to celebrate his life. He had such a love for back west. It will be a chance for everybody to get together and talk about him. There’s not enough help out there for people. The only route available, apart from Pieta House, is the health service, which wasn’t for him. He hated medication,” Sophie said.
Sam will run from village to village, while Ben will row. Laura is thinking of rowing it but isn’t certain yet. “I would love to row it but not a hope am I running it,” she laughed.
On a broader note Laura feels Sunday’s Carrigaholt to Kilbaha trip will help with the grieving process.
“Anyone who has someone in the family who dies by suicide, I think you bear so much guilt because you feel that you could have done something. But you really can’t. I think this event is like a way to grieve as well. It’s the one good thing that has come out of his death and will hopefully help a lot of other people. He influenced so many people’s lives so hopefully what we raise will help people.”
Laura was about 14 when she came to understand her father’s state of mind. “I started talking to him about it. I remember him always saying that he’d prefer to have his two legs and arms amputated than to have this turmoil that was going on in his mind,” she said.
Registration on Sunday will be at Keane’s public house in Carrigaholt from 12 noon.
Mark predicts Hopper’s Way will be entertaining and reflective of his brother’s life. “It won’t be a dark thing. It’ll be very bright, colourful and funny. If it raises money and helps people in a similar situation, great. We’re proud to shout out his name and celebrate his life. We’re grieving and we miss him but all his friends miss him just as much.
“This gathering will be an acknowledgement of how close his friends were to him and how badly they miss him. It’s still very raw,” Hopper’s brother acknowledged.
To follow up on the Hopper’s Way event, his family and friends are to launch a book entitled An Idler’s Guide to the Loop Head Peninsula. It will be an illustrated photo-book showing some of Hopper’s favourite places on the Loop Head Peninsula. All profits from the sale of the book will go towards funding community and social economy projects on the Loop.