Conor McCafferty, who comes from a background of youth work, further education, counselling and psychotherapy, will be speaking about emotional health and the positive and negative ways to deal with feelings at the Aisling Centre’s Hope, Healing and Growth event, which will take place virtually this Saturday, January 9.

As the CEO of Zest Healing the Hurt Ltd, a charity that supports people suffering emotional pain and hurt, Conor has been working with those who are self-harming or suicidal and their families and friends as well as those who have been bereaved by suicide.

ZEST coordinates the Self-harm Intervention Programme (SHIP) in the Northern Trust and Western Trust areas.

Experienced therapist

A highly experienced therapist who has been working in the field of addiction, self-harm and suicide for many years, Conor has first-hand experience of the impact that alcohol has on the emotional health of people of all ages in Northern Ireland and beyond.

His talk on Saturday will be on emotional health and the impact of alcohol.

“Everybody you see has a problem with emotional health. It’s in our culture and we’re actually famous for drinking – that’s not a coincidence,” said Conor.

He went on to explain that every person is born completely emotional.

“Every wee person, when they’re happy, they’re happy, when they’re angry, they’re angry, when they’re embarrassed, they’re embarrassed, when they’re sad, they’re sad.

“It’s automatic, but then sometimes the big people say, ‘Stop that crying now or I’ll give you something to cry about,’ and the wee person goes, ‘I better not cry, I better not do that one’.

“But it’s the law of the body. We have to emote. Every thought creates a feeling, creates a behaviour,” he said, adding: “But once the big people forbid it or stop it, then the wee person thinks, ‘I better not do that’, and they think there is something wrong with it.”

Conor continued: “What happens is when they have a feeling, they’ll flip it and it’s not only that ‘I’m not sad’, it’s, ‘I’m actually quite happy’.

“So if you ever watch wee boys, especially when they are watching something sad on TV, they’ll actually start laughing and carrying on. They’ll smell tears a mile away and they’ll start laughing and making fun of it. And big boys as well.

‘Goes down the generations’

“We’ve learned to do it, and it’s nobody’s fault, it’s historical, it goes down the generations: ‘Don’t show a weakness, you have to be strong’. We pretend.”

He noted that, unfortunately, when there is a death by suicide, so often we hear that the person was ‘happy as Larry’, ‘the life and soul of the party’, that they have loads of friends.

“Well, if that’s the behaviour, what must the feeling be? And the feeling you’d imagine would be really happy, but it’s not, they flip it to the complete opposite so people won’t detect how they are really feeling,” explained Conor.

“My talk is to explain how this works. When an emotion doesn’t get out, it stays in our bodies. We can put away memories, but you can’t put away feelings.

“So the next sad feeling is a bigger one, and then it’s a bigger one, and it’s just growing all the time.

“All the negative feelings, as we label them, don’t get out, so we need something to take the pain away, to take our minds off it, and alcohol is chemical-changing. It’s an anaesthetic. The injection you get in the hospital for an operation starts to be equivalent to 13 pints of beer.

“And [alcohol] just takes away the pain, it takes away our inhibitions, our worries, but if we use it to feel better, we keep needing more and more for the same effect. Then you have intoxication.”

Highlighting that alcohol is a depressant, he said: “If you are feeling bad sober, and a depression hits, it’s 10 times worse.”

During his talk on Saturday, Conor will explain in more detail the chemical process of drinking alcohol and why over-drinking is such a threat to our individual health, the health of others, and the safety of our communities.

From working as a counsellor in the Fermanagh area in 2004, Conor has built a strong relationship with the Aisling Centre, and says he is delighted to be involved in the Hope, Healing and Growth event.

“It was very much a privilege to be asked and to be able to share what I know,” he said.

“There is such a wide range of speakers and subjects and, not only that, we are in a time now where people are locked down.

“People are struggling at home, without a doubt, so to be able to offer them some help and give them information [is great].

“I just hope many people take up the offer and come along and listen. Even if you just get one thing out of it, it will be well worth it. Especially in these times, people need something.

“They need hope,” said Conor.

Hope, Healing and Growth Virtual Day of Inspiration

Saturday, January 9, 10am to 4pm

9.15am Registration

9.30am Welcome from Aisling Centre patron, Adrian Dunbar.

9.45am Opening remarks from facilitator Aideen McGinley, founding member of Hope, Healing and Growth.

10am The Green Platform: Developing Radical Resilience – Talk from leadership training and development consultant, Declan Coyle.

10.30am Emotional Health and the Impact of Alcohol – Talk from therapist, Conor McCafferty.

11am Interval

11.15am Be Kind to Yourself – Talk from coach, mentor and inspirational speaker, Lisa Strutt.

11.45am The Colour of His Hair – Talk from Richard Pierce.

12.15pm Hope, Healing and Growth after Suicide – Talk from educationalist, creative advisor, artist and founding member of the Aisling Centre’s Hope, Healing and Growth event, Noelle McAlinden.

12.45pm Interval

1pm Lunchtime workshops: Mindfulness meditation with holistic therapist Siobhán Conlon, and yoga with Dr. Anne Monaghan.

1.30pm We Had to Say Goodbye Before We Even Met – Talk from clinical psychologist and author, Irene Teague.

2pm Our Voices Matter – Talk from multi-award winning author, Dara McAnulty.

2.30pm Three Sides to Every Story – Talk from singer and BBC broadcaster, Hugo Duncan.


3pm Hope Hasn’t Been Cancelled.

3.45pm Closing comments from Alison Annan, Chairperson, Aisling Centre.

3.50pm Song of Hope – Performed by The Voice Kids UK finalist, Dara McNicholl.

To book tickets visit