‘Ireland needs to protect its mothers, sisters, daughters’
Walking the short distance from the bus station to Market Square, Jade Farrelly, organiser of Cavan Town’s candlelit vigil in memory of the late Ashling Murphy, “hesitated”. Growing up in Cavan Town, she’d never given a second thought to taking the “short-cut” through Townhall carpark. But last Friday night, in light of the Tullamore school teacher’s brutal murder, to Jade the corners looked darker, the shade deeper, and the silence even more silent.
“I’d never before questioned myself walking there, a two second journey, but just this week... this week...,” she trailed off shaking her head.
Jade organised one of several dozens remembrance events across the region last weekend, such was the outpouring of grief and shock that gripped the nation in the wake of Ms Murphy’s brutal murder whilst out jogging in broad daylight.
Each of the gatherings honoured the young woman’s life, and delivered a message against gender-based violence in Ireland.
News of Ms Murphy’s terrible death left Jade’s heart “completely broken”.
“I knew I wasn’t the only one,” she adds of her inspiration in organising the Cavan Town vigil.
Jade has a younger sister. She fears for her safety too. “You ask any woman, the majority will tell you they’ve walked afraid at some point in their lives. They’ve taken the long route home, carried keys in their hands. They’ve had 999 dialled out on their phones, looked over their shoulders, or had friends ask them to text once home safe. Panic alarms are flying off the shelves since Ashling was killed, and this is not a today thing. It’s not just this week. This is everyday, women are living terrified.”
The Anglo-Celt spoke to one woman about an experience she suffered as a teenager.
Speaking on condition of anonymity shortly after the Cavan Town vigil, which attracted hundreds, as a girl she’d skipped school in the early ‘90s and travelled to Dublin. “It was a Wednesday or Thursday, no one else was willing to skip with me so I went on my own.”
The “incident”, which she recalls with great unease, occurred crossing the Ha’penny Bridge. Without warning, she recollects being grabbed by at least two, if not three men, her school dress “pulled up over my head and one of them grabbed my hands.”
What shocked her then, and still jars is how “nobody” came to her aid. “Not one person.”
The assault only ended when she heard one accented voice say ‘Leave her, she’s only a child’.
The woman never reported the incident, avoiding telling her parents for fear she’d get in trouble for “being on the mitch”.
It was only years later that she confided in her husband about the “terror” it caused in her life. Even now the woman avoids watching the news fearing reports might “trigger” anxiety.
But sometimes she says it’s simply “unavoidable”.
The murder of Jastine Valdez in May 2018 caused the woman to suffer “flashbacks”. She started counselling again, and last week’s killing of Ms Murphy gave rise to another “setback”.
Kate McAvenue from Belturbet welcomed the opportunity to “share grief” the vigil provided. As she talks to the Celt, the crowd swells and dozens more lit candles flicker into being.
Kate explains it can be “very frightening” to be a woman walking alone. “It’s frightening for my daughter and granddaughters. You can’t relax if they’re home late, it’s a constant state of alert. I was out walking the other day, and I was actually afraid.”
The mother and grandmother hopes the movement will prove to be a watershed moment in tackling gender-based violence.
“We need people to wake up. I hope this makes a difference.”
Sisters-in-law Kathleen and Eileen Maughan were also in attendance. Traveller women are proportionately 30 times more likely than settled women to suffer domestic violence.
Violence against women in the Traveller community nationally “has been a problem,” Eileen admits. “Big time”.
Though Kathleen welcomes an increasing awareness among Traveller women, saying: “They’re getting braver about speaking out. That’s important.”
‘A better future’
The Smith family from Lavey stand with candles in hand. Carmel and husband Micheál are with their three daughters - Micheala (11), Alannah (10), and Layla (6).
Carmel walks the local roads everyday, but after Ms Murphy’s murder, admits “doubt” has been cast on her otherwise regular routine. “I didn’t go today. I had that thought in the back of my head, that I might not be safe.”
Dad Micheál looks to their three daughters. “We want a better future for them. It’s too much to have to explain to young kids, and have to describe what’s happened. They’re only children, they go to school, play with their friends. They shouldn’t have to know this, but unfortunately, it’s happening and they need to be aware of it.”
At an Oireachtas level, Fianna Fáil’s Diarmuid Wilson is “committed” to supporting legislative change. Sen Wilson has three daughters; one at university and two still in secondary school. He attended the vigil alongside his teenage twins Maedhbh and Niamh, and party colleagues Brendan Smith TD and Cavan Councillor Patricia Walsh.
“It’s unthinkable what happened to Ashling. I totally support the call for stricter legislation, first being stiffer sentences for people convicted of domestic violence. I also agree with the call for the whole issue being tackled from a very early age, through education and awareness at school level. Enough is enough.”
Of violence recorded against women, Jade Farrelly says it is statistically “more common” for a woman to be murdered or violently attacked by persons known to them - a husband, ex-partner, or family member.
Since 1996, in the Republic of Ireland, 236 women have met a violent end, with 61% of those dying in their own homes.
At the vigil the woman remembered the late Clodagh Hawe (39), murdered alongside her three boys - Liam (13), Niall (11), and Ryan (6) - by husband and dad Alan in August 2016.
The publication of independent research on Familicide and Domestic Homicide Reviews, as promised in the Justice Plan 2021 and being undertaken by an advisory group, is still not ready, the Celt has learned.
The study was due to be published before the end of last year, with the Department for Justice telling this newspaper shortly after the fifth anniversary of the Hawe murders that the research would be ready in a matter of “weeks”.
The delay, it’s understood, is due to the “fair procedures” part of the publication process, which involves allowing any persons or organisations who might be affected by the contents of the report to be given an opportunity to reply.
The department once again states the report is expected be “finalised” in the coming weeks, after which it will be published. “The Minister has not yet received the report. Upon receipt, the Minister will examine it in detail and is committed to considering, as a priority, any recommendations made,” a spokesperson confirmed.
‘The list goes on’
In her speech, Jade cited the Clodagh Hawe murder. Locally, she also recalled the deaths of mum-of-one Amy Farrell, a bank official and student from Leixlip. She was just 21 years old when Brendan McGahern murdered her at her Glenlara home in January 2006, the day after she gave evidence against a friend of his.
But as Jade said: “Horrifyingly, this list goes on.”
In December 2001, Kealen Herron, then 21, murdered Sister Philomena Lyons (68) in the grounds of the Sacred Heart Convent, Ballybay, Co Monaghan. Herron first sexually assaulted then killed the elderly nun. He was later jailed for life.
In September 2013, Patricia Kierans from Bailieborough died when she was shot by her husband of 33 years, Oliver. He was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter by majority verdict, after he claimed to have picked up a sawn-off shotgun with the intention of taking his own life, only for it to discharge in her direction.
In 2018, Latvian mother of one Egita Juanmaize (34) was convicted of placing a blue cord around the neck of 49-year-old Antra Ozolina at a house in Kilnaleck in June 2014.
The court was told a Latvian man – described as a Neo Nazi with a swastika tattooed on his chest – had strangled Antra the night before.
His former girlfriend, Juanmaize, acted out of fear of the man, in order to make it look like Ms Ozolina had taken her own life through suicide.
The man was never charged as he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash months later.
Of all cases prosecuted before the recent criminal sittings of Cavan Circuit Court, a dozen cases involved a degree of violence or untoward act perpetrated against a female.
Jade believes that attacks, as in the case of Ms Murphy, can no longer truly be considered “random”, and questions whether it would have “happened at all” had she not been a woman.
“This wasn’t a case of wrong place, wrong time. That’s what’s so very scary, and attacks now are not rare, but nothing is changing. This is a global issue, it’s not isolated to Ireland, but Ireland needs to do more to protect its mothers, sisters, and daughters.”