9th September 1999

One of our readers talks to Michael O’Hanlon about how she survived a life of Dickensian violence and abuse;

My mother was not well, and she seemed to be down on me like a ton of bricks, life at home was not very pleasant. I wanted out and at the first opportunity I was gone. We were having a blazing row and she was saying, “get out of my sight”, and I took her literally. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for. At first he was alright, so I went away with him. We went to his home place and we got married, I was seventeen and he was six years older than me. It was in the late fifties and the Irish boom was still a long way off, things were rough and he was on the dole. Oh! he was a lazy bastard, he never worked. Then I became pregnant and three months later I got my first beating.
It happened quite simply, he said “You stupid bitch! aren’t the potatoes done yet”, and I answered “They’ll take a few more minutes”. The next thing bang! never knew ‘twas coming, he knocked me for six. It was a horrible wet night, and I thought maybe he was just cold and hungry and lost his cool. But it happened lots of times before the baby was born. Then he swore it would never happen again, but it did, again, and again. In those days you didn’t run to your parents, anyway what could they do, no! you made your bed and you lay in it.
As the years passed the beatings became constant, the children were suffering. He never gave me any money. His father was the only one from his family who helped me , he kept my child benefit book for me, if my husband got it he’d keep it. He’d leave in the morning at half past eight and I wouldn’t see him again until two or three the following morning and he’d be so drunk he wouldn’t be able to stand. But the worst beatings were when he was sober. It was frightening for the kids. We would hear the bike coming and I’d say, “pretend to be asleep”, but it made no difference. I went to the priest and he told me that God would provide. I went to the guards and they told me they would have to catch him in the act. But one guard in particular (he is now deceased) believed me and tried desperately to help. He would sit outside the house until everybody was gone to bed and all was quiet. Little did he realise he was being watched, as soon as he left the beatings would start again, and to such an extent that I wouldn’t be able to speak for hours.
One night I tried to run away and he ground my face in the road. I still have stones imbedded in my mouth to prove it. The neighbours could hear but nobody wants to get involved in a domestic dispute. There was no contraception, it was rape, give in, or get beaten. Now the children were being physically ill treated. After nine years I couldn’t take anymore, I tried to kill myself. I took an overdose and woke up in hospital. The records showed I had previously been in and out with dislocated bones, the doctors and the priest advised me not to go back. But my children were alone in the house and he was out drinking. Who would look after my children? The Authorities said they would look into it, but they didn’t. The Samaritans said they couldn’t help. I needed someone to mind my family until I found a place of my own. I went to the Southern Health Board and that was how I lost my children.
As someone who had tried to commit suicide I was considered an unfit mother. It was the late seventies and there was no help from anyone. Then I got a job minding an old man who was going blind. He gave me a room and allowed me to bring two of my children, but no money. After a court battle I got the Deserted Wives Allowance. But the torment continued, my husband found out where I was and held a demonstration outside the house, he had youngsters with placards saying, “ send back our mother”..
The guards came and tried to move him on but he said he was entitled to hold a peaceful demonstration. Then one day I came back from the shop and was hanging my coat in the wardrobe when I spotted a pipe on the pillow and a hand came from under the bed and hit me. I don’t remember coming down the stairs, I ran out into the street and a shopkeeper called the guards. I thought he had thumped me but he was after sticking a tailors scissors into my ribs and I wound up in Sarsfield Court. When the case was being heard, Mr Goldberg the solicitor sent his associate out after me with an envelope and said to me to go and buy myself something. There was a hundred pounds in the envelope, it was a lot of money in those times. The guard from Barrack street who took out the scissors, he and his wife became my friends and they would visit me every Christmas and bring presents. It was people like that who didn’t know me from Adam but helped me anyway that kept me going. Then the old man died and the Corporation gave me a flat, and I got a job, and the two children that were with me got jobs. But I wouldn’t get the rest of my children until they were eighteen. I was allowed visit them once a month. It was horrible, being so delighted to see them then trying to smile coming away and then for the rest of the month pretending I didn’t have children.
Then I met a lovely man, a widower with two children, he knew my circumstances and he couldn’t do enough for me, and we lived happily together for thirteen years until he died of cancer.
A priest got me to look after an old lady who lived near me. And in time the nuns gave me a job as a priests housekeeper. Gradually I was becoming involved in community affairs and started a women’s group, and then a youth group, and a combat
poverty group. I got involved in so many things that I wound up having a mild stroke. It was a warning to take it easy so I eased off the community work.
All my life I’ve had an interest in nature, and this woman friend who looked after me when I was sick introduced me to Aromatherapy and helped me to study it and get a Diploma and set up a practice, learned to drive and became my own woman.
It was the man I lived with for thirteen years who gave me back my self respect. I was down at rock bottom. I was worthless, I didn’t belong in the human race. But he showed me I was as good as anyone else, that anything I wanted to do I could just go out and do it. He showed me my own potential and it gave me back my life. If you lose your identity you become a non-entity. My children are all grown up now, they are all good hard working people, I know their lives are scarred but they live with it. I’ve done some writing, and I play a little music with my friends. This year I took my first foreign holiday, I never thought I would get to Lanzarote, it was always a name in a book. I’m not in any relationship. Am I happy ? Happiness is a state of mind, lets just say I am content.

(Name and address withheld for obvious reasons)