Content note: this post contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence and rape.
By Estelle Birdy
Waiting outside the doctor’s surgery for your mother, you are in the car with your Dad. Bored and with a liking for churches when they’re quiet, you ask can you get out of the car and go into the nearby cathedral. You are 8, maybe 9. It is early evening, winter, damp and dark. Your breath shows in the air. You get to the church porch. There is a man. A squashy-faced bald old man, with a shine on the corners of his suit and a coat that smells of back-of-church. He has tiny badges and pins stuck all over his lapels. They have things like bleeding hearts and doves on them. There is a table. There are leaflets and things for sale, like medals and bottles of holy water. There is noise from inside the church. There’s something happening inside. It’s not mass but something else with voices and too many people. So, you stay in the porch. You look at leaflets and the man starts to talk to you. He asks what your name is and what age you are. He asks about your school. He asks do you know Paddy Murphy. You do know Paddy Murphy. He’s in the other class in your year in your school. His family live on the poshest road. He grins at you. He has fat fingers and unclean nails but you feel that he is a nice man because he smiles and he just wants to talk. You like to talk too. You feel grown-up, unencumbered by parents, in the church, talking to an adult about the things he is selling. Holy things. He says he is Paddy Murphy’s Dad. He keeps you talking. People walk by in the street outside the open door. It is dimly lit. You say, eventually, that you have to go, your Dad is waiting. He is disappointed but very smiley. He asks can he have a little kiss. You are unsure. He leans down and you go to give him a kiss on the cheek because he is a nice man and you are a nice girl child. At the last second, he turns his head. He kisses you hard on the mouth and holds your head. His fat tongue forces its way into your small mouth and probes around. You pull away and stand back. His smile is back. You smile too. You feel like getting sick. You don’t know what has happened. You search his face for clues. He just smiles back but now his eyes glitter. You are frightened but you know you can’t show it. He must have just accidentally done it. He is disappointed that you have to go. You continue to smile. You are afraid to turn your back to him. So you keep smiling and say you really have to go, your Dad is waiting. Once outside you skip –run, the 100 metres to your waiting Dad. You don’t tear away because you know that Paddy Murphy’s Dad is watching you. You get through the gates of the car park in front of the cathedral and then you run. You get into the car and you say nothing. Your Dad chats to you and you tell him nothing. Later you say you met Paddy Murphy’s Dad. You describe him. Your Mom says that he’s not his Dad, that it’s his Grandad but don’t say that at school. You tell what happened once it’s safely in the past. Years and years afterwards. Once you can’t get into trouble for being so silly, for going to kiss a stranger on the cheek, for talking too much, for being alone, for thinking you were safe in a public place. Your parents are horrified. Your Dad’s eyes look like the eyes of a killer. The man is dead now.
Your teenage friend, Mary Murphy, tells you that she was sexually abused for many years by her adult neighbour. You nearly die for her. Your stomach feels like it is tumbling into the earth. She tells you what he did. He put his penis in Mary’s mouth, on a regular basis, when Mary was between the ages of about 6 and 9. The discussions about this revelation go on for a long time. This is just about the time that child sex abuse started in Ireland. Before this, there was none. She tells another friend. You both persuade her to go for counselling. It doesn’t help much. It’s known that there’s no point in going to the Guards. You are angry beyond belief. You discuss what could be done. You discuss going to the Ra. The women of the neighbourhood know well that he is a danger to their children. He goes on community based trips. The women won’t let their children go with him. He then joins Sinn Fein. He was never interested before. There is no way out. There probably never was. You hear afterwards that he raped an adult woman. He got off ‘on a technicality’. Years later, he sues the County Council. He got off a bus, tripped and banged his head on a County Council Men- at- Work sign or something. In court, he’s looking for compensation, because that bang on his head caused a brain injury and since then, he has unnatural sexual thoughts about women and children, he says. You seethe. Years later again, he is murdered. The rumour is, by the Ra. When Mary Murphy told you this, your other friend, just another Mary Murphy, revealed that she too had been sexually abused by a relation for years. She never got over it. Later again, your other mutual friend, Mary Murphy tells how she was staying with her uncle as a young teenager. He plied her with drink, put her to bed and got in on top of her. He raped her and gave her breakfast the next morning. She was 14. No one ever told the authorities because what was the point, said the Mary Murphys.
Your friend, Mary Murphy, an adult, is raped. Driven to a secluded spot, after a night out, thinking she’s in a taxi because she has been told that this is the case. A bottle is broken and laid beside her face. She is raped in the dirt and the dark. The other man watches and keeps guard. Mary goes to the Guards. She gets swabbed. The Guards take statements. They are helpful. They prosecute. There is CCTV footage. Mary is seen walking, with her arm linked through the arm of her soon-to-be rapist. He was walking her to his friend’s taxi. He gets off. She wants to take a civil case. She is warned to drop the matter. Her rapist has paramilitary links. She is never the same again.
You go to the Tralee Festival with your friends, because you all think it will be like Feile. It is not like Feile. You walk through jammed streets. You are groped by countless male hands. You have to fight your way through. They grab your tits, your gee. They laugh at you when you push them away. They call you hoor and prostitute and dyke. On a windowsill, you and your girl friends are horrified to see a girl child, complete with frilly ankle socks, astride the leg of a middle-aged fat man. They are locked in a gruesome embrace. He pulls her up and down his leg. Her toes barely tip the ground on either side of the pavement. You try hard to get out of Tralee the next morning. You can’t. You meet a group of decent fellas on the campsite. A few of them are English, of Irish descent. Your two girl friends leave to go down the town with the other lads. You’re so sad and fed up and disgusted you stay on the campsite, with Paddy Murphy, one of the Plastic Paddies. Eventually, he says, “Do you want to go for walk?”. You walk through and away from Tralee, up into the hills. You can hear curlews. It’s very peaceful. On the way back, he takes your hand. Later on you kiss and it is lovely. You get back to the campsite to find the tent, your tent, occupied and ‘in use’ by one of your friends and a new -found partner. Being a decent sort, you stay out all night, in your sleeping bag, in the rain with Plastic Paddy Murphy. The next morning, you throw your friend Mary Murphy out and you and Paddy Murphy climb in, and mess around and snooze in the tent until he has to leave. You would be surprised to be raped by Plastic Paddy Murphy. You stay in touch for years afterwards. Your friends, the Mary Murphys, would also have been surprised to be raped, by their beaus.
You are at college. You go out a lot, to pubs, to clubs, to parties. You live with a rake of friends. Sometimes, you bring home fellas, Paddy Murphys. Sometimes they are Paddies you’ve just met that night. You sometimes just have a cup of tea, listen to music. You sometimes sleep in the same bed as them. You snog and have a laugh. You have sometimes (nearly always) been drinking. You do not have sex with any of them. You sometimes spend the next day with them too. You don’t have sex with these fellas because you don’t want to. It never enters your head that they might rape you. You don’t want these particular Paddies putting bits of them inside your vagina. None of the Paddy Murphys rape you or even give it a go. You would be very surprised if they had. You would very much expect someone to ask permission to walk into your home. So, you’d definitely expect someone to ask to come into your vagina. Your friend, Mary Murphy tells you about her friend, Mary Murphy, who was raped by her friend, Paddy Murphy. Paddy didn’t think it was rape because they were in bed, they were friends and she only said no in a weak way. She said she stiffened with fear and he went ahead with breaking and entering into her body. It made things awkward. Paddy and Mary couldn’t be friends anymore. Paddy was sad about this, apparently. You talk to your other friend, Mary Murphy, about this. You are shocked by this story. You hadn’t ever felt pressurised into having sex. You are scared because your luck would surely run out. You couldn’t keep meeting Paddy Murphys who didn’t rape you, could you? What if you were attacked and none of your friends in the house heard? If you went to the Guards, they would say, “You were in bed, you had been drinking, are you surprised you were raped”. You say no one would believe you. Your friend Mary said, “I would believe you”
You work in a tough factory, in a deprived, drug ridden suburb of Dublin. You are the only woman working on the factory floor. You work in a small team. You have a laugh. The manager of the team, Paddy Murphy, takes the piss out of you and your Culchie friends. He rarely says Culchie though. He calls them and you, Woolahs. He talks about every Sunday seeing all the Woolahs with their little heads bobbling around on the buses coming up from the country. He says he sees them with their packages of sandwiches on their knees, all delighted to be back in the Capital. He says he’s going to win the Lotto and he’ll build a huge wall round Dublin to keep us out. He also says students brought drugs to Ireland, no one else. Students destroyed the working class people with their drugs. He is funny and he is kind and he brings you the stores to order your own special chain-mail glove (because your hands are smaller than everyone else’s) and your own special boning knife because “she’s pretty handy with a knife, so she needs her own”. After a while a man, Paddy Murphy Scumbag, from another team altogether, starts shouting at you as you pass by. He tells you what he would like to do to you. It involves tying you up and putting a gag in your mouth and he says you would like it. He says he’d like to whip you. He says you’d like that. He talks about what you would look like naked. What PVC and leather clothes you’d like to wear when you’re not in your white overalls, wellies and hard-hat. He talks about spanking you and how you’d like that. He calls you whore. He eventually is happy enough to do this in front of other men. You say nothing. You half smile. You hope he will just stop. You know your shoulders slouch now whenever you see him. It is relentless. Paddy, your manager, takes you aside one day. He has never witnessed this talk. He has been told by the other men on your team. He says you do not have to put up with that. He says it is disgusting and that the other fellas think it is disgusting and it is sexual harassment and you don’t have to tolerate it. He says you need to go to the officey-type management and tell them. You say, you don’t want to cause trouble. The man will lose his job and he is known to be violent. He walked out of a pub in town, beat and mugged a woman, took her money and walked back in to spend it in the pub. You don’t want any trouble. You’d just like him to stop. Paddy says he wants to do something. He is annoyed and he is sad for you. A few days later, Paddy Murphy Scumbag’s Manager takes you aside. He apologises to you. He says he was unaware of what had been happening. He has docked Paddy Murphy Scumbag’s wages. He has been warned not to go near you. The Manager says he is really, really sorry. Paddy Murphy Scumbag stares at you. He glares at you and lets you know that he would kill you if he got you alone. Your teammates never leave you alone though. They flank you whenever you go anywhere outside of your area of the factory. They studiously ignore his dagger looks and tell you to do the same. He ends up in jail for something. You are telling this story 25 years after the fact and your best friend, Mary Murphy, says, “You never told me that at the time!” You probably didn’t and you’re not sure why.
You are walking home through town on a sunny afternoon. A man is walking alongside you, grinning. You do not catch his eye. You speed up. You slow down. He is still there. You walk for 10 minutes like this. You are getting closer to home but you know you can’t walk near your home or into an uncrowded area. You can’t lead him. You stop at a critical junction. You will have to walk away from your home to lead him away. You know there is a Garda Station nearby. There are loads of people around. All of this you assess in milliseconds, before you turn, finally to look at him. He tells you you are really beautiful. You smile the I’m-not-getting-raped–and-murdered-today smile at him. He asks you to go for dinner, a coffee. You politely decline. He persists, calls you madam. You say no but by now you know it is time. You invoke your husband. “No, my husband really wouldn’t like it.” He looks unsure but you raise your left hand and display your markings. That’s enough for him. He turns and leaves. You wait to see that he has gone a good distance in the opposite direction before you walk in the direction of home again. You tell the story to your Spanish friend, Maria Murphia. She tells you of the exact same experience she had one day walking home. She described her prospective suitor. It sounded like the same man. He persisted for longer with her because she waited too long to invoke a boyfriend. Invoke the boyfriend. Always just get it over with, because it won’t end until you do.
This much you know about George Hook’s comments.