Monthly Archives: August 2011
BETTY Doyle had just about reached the end of her speech when she began to lose her battle against the tears that had been welling up.
The manager of the women’s refuge in Wexford was paying tribute to two women who had been great supporters of the centre before their untimely deaths through illness in 2009, Emer Lovett (38) and Marion Gowan (49).
Betty told those at their annual barbecue last Friday that they were “two wonderful women” and the refuge was going to plant to holly trees in its new garden to honour and remember them.
“My last memory of Emer was a vision in red beside the Christmas tree in White’s (Hotel), laden down with presents for the mothers in the refuge,” recalled Betty. “This was what she did best, always caring and supportive.”
Betty said that Marion was a warm and funny person who loved coming into the refuge once a week to cook with the women staying there.
“The families loved her, but then we all did. Even in sickness she still came in to say hello,” she said.
“We talk about them all the time as if they were still with us. Both women loved Christmas and the evergreen holly will remain visually beautiful all year round, just like Emer and Marion.
“This year for our children we intend to have a Christmas tree in the garden to help fill their lives with hope and joy,” said Betty, as the tears finally got the better of her.
Hope is the lifeblood of a place like Wexford Women’s Refuge, which is always full of women and children who have come from – or more often fled – very difficult circumstances. Domestic violence is driving increasing numbers of women to seek refuge in Wexford and throughout Ireland.
When it’s packed full of women and children all struggling to come to terms with what has led them there and all trying to cope in their new environment together hope and joy must feel like very distant prospects.
That’s where the staff, led by Betty, comes in. That’s where the volunteers, whose spirit was best exemplified by Emer and Marion, come in.
Last Friday there was hope and joy in what is often a very traumatic place. This was because the spirit that moved Emer and Marion to enter the refuge and brighten up the lives of those who stay there is still strong in the community that surrounds it.
The evidence of this was in the refuge’s new garden, which, Betty noted, had always been their “wild waste area” and over the course of years had become completely overgrown and rampant with weeds.
This “wild waste area” was located on a steep slope up behind the refuge and there was very little anyone could do with it. Betty said that “futile attempts had been made to tame the jungle that prevented light from entering the rear of the building for nine years”.
However, one man looking distinctly unimpressed with vista said “I’m going to do something about that”. Liam Keating had intended going to the Wexford Races that day, but instead found himself at the barbeque in the refuge, of which he is a staunch supporter.
Betty found out that Liam was serious when she arrived in one morning and saw a mini-digger scaling the steep slope. “We closed our eyes and waited for the digger to turn over!” she recalled.
However, it didn’t and out of a slope full of weeds was cut a large space, a blank canvass on which to get to work. And get to work they did. Liam oversaw the project and also rolled up his sleeves with the same determination that has proved so successful for him in his business endeavours.
Paul Caulfield, Derek O’Hehir and a number of other local men also got stuck in and from a waste of space they created a garden. There is also a cabin, beautifully decorated, and intended as a haven for mothers who need a place for reflection or just some peace and quiet.
Local artist John Byrne, with the help of some friends, came along and lent their creative talents to ensure that the garden is appropriately decorated, with the likes of Peppa Pig and Nemo now featuring prominently, along with other bright characters and colourful creations.
I looked at the before and after photos with Liam last Friday and the difference a year on is remarkable. He was reluctant to take too much credit for the project, but he can’t really avoid it now as the refuge has named it after him!
Liam said that he sought support from several tradesmen and businesses in Wexford so that his vision could become a reality. There was no talk of recession or resources when the question was put to them – they all got gave generously of their skills, time and, in some cases, stock, to help the refuge.
Betty made an important point about the garden project – it is solely the result of the hard work and generosity of men. This is not an insignificant point at a place where the majority of women and children find themselves because of men.
The manager of the women’s refuge said that a number of great men have walked through the doors of the refuge over the past year to work on the project.
“That in itself is not an easy task for any man. Yet they accomplished what they came to do with dignity and respect,” said Betty.
She pointed out that Liam hadn’t just seen a hill full of weeds last year – he had seen a genuine need.
“He has carefully observed how the mothers paced up and down by the back door, sometimes in the pouring rain, attempting to make or take a phone call,” said Betty.
“The call couldn’t be taken in the bedroom, there are children around. In the kitchen and sitting room there are other residents and children, all going through their own trauma,” said Betty.
“There is nowhere to sit in peace, to take a call from a parent or sibling. There is no place to shed tears privately. I found Liam’s insight, empathy and holistic approach amazing,” she said.
“So Liam built a house and made a garden and from this day on it will be known as the Liam Keating Garden.”
The refuge is continuing to look forward and despite constant funding issues due to government spending cuts (without the support of local organisations, businesses and volunteers it would simply not be able to stay open), it still has ambitious plans, as the chairman of its board, Gus Smyth outlined.
Gus said the vision for the future is to transform the refuge from communal accommodation into self-contained flats.
‘We’re trying to get away from treating women as victims and trying to help them, with their children, establish a life for themselves,’ he said.
Meanwhile, up in the garden, grass continues to spring up where once weeds had completely taken hold.
- Not driving. Driving in a big city is generally a pain. Dublin is no exception. Parking can also be hard to find and expensive. Cycling is easier, often quicker and altogether better for your mental health. Incidents of cycle rage are few and far between and statistics (that I don’t have to hand right now) have also proved conclusively that errant, frustrated motorists are to blame for 88.2% of them. Potholes account for the other 11.8 per cent.
- Baskets. They may not be (okay, they are definitely not) macho, but they sure are handy! There was a time in this country when a man could have a basket on his bike for carrying essential goods (e.g. the turf he had just cut or his pet Collie) and not be judged unfavourably for it. Dublin Bikes are helping men to break down the sexist bicycle barriers that have been thrown up in front of men in recent years, as well as helping us transport essential goods (e.g. baguettes and flowers) and avoid the sweaty backs caused by manly, load-bearing backpacks… or accidents caused by getting our man bags caught in the pedals. Okay, so maybe things have changed a little since baskets were last butch in Ireland.
- Exercise. No need to labour this point. Cycling is good for your health, there’s no impact on your joints and if it’s a nice day in Dublin you can pedal for a very long time without even noticing – it’s a pleasure, not an effort.
- Low expectations not being met. I remember clearly when this scheme was first mooted, and later introduced, there were plenty of sage warnings about what a savage people we are and how these bikes would quickly be second only to traffic bollards in terms of canal dwellers. We weren’t ready for this namby pamby European carry on we were told and the bikes would be quickly wiped out in a spate of thefts and vandalism. But, it turns out we’re not all hell bent on anti social behaviour and given a good public service the citizens of Dublin (drum roll please…) simply used it. In great numbers. Shocking, really. We are now closing in on a total of 2.5 million journeys on Dublin Bikes since the scheme opened in September 2009. I’m sure there have been some incidents where bikes haven’t fared too well, as one would expect in all major European cities with such schemes, but I still haven’t seen one swimming with the bollards and I see a lot of the Grand Canal these days.
- Cheap. They wouldn’t be so well respected or used if they were expensive, but crucially they aren’t. The three-day ticket is €2. The year long subscription is €10. All journeys under half an hour are free. The average journey time for a Dublin Bike is 13 minutes so clearly the vast majority of subscribers are not spending anything bar the signing up fees, which are pretty good by any standards. If you go past half an hour you are charged on a rising scale (50 cents for an hour, €1.50 for two hours etc), but if you don’t want to do that you can always stop back at a station before the half hour mark, put your bike back, wait a minute and take it (or another bike) back out. If you attempt this thrifty practice just be sure there are enough bikes there to pull it off! With Dublin Bikes you also save money on fuel for your car, parking, public transport and taxis. That means more baguettes and flowers.
- Sturdy. I like the bikes. I have had some enjoyable journeys around the city recently on my trusty three-speed steed. These have varied from leisurely jaunts with my better half to simply getting to where I need to go in a timely and hassle-free fashion. The bikes are easy to handle and sturdy too, following the same successful model as pretty much all city bikes, with the usual features you’d expect, from the comfy saddle to the handy lock. They are suitable for all shapes and sizes and seem to be maintained quite well too.
- The wind in my hair. Cycling is fun! Not so much when it rains, but otherwise it is fun and there’s pretty easygoing terrain in Dublin too. As long as you’re careful in traffic, cycling is also a great way to discover a city, not just getting from A to B. In a car you are severely limited in terms of where you can go, stop and what you can see, never mind the characters you might meet! If you’re like me – structure is your enemy and whims beg to be indulged – than cars are out for exploring. Walking is great, but the one drawback there is there’s only so much ground you can cover and it’s generally more tiring. Sometimes cycling is the happy medium. Funnily enough, even though they say we never forget how to ride a bike, a lot of us forget why we ever wanted to in the first place. Rediscover the joy!
- Going green. We’re going to run out fossil fuels at some point, right? You may as well get with the programme now. Plus all the positive effects of cycling on your physical and mental health can be augmented by that smug feeling you get from the FACT! that you are saving the world with every rotation of your pedals. And however bad your emissions may be, they pale in comparison to the damage to the environment that the cars flying by you are doing.
- Cycling community. The Dublin Bikes have been a real shot in the arm for the much maligned cycling community. This once marginalised bunch of seemingly kamikaze Stephen Roche fans and hippies have seen their numbers swell in recent years thanks to both this scheme and the Bike to Work scheme, which has seen a great surge in people buying their own bikes. The cantankerous Irish weather notwithstanding, there just seems to be more and more people cycling in the capital every week and motorists (despite my sideswipe at them in no 1) are now well used to them and (the vast majority) treat cyclists with the respect they deserve. That’s certainly been my overwhelming experience at least. Plus, for the cycling community, with greater numbers comes greater legitimacy, lobbying power and, hopefully, facilities. The Dublin Bike scheme has almost 60,000 members, and about two thirds of those (including yours truly) have taken out a year long membership. The great thing about the bikes is that you can clearly see in Dublin now that men and women of all ages, classes and creeds are using them. Making it not just one of the city’s most effective public services, but one of its most inclusive too. It’s also great for our visitors and boosts our tourism offering. More cyclists also just make the city feel like a more social place for me too.
- Plans for expansion. There are 550 Dublin Bikes operating from 44 stations in the city. They are increasingly well used. There was a new record set for daily journeys on July 13. 6,280 journeys were undertaken on Dublin Bikes that day, compared to 6.043 on April 15, the previous benchmark. When I was staying in Dublin for a week recently I cycled to my course and back every day, but I used to walk (the indignity of it!) past two empty stations (Charlemont and Portobello) every morning, hoping there would be one left at Grantham Street. Thankfully, there was always at least one. On a sunny day available bikes can be as rare as hen’s teeth. There is also the issue of all the current stations being too close to the city centre for many. To address both these issues Dublin City Council is planning to increase the fleet almost tenfold, so there will eventually be around 300 stations and 5,000 bikes – out as far as DCU to the north of the city, UCD to the south, Inchicore to the west and Sandymount to the east. Progress has been relatively slow so far, but I’m sure they’ll continue to do their best give the people what they obviously want.
Our best laid plans went awry on the recent Bank Holiday Weekend when I had to work on the Monday.
The need to stay closer to home forced some swift rearrangements and ultimately brought us on a tour of wonderful County Waterford for what was a great, albeit two-day, weekend.
The Spraoi festival was on in Waterford City and is always a lot of fun, but we avoided it altogether, instead opting for the quieter, coastal charms of the Déise.
After getting the car ferry over from Ballyhack on Saturday, we went on our merry way through Passage East, stopping in Woodstown, Dunmore East, Tramore (which has it’s own particular charms at this time of year!), Newtown Cove, Stradbally and, eventually, Dungarvan, where we stayed for the night.
The copper coast drive was great and even though we made a lot of stops, we could have made many more if we had the time. There’ s an attractive array of coves and villages all the way along it.
Sunday was less hectic, but also lovely. We spent the first half in Ardmore, where we enjoyed the cliff walk, visited the round tower and cemetery (where two of my great grandfathers and other family members are interred), availed of the local hospitality and then relaxed on the beach. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite swimming weather!
We made our last Co Waterford stop on the way home, making our way up the misty Comeragh Mountains until the beautiful Mahon Falls came into view. It is a magnificent place to visit for a breath of fresh air – in every sense.
It was a fitting end to our weekend and a whistle-stop tour of a county that definitely deserves a lot more attention – and not just when the Tall Ships sail in!
Families from all over Ireland will gather in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of Our Lady’s Island on Sunday (August 7) to pray for their missing loved ones.
The pilgrimage at the Island in south Wexford takes place from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and people are urged to go along and show their support for these brave families.
It follows last year’s moving and dignified ceremony, the first of its kind here. I attended it and spoke to some the families of missing people. None of them were praying for miracles, they were simply praying for closure
The outdoor Mass was celebrated less than a kilometre from the pub where Fiona Sinnott was last seen in February 1998. The 19-year-old was looking forward to her sister’s 21st birthday party when she disappeared. And her daughter’s first birthday.
A plaque in her memory was erected on a wall at the local cemetery to mark the tenth anniversary of her disappearance in 2008. It’s the closest thing her loving family have to a resting place.
Fiona’s family are one of many in Ireland who are living with such a terrible and tragic loss. Hopefully, they will find some solace in each other’s company on Sunday, as they did last year, but the acute pain they still feel, years after they lost their loved ones, does not dissipate with time.
Here’s the report I wrote for The Irish Times:
FAMILIES OF missing people travelled from around Ireland on Saturday to attend a Mass in a place of ancient pilgrimage.
The Mass at Our Lady’s Island in south Wexford was organised by Search for the Missing, which is headed by retired Garda diver Thomas Lavery.
Mr Lavery extended a special welcome to the families of missing people in attendance, which included relatives of Jo Jo Dullard from Kilkenny, Gussie Shanahan from Limerick and Philip Cairns from Dublin.
The largest representation by far was from a local family, the Sinnotts. The outdoor Mass was celebrated by Fr Brendan Nolan less than a kilometre from the pub Fiona Sinnott was last seen leaving in February 1998.
“Ambiguous loss is the worst cancer of all – not knowing where someone is,” said Mr Lavery.
During the Mass, seven homing pigeons were released by Mr Lavery with the help of Fiona Sinnott’s nephew, Johnny Walsh.
Mr Lavery said the two white pigeons represented a male and female missing person and the five blue pigeons were going to guide them home.
“We’re not looking for justice, we’re just looking for closure,” said Bob Shanahan, whose son Gussie went missing in Limerick more than 10 years ago.
“We just someone to come forward with information so we can give our son a decent burial,” said Mr Shanahan, who is offering a substantial reward for information that will lead to the recovery of his son’s remains.
He said he was glad so many had come to the Mass. “It was lovely because you can discuss it with other people. You are trying to console one another. It gets no easier, you are always hoping for closure,” he said.
Also still looking for closure are the Sinnott family. Fiona’s first cousin Gina Sinnott once again appealed, in a poem, for those with knowledge of what happened to the 19-year-old mother of one to do the right thing.
“How can you sleep with what you have done, with tears flowing down her face, her empty cries, her swollen eyes, only you know her resting place,” she read.
After Mass, Fr Nolan passed the cross to her and she led the families of missing people and the other pilgrims in attendance around the island, as they prayed for the return of their loved ones.