Who vouches for her

I read today of a disturbing court case regarding a vulnerable 15-year-old girl in state care who has been groomed by adult men, via social media, to meet with her in hotel rooms where they have subsequently raped her. The girl, who is said to have a “mild intellectual disability”, was plied with drugs – to the extent that she said she was “coked out of it” – and assaulted so badly that she required medical attention. It seems that she managed to convey to hotel staff that she was injured. According to the court case reports, she had been “exposed to physical and sexual violence” from an early age. Now in state care, this is a child who has suffered abuse from her early home life and is who continues to be extremely vulnerable.

It was my friend who drew my attention to this case. She sent me a voice note: had I heard about it? I confessed I hadn’t: not really. I saw some uproar on Twitter about how it was reported in the media, particularly by the Irish Times.  O yes, I was able to say back to her: I saw about that all right, but I’d felt too flattened, too dismayed to engage with it: another regular misreporting of rape in the media, and in a “newpaper of record” at that. Back in 2018, with the Belfast rape trial, thousands marched in protest. It highlighted how prevalent and ingrained and everyday rape culture is, and victim blaming, and how we all can so easily perpetuate it, or, stop it. Language matters. Victim blaming is part of the problem. There have been many cases since where sexual abuse of women has not been taken seriously, yet still. And here we are today with another case, this time a child. A girl.

I will talk a lot about rape culture here. It’s vital that we do talk about it, a lot. There is a good short explanation of what it is here, and more here.

Reading today about how the Irish Times reported on this case, and the Irish Independent no better, is disturbing.

The Irish Times deleted their article: the link just doesn’t work now. I find this distinctly unusual. I provide the entire piece below, transcribed from the print edition for posterity, lest we forget or airbrush this: seeming to accept their part in victim-blaming, they published an apology to say that “it was not the intention of The Irish Times to imply the victim was in any way culpable”.

IRISH TIMES 25th August 2020: published article since deleted from Irish Times website

“A fifteen-year-old deemed at high risk of sexual exploitation was reported to have been “coked out of it” while spending the night at a Dublin City Centre hotel with older men, the High Court has heard.

The girl who has a history of absconding from placements, is believed to be visiting hotel rooms around the city meeting adult men and engaging in sexual acts, without using protection in exchange for drugs and alcohol.

Following the most recent incident, which took place earlier this month, the teen is reported to have told staff at the hotel in question that she had unprotected sex with two or three men who provided her with cocaine.

She said she was “coked out of it” and suffered physical injuries due to the violent nature of the intercourse and required medical attention.

It was the latest in a number of incidents which have lead to fears for the girl’s safety and well-being, the court heard.

At the High Court on Tuesday Mr Justice Richard Humphreys granted orders allowing the Child and Family Agency (CFA) place the girl, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, at a secure unit for troubled teens.

The order was granted and the case was adjourned”

Straightaway, from the first line, we are into victim blaming: because of her clear vulnerability, she is deemed to be “at high risk of sexual exploitation”: at the hands of man who just can’t help themselves, clearly, due to her vulnerability. That, is rape culture: the part where we talk about how people need to avoid getting raped instead of talking about how men should not rape.

Next, in the same sentence, using her own words that she was “coked out of it”, is victim blaming, and again, plays into the narrative that because she accepted drugs, that she was more at risk, at the hands of those same men who have not been taught how to not rape. And all in that one, first sentence, is the line ‘while spending the night … with older men’.

‘Spending the night.’ What they meant to say,instead of this sidestepping fluff, was ‘while being abused by older men.’

The piece goes on to say she had a history of absconding – again, victim blaming – to go visiting hotel rooms around the city ­– like a cat burglar?! – “meeting adult men and engaging in sexual acts, without using protection in exchange for drugs and alcohol.” As if to say she was preying on them, these defenseless men who have not been taught how to not rape.

I pause here, before I dissect this line, to highlight that there is a reason, I think, why I did not engage with this piece until today, because there is so, so much wrong with this case, and this reporting of it, that it is exhausting and exasperating to keep up with. And yet this is the lived experience of a young teenage girl in the care of our state. I go on: “meeting adult men and engaging in sexual acts, without using protection in exchange for drugs and alcohol.” A 15-year-old who meets with adult men in hotel rooms is groomed to do so, and we do not say that she was “engaging in sexual acts” because to do so is, again, is victim blaming and avoids the truth of the matter, which is that she was raped. Again in the piece, we read that she “suffered physical injuries due to the violent nature of the intercourse” – the word intercourse is completely incorrect here, because it assumes consent.

But this was rape. This word rape is not mentioned anywhere in the article, nor even is the word abuse regarding what happened to her in the hotel rooms. The words are seemingly unmentionable.

So they have apologised, and they can go yet much further, by highlighting the injustice to her, as I endeavour to; they can consider their own standards in relation to rape culture and the role they have to play in stopping it, or perpetuating it.

Next to the Irish Independent reporting of the case: their piece is still online, with no apology, correction or clarification: but I can see that they changed the headline, which initially read ‘Vulnerable Girl (15) had sex with men in hotel for drugs and … ‘

Rape culture right there.

She did not have sex, which implies consent. She is a child. She was raped. And the victim blaming is there again: the “exchange” for drugs and alcohol. They realised their mistake, or had their attention drawn to it, and changed the headline to something they thought more correct, “Teenage girl exposed to exploitation and drug abuse placed in secure care. But the piece is still rife with victim blaming.

They realised their mistake, or had their attention drawn to it, and changed the headline to something they thought more correct, “Teenage girl exposed to exploitation and drug abuse placed in secure care. But the piece is still rife with victim blaming.

Even in the wake of the Belfast rape trial, tolerance of rape and sexual violence is alive and well in our culture, as demonstrated by both of these national newspapers.  The representation in these articles is an injustice piled on grave injustice.

What of the perpetrators? No mention of them in either paper? I understand that the pieces, framed as they were in terms of devastating and dangerous, rape-culture-perpetuating victim-blaming – were in reference to the specific court case of the girl’s care placement, which is separate to any criminal investigation of the perpetrators. I read elsewhere that “Gardai will be asked to investigate abuse allegations.”

I read that the judge granted an order allowing the Child and Family Agency  to place the girl in a “secure unit for troubled teens.” I can’t help but think of the fictitious “St Brutus Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys”. Yes, reader, they locked her up. And I can’t help but anguish at the trauma experienced by this child, and the staggering scale to which she has been let down so many steps along the way by people who are supposed to care for her.

Quite apart from the abhorrent representation of her case in the Irish Times and the Irish Independent of what happened to her, a child in state care has been gravely abused and ultimately let down. At the very least, there must be a Garda investigation.

My friend wondered today, why is there not more outcry about this? Why indeed I wonder. Is it buried in all the talk of #golfgate and the pressing concerns of Covid and the kids returning to school for the first time this week? Is it just another rape case? Who vouches for her? For my part, I kind of wrung my hands at it, as I tend to do. I write this piece today as a measure not to lose sight of it.


https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/high-court/troubled-teenage-girl-at-risk-of-sexual-exploitation-placed-in-secure-care-1.4338680 link broken: online article deleted






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Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter

A review of the new Fantastic Beasts movie including a consideration of the wider world of Harry Potter (and my life throughout)

I can say honestly and openly that I was overwhelmed and bewildered by the latest production of the new Fantastic Beasts series (described as a spin-off to the Harry Potter books but which to devoted fans is much more than this, for whom the new stories are a back-extended, wonderfully recognisable corner of the beguiling creation of J.K. Rowling). And this is not necessarily to say that this was a bad thing. Fans be fans. But not enough to overlook the casting of Johnny Depp in it either. I remain gravely dismayed at that.

The wider world of Harry Potter and my life throughout

I’m personally far from being a cinema buff, in that I only attend bi-annually at most, but I certainly am a Harry Potter fan. (I have borrowed references from the books at least once elsewhere on this blog). I was past the age the books were intended for when they first came out (about 18), but my youngest brother Aaron was about eleven when my mother heard them being reviewed on the radio, and began to buy them for him. (I can point out right away that just like Dumbledore’s parents, my parents gave all their children names starting with A.)  My sister Alicia and I would read over his shoulder and argue over who got to read them first when he was finished with them. Until the fourth book, when we all just started buying our own sets. The books have a rare and marvelous appeal to children and adults alike, and I found many adult friends who were just as appreciative as me! (It was well-known that at 23, my friend and I had matching Harry Potter bedspreads in our flat in Ballsbridge.) (My son has mine now).

I was 28 and pregnant with my first child (Aoife, now nearly eleven herself) when the last book was published. I queued up to buy it at midnight with my sister at Hodges Figges (which sounds like a Harry Potter name in itself, I always thought) bookshop in Dublin. Four years later (2011), I watched Harry Potter & the Deathy Hallows Part 2, the final movie, at an almost empty matinée showing at the Savoy cinema in Dublin, with my new small baby son (Beineán) sleeping and breastfeeding in my arms.

The last movie is my favourite. Though I did not love the movies, I deeply appreciated that so many people had taken the time and creativity and enormous expense to make them; they could never be the endlessly intricate delights that the books are. I of course appreciate that the people who created them are Harry Potter fans too, and that it’s very hard to transpose book magic to big screen. We – me and Aoife and Beineán, who are now themselves great Harry Potter fans – keep replenishing our DVD collection of them each time one of them wears out, and no matter how recently we’ve watched them we still get excited when they come on the TV.  And much like my siblings and I read the books over each other shoulders, today (literally today, as I only got it out of the library yesterday), we are taking turns to read the screenplay of the stage-production-only story of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Aoife is pages ahead of me and we’re bursting to talk about what happens).


“It’s fun to have a hobby!” I admonish my partner Colm, who presents me with a withering expression when he walks in to the kitchen to hear the family tree of a wizarding world character being discussed at length over our favourite Harry Potter podcast. He’s not a fan; whenever he joins us on our long car journeys between Wexford and Galway, he doesn’t tolerate hearing the copious audiobook CDs fabulously read by Stephen Fry (renewed again and again from Enniscorthy Library because they are days long)

He did, however, deign to read the first book in its entirety in the burgeoning days of our relationship. Just for me #sigh (I have yet to read his recommended book as promised in return. This was 16 years ago). (Does that make me a bad girlfriend?)

He even indulged us by finding out his Hogwarts House. He’s Ravenclaw, like me! Aoife and Beineán are Hufflepuff. It will be some years before we find out what house our third child, Saoirse, belongs to: she is only one year old. (You can register to the Pottermore website to find out yours).

I was newly pregnant with Saoirse in 2016 when we all went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them in Wexford. I was excited to find a new outlet for our Harry Potter love, and I’d seen that the trailers looked beautiful. I was not expecting to be so completely bowled over all over again! Rather than a semi-decent transposition of book to movie, as I felt the books had been, because this movie had been written by JK Rowling directly for the screen I felt it worked a million times better than the Harry Potter movies had ever done.

And there were new and fabulous new characters, all relatable in terms of the books. Including the beasts themselves, and the best one of all – a muggle! *(non-magic person). There were cute nifflers and bo-truckles and stunning chrome baby dragons. The story was intriguing – how unexpressed magic can fester and fatally impact the individual as an obscurial (I love so much the linguistics of the JK Rowling’s world). The costumes were to die for and I adored the stunning 1920’s interiors and streetscapes. Even Colm half-shrugged his shoulders and agreed that he’d enjoyed it as we left the cinema that time. I handflapped about the aesthetic of it all for days and weeks after, and for my next birthday Colm bought me a beautiful leather-bound notebook with my initials inscribed on it as a nod to the delightful old-fashioned and magical chattels of Newt, the main character.

Needless to say we  – Aoife and Beineán and I – had been literally counting down to Fantastic Beasts 2 – The Crimes of Grindelwald. It’s certified 12A, and I know there is always the risk of dark and threatening aspects to the stories, but given that my kids are such devoted fans to the books and movies so far, I knew I couldn’t give much consideration to not bringing them.

Wise Colm did, though.

“Are you sure about bringing him?” he said, nodding in the direction of Beineán, whom I was gently reminding about the scary aspects of the stories.

“I’m nearly eight, mammy!” Beineán remonstrated. “There’s no WAY I’m not going.”

In fairness, hed been listening to the podcast predictions for the movie in the car to school for the previous two weeks and I’d built this up so much for us all,  it would have been pretty hard to leave him behind.

My brother Alan phoned during the days leading up to the movie’s release to say he’d come to Wexford to Galway to visit us the day it was being released.

“I’ve pre-booked a family ticket! You have to come with us!” I squealed.

This brother is more in alignment with Colm in terms of how he views the JK Rowling series; not much (no) interest, though he did enjoy the first Fantastic Beasts movie, and unlike me, he’s a movie buff. He was happy to get caught up in my excitement of it too.

“That’s why I’m gonna come down on Friday,” he agreed. “I’ll be down in time for it.”

And he was. Colm was left at home to mind Saoirse. Alan and me picked up the kids from school and we rocked into Wexford’s new arthouse cinema, The Ark, which wasn’t there when the first Fantastic Beasts movie was out (well, it was, but it was still an old closed down disused cinema at that time), in time for the first showing.


I was stoked to see other committed fans there; a little girl dressed head-to-toe in her Slytherin gear, and someone cuddling a Niffler teddy! A young couple wearing Harry Potter t-shirts and jackets and – yes – brandishing a wand out of a special case. LOOOK Alan! I gestured, and he raised an eyebrow in semi-amusement, more at me than them. I tried to make conversation across the enormous luxuriant seats, but I think they were a bit startled at this freak who talks to strangers (and I not the one who brings a wand to the cinema) (I do own one, in case you’re wondering: specially crafted since, by Alan and Aoife and Beineán, inspired by our shy friends across the cinema aisle.)

We were in our seats so early that our drinks and popcorn was all consumed before the lights finally went down.

Reviewing Fantastic Beasts 2: the Crimes of Grindelwald 

And, well: Alan fell asleep. (So, though yes he was tired and had been driving all day, I guess this movie isn’t going to be a pleaser for the cinema-goer who is not a die-hard Harry Potter fan). I spent the time whispering frantically with Aoife as we both tried to keep up with what was happening, in between comforting Beineán, who was so traumatised that he curled up in his seat and turned away from the screen.

There is horror in the movie, yes, and not to divulge too many spoilers here (I might do that in a separate blog post),  it was particularly close to the bone for us because it involves babies, with violence redolent of the attack on Harry when he was a baby, except even worse, because, well, as we know, Harry survived, and obviously all we could think of was our baby at home. Despite the shockingly convincing portrayal, I was able to convince Beineán of a possible alternative outcome to what we saw (maybe the baby survived, maybe he comes back in the next movie). Thus I find that yes, the movie was not suitable for Beineán at all. In fact, it at times didn’t feel suitable for me, the grown adult, either, as this scene left me sickened to my core myself.

It seems we are supposed to be shown just how evil the title character and his henchwoman are supposed to be. And my fun, escapist hobby begins to feel way too disturbing and real. (Do we have to?)

In fact, in this latest movie there were so many ambiguities throughout all of the complicated storylines, almost like those old Choose Your Own Adventures books, we were left at the end of the movie to follow a variety of our own envisioned trajectories, almost no better off to where we were in the story than before we went in.  And there wasn’t enough magic in this one. Not enough opportunities to mutter the spells we know so well before the characters even open their mouths. Stupefy! Lumos! Expelliarmus!

I did take away with me the beauty of the costumes, I loved the French Ministry of Magic, I loved Newt’s House, and the house that Grindelwald takes in Paris is beautifully imagined. There were funny moments, if not as much as the first movie. There were endearing moments.  Nicolas Flammel makes a wondrous appearance, Jacob is a delight again, and the relationship between Nagini and Credence based on their mutual vulnerability is convincing and beautiful. Where will it go from here?

There was a quite an arresting moment where Leta Lestrange shows us her family tree, which names only the men whilst the women are symbolised as beautiful flowers.

As I intimated above, I came away fairly overwhelmed and bewildered (among many other twists and turns (SPOILER ALERT. Sorry!):  somehow, Professor McGonagle appears, as a teacher in the school in the 1910s; long before she’s supposed to be. I had reckoned: timeturner! and thought I was so clever, but was assured by another fan that timeturners can only go back for up to five hours at a time). (So now you know.) I can say that I was none-too-impressed by the lauded big twist in the end, though it does inspire some interesting theorising which I can’t fully explain in relation to the Harry Potter books. Unless the mysteries that Dumbledore knowingly carried to his grave were even greater than revealed.

I have to say, I don’t mind being unimpressed and even confused with this. I’m totally up for the clarifications that are to come in future revelations.

The casting of Johnny Depp 

I do mind that I did made the choice to attend the movie in spite of a boycott of the movie by other fans and cinema-goers due to the disagreeable casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Other people had not heard about this at all, or have any idea why people would criticise Johnny Depp. It came as a surprise to some people this week when I told them that Johnny Depp had hit his wife.

I did struggle with his presence in the first movie, though I knew it was well in production when the photos of what he did to his wife emerged, and his appearance in that installment was less-than minimal then. For this second movie, as much as we were invested in it, I did go with a bad taste already in my mouth that he would feature much more significantly – indeed as the title character.

And so I rather wish that Warner Brothers would quietly give Johnny Depp his marching orders now; not least because his performance in this movie is less-than-moving. He doesn’t inspire me at all as the charismatic dude of Dumbledore’s affections, as per the original Harry Potter books (part of the joy of the Fantastic Beasts movies is how they tie in with the Harry Potter story). Almost any other good actor out there could have been given the same mad-hair treatment and funny eye.

And still can.

Not only did Johnny Depp not attempt to redeem himself or show ANY remorse for what he did to his wife, he had his lawyers claim that she was gold-digging. Amber Heard said that she had “ endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny, which has included angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults to me whenever I questioned his authority or disagreed with him.”

A video she recorded of Johnny Depp stomping around their kitchen shows disturbing insight to this. The photos of her bruised face are shocking.

In response, J.K. Rowling defended him: she seems to be saying that she’s taken her lead from Amber Heard, his now-ex-wife, who has said she wants them – she and Johnny – to get on with their lives now. I rather wish J.K. Rowling hadn’t gone that extra mile to say that she and Warner Brothers were “genuinely happy” to have Johnny Depp in the movie.

Many of her fans are not happy.

I am not happy.

And, worse than having to comfort my son about the violence in this movie, which though disturbing, is after all, fictional, and portrayed, naturally, as repugnant: I’m going to have to talk with my kids about my misgivings; worse, because this isn’t fiction.

This is real world.

And, disturbingly, this is Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling excusing repugnant, violent behaviour – because, Johnny Depp?

I don’t mind who he is. He hit his wife.


This real-world problem regarding the making of the movie weighs in heavily on the movie itself, because – and I did go to the cinema to see how this would play out  – I wasn’t able to unsee the disturbing video of Johnny Depp in his kitchen intimidating his wife, and the questionable yet convincing charisma of Gellert Grindelwald remains confined for me to the black and white print of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

I feel like I have enough to do with keeping up with the Wizarding World canon besides this effort of indulging this casting, who seems to be making zero effort to redeem himself to anyone, save for badmouthing the woman he hit.  It’s fairly basic to expect zero tolerance for that.

There are three more movies to go, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that someone else gets to bring Grindelwald to life.

Whose character is a complex one. We hear tell of him as an idealistic and deeply flawed teenager in the Harry Potter books, who made an enormous impression on Albus Dumbledore, later to be Headmaster of Hogwarts. Dumbledore himself has his deep flaws, which he goes on to learn from, the hard way, to become that wise and worldly old wizard we know so well.

Unlike Grindelwald, whom we know remained on his dubious path but does on to convince people to follow him – how, I still don’t know. Because Grindelwald in this movie wasn’t convincing me of anything.

Will I watch this movie again? Yes, in tune to a narrative in my head where Johnny Depp respectfully resigns his role, or where Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling respectfully let him go, and my kids might get to see that big movie corporations do listen to their paying public, that JK Rowling really truly does value her devoted fanbase even in their misgivings, and that together they don’t support staff who behave violently towards anyone.

Perhaps Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling will remember that “it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.

A wise and worldly old wizard said that.

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It’s time to excavate at at Tuam now

Saturday morning my Mam rings. I can hear the dismay in her voice straightaway.

I breathe in.


The results of that weird and cumbersome and insulting Consultation process by Galway County Council for the Minister, in connection with the strange proposal by the multidisciplinary Expert Technical Group for the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes (are you with me so far?) (I don’t blame you if you’re not but bear with) was published on Friday (I breathe in again). The whole consultation process had been an elaborate and confusing waste of time and money and energy from the start and the report confirms it.

Mam says Teresa Mannion met her and some of the survivors at the Tuam site on Friday and that there was a little piece about it on the News. She’s says they spoke so well.

I noticed Teresa’s photo of them here

And then I see the Saturday Irish Times headline that Tuam residents are *divided* and my eyes roll so far back in my head I can see inside time itself: because they are NOT divided, and suddenly this whole process seems like big old ruse to fob hard decisions on NIMBYistic* controversy that’s far more limited than we ever thought it would be and is far from outspoken, DESPITE the best efforts of this consultation process to puff it up.

*NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard

You can take a look at the Report at the following link: go on please, I dare you.


I wrote a series of Tweets in response this morning, and someone collated them for me https://twitter.com/dec23k/status/1015959033176645632?s=. I absorb them in this blog post here.

Do continue to bear with and read on.

At best, this report is, as my mother calls it, “fluff”. It is also a sinister and elaborate exercise in amplifying a line of dissent. Sorry now if I have no time for any NIMBYism here. This is a CRIME SCENE we are talking about.

The whole idea of this consultation was an insult, and its process and findings are a sham. Ironically, that word #Sham is slang for a person from #Tuam, the very people this report purports to speak for. But it doesn’t. Locals are not so polarized as this report would insist.

It looked like the consultation process dug deep to find resistance to full excavation, which they seemed to think would be from people closest the site. They seemed to hyper focus on Dublin Road Estate, who have houses backing onto the estate or across the way from those houses.

In the consultation process, the turnout for the Local Residents closed session seemed not to be enough: they ran a SECOND day. Which had lower turnout. Then they went door to door in Dublin Road estate. They went to great lengths to get comment from people on this estate #WHY?

Why did they do this? Why were local residents even isolated as a target group in this? Yes it’s a curiosity at best in their neighbourhood. It’s also surely weird to have this type of focus on their area but it’s on a seldom-used, out-of-the-way PUBLIC space.

Mam attended the “Dialogue with Former Residents and Relatives of Former Residents of Tuam Mother and Baby Home and Supporters” meeting. All 29 in attendance voted for full excavation of the total available area. The attendees at this meeting gave their vote one-by-one. The facilitator stopped them half way through to suggest that not everyone had to vote the same: as if to skew or invalidate the unanimity!

Curiously the report enumerates the attendance for the survivors and supporters closed session (there were 29) but doesn’t enumerate attendance for the local residents closed sessionS (read: there were significantly less than 29).

At one of the sessions a resident from Dublin Road estate said that they shouldn’t even be asked about this, that it should be all up to the people who have family there and the survivors

My impression is that yes there are a handful of dissenters. And yes, some make themselves plain to my mother. It’s not pleasant for her I guess but she handles it with grace; and truth be told, before all this came out in 2014, we feared local criticism would be much worse: in June 2014, for a couple of weeks after the story broke my mother was afraid to go into SuperValu in Tuam. But what she wasn’t prepared for when she finally did slip in was the overwhelm of local support that she got, and still gets.

And in November 2016 we wondered if the candlelit vigil organised by artist Sadie Cramer at the site would meet resistance. But people turned up in droves in the cold and dark, and what’s more, locals lined the lane way in with candles. That teared me up! And what of the local residents who held a gathering at the site in March 2017, with candles and poetry and music and a big bouquet of flowers for my Mam, which she laid on the burial site. There was a minimum 50 local residents in support there.

My impression is that there are

1. A few local residents who would NIMBY

2. A LOT who care

3. Like anything else in life, a lot who are not involved in the politics or the activism of the story either way and who are going about their own lives not thinking about it at ALL.

Excavation here is not a new idea or experience for local residents. Don’t forget, there has already been a test excavation by archaeologists at the site, the results of which announced in March 2017 that there was a ‘significant’ number of human remains in evidence.

This report then has sought to amplify **the few ** – so that Patsy McGarry’s article could be published in the Irish Times yesterday with a DRIVELOUS and misrepresentative headline, based on a DRIVELOUS and misrepresentative report: “Division in Tuam between residents and mother and baby home relatives

Many locals want only a memorial, while families favour total forensic excavation”

I’m sure “many locals” in Tuam would scratch their heads at that. It is after all the findings of an engineered consultation. This process has sought to fit a an insidious official narrative of downplaying the blindingly obvious need for IMMEDIATE full excavation – just as an example, the insistence that the remains would be commingled or somehow disintegrated. Even if they were, the excellence of the archaeological approach would go far to dissemble them.

Further – and I warn that this following is gruesome: we have reason to believe that there are complete bodies – in archaeological terms this is “articulated” bodies. Further, we also have reason to believe that there is flesh on bones and that there are bodies with leathery preservation.

My thoughts turn to my fellow archaeologists – I don’t know them – and I commend their bravery at undertaking a dig like this. I wonder if they had trauma training or decompression support for what they saw. It should absolutely be a factor for when full excavation does go ahead.

I’ve dug human remains myself. It can be weird and disconcerting but you get caught up in the work of the day and get on with it. There’s a moment of pause and respect when it comes time to “lift” them. And it’s always more emotional if it’s a child.

Of course Tuam is very different.

I personally wouldn’t be able to undertake an excavation like at Tuam. Because it’s not a proper archaeological site, for one thing – it’s too new. Of course there had to be preservation. Of course it would be gruesome. I commend them for going in there.

Where is the full picture of what my fellow archaeologists actually saw in Tuam? Which babies or children did they see? Were there any of the women in evidence? Where is their original archaeological report as submitted to the Commission of Investigation?

Why are we having at best a FLUFF and at worst a misleading consultation process to muse over what to do with the concealed dead in Tuam?

There was only ever one thing to do!

Excavate the site and DNA test the remains.

Why please downplay a situation where babies and children up to about the age of 3 mostly, with more up to the age of 9, and at least SIX WOMEN are either missing cos they are trafficked or because they are dead and concealed in a sewage tank?

WHY this elaborate and roundabout exercise in amplifying the most offensive “option” which is to suggest that they be left there?

Never mind that the consultation process doesn’t mention the #women at ALL

– NINE women died in the Tuam Home

– A tenth died in hospital

-We know the burial spots of four.

What happened to these ten women?

Where are the other missing SIX women? We HAVE to excavate the area – 1.4 hectares of Galway county council property currently left as a small public ground; left that way because Galway County Council knew officially in the 1970s that there were people interred here, which is why the estate was designed to avoid building here in the first place: look at the aerial maps. The location of the dead is a weirdly-shaped open area at the BACK of people’s houses.

I’m personally trying to stop calling it a “grave” or a “burial ground” myself. These children and women were never properly even buried here. The dead in the chambers here were carried in through tunnels and placed here for concealment.

That’s not burial.

These people are not resting in peace.

Please help to call out eye-wateringly obvious time-wasting exercises like consultation processes and tick-box menus of options that delay excavating this site. It’s time to find out if the women who died Tuam are lying here too and to get them out, along with every child, without delay.



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The pattern and the system that enables


Two women reached out to me after I wrote my blog posts about Andy Halpin’s sexual harassment of me at the National Museum of Ireland. Their accounts demonstrate the pattern of how this man preys on women in the workplace.

Caragh Smyth’s experience was 1998-1999, and Nina Vodstrup Andersen’s was in 2008. My experience was 2004-2005. It is also reported that a fourth woman, an intern at the time, complained as recently as 2016, and I know that there were others.

Caragh and Nina have since formally complained to the National Museum. Their stories are below.

Caragh’s Story

Caragh Smyth’s account tells me that Andy regularly used her computer on lunch break to look up soft porn sites about tall women and Valkyrie, at her quiet, basement lab desk at the Museum in Kildare Street.

Just as he did with my computer every day at my desk in Collins Barracks.

Disturbingly, Caragh also describes an incident that is chillingly reminiscent of what he did to me:

“I was working on a project to produce educational CDs of the Egyptian collection at the time, sometime around 98/99. I was standing in the middle of the shared office talking to my boss and an Egyptologist from the British museum. I was mid sentence, when Andy walked past, arms swinging, and brushed his fingertips across my ass. As usual, something that could be easily explained away as an accident. And of course, a situation where I felt like I couldn’t react or do anything, mid-sentence with a BM bigwig and my boss (who I have utmost regard for).

But what clarified it in my mind and made it so obvious that he knew exactly what he was doing, was that he did it again a few minutes later. The exact same brisk walk by, arms swinging, fingertips brushing off my ass while I was mid sentence. Hey, we’ve all accidentally brushed past someone at some point, but there’s no way it would happen a second time. You go SO far around them the next time that there isn’t a chance of it happening again!”

Caragh’s description of this incident made my skin crawl, and demonstrates a pattern that shows conscious and deliberate abuse of power and calculated physical harassment by Andy Halpin. Caragh also hit on a crucial element of Andy’s behaviour: that it made women doubt themselves, so much so that they mostly did not speak up:

“I have to admit, I do actually feel a bit silly writing this all down because it sounds so insignificant, particularly in comparison to others, but I guess that was the genius of Andy’s harassment — subtle, apparently insignificant, in the “you’re being melodramatic” realm. He knew we were young, fresh out of college, on internships or short-term contracts, and therefore vulnerable.

I eventually left the Museum when I was 25 and changed careers entirely. But one other thing I remember is someone from the Museum called me a while after I’d left. Apparently, an intern had reported a member of staff. The incident was described to me without naming any names and I was asked whether I knew who it might be. I immediately named Andy, correctly, and then described what had happened to me. I was asked why I’d never complained at the time, so I just explained what I said above. We were vulnerable, wanted to renew our contracts, and he was chillingly calculating in how subtle he was, so we felt we wouldn’t be believed.”

This last shows that Caragh did feedback to Museum staff what happened to her, even if it was after she’d left.

Caragh apologised to me for what I’d gone through: that made me cry. I felt so angry that another woman had to feel she should apologise to me for what I’d gone through, when she’d gone through it too. She wondered maybe if she had complained, would it have prevented it happening to me.

It makes me wring my hands to realise: what good would it have done if she had complained at the time, or if anyone else this happened to had complained? It was known. It wouldn’t have prevented it happening to me. Because I complained, and yet still it happened to Nina Vodstrup Andersen.

Nina’s Story

Nina’s Vodstrup Andersen’s story of her experience of working at the National Museum of Ireland as a whole makes for uncomfortable reading:

“At the age of 23, I moved from my native Denmark to Ireland to take up an unpaid internship in the National Museum of Ireland. At that time, I was finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in medieval archaeology and museology at the University of Aarhus, and this degree required that we students complete an internship in a museum to gain experience. The notion struck me that, rather than just applying at any of the small regional museum in Denmark, why not reach for the stars? So in a fit of youthful audacity, I sent off an application to the NMI. I never really expected to hear back.

When I got the invitation to take up an internship with the NMI from July 2007, I felt thunderstruck by the sheer amount of good luck that had come my way. I packed my bag and set off for Dublin. One my first day of work, I was awestruck by the collections, the building itself, its history, the sheer amount of learning and research centred there, and I had to pinch myself that I’d been given this opportunity to briefly enter such a world.

I was given a little desk in the basement, the storage area, and I loved it. I adored the work. Every day, I got to handle artefacts, to do work that no bachelor-student has any right to even dream of. My supervisor in the Antiquities Division was the best boss I’ve ever had, before or since. I’m still in awe of how much confidence and trust he placed in me, a hapless young immigrant. And I want to preface the following by saying that I worked with so many good people at the museum whose kindness, patience and good humour remain a fond memory for me to this day.

But I quickly sensed that there were dark and uncomfortable undercurrents within the museum. A fearful sense of hierarchy seemed to loom over everyone, and there was a stifling sense of rivalry and antipathy between some departments and others, none of which I could comprehend.

Tea breaks were an almost ritualistic part of the day in the museum. I never enjoyed sitting in the lofty cafeteria with all the staff in this sometimes strange, needling atmosphere. So I went outside to sit on the benches and drink take-away coffees and chat with the other young interns, or the attendants. One day, one of the attendants looked at me and said gravely that I shouldn’t be out there with them. ‘You’re hanging around with the wrong crowd,’ he said, ‘you should be in there with the higher-ups, and make sure to sit at the right table.’ My unnerving sense that I didn’t understand the workings of the place grew, and I felt bewildered and lost in the organisation as a whole, despite all the kindness of my supervisor.

More troublingly, there was a pervasive culture of what some might prefer to call ‘banter’, but which to me felt horrendously inappropriate and frankly perverse. Just a few examples. One attendant kept singing Nina, Pretty Ballerina every time I walked past. Another sidled up to me to muse about what he thought my preferred mode of sexual contact might be. ‘I bet you like to just lie there, being caressed,’ he said. A researcher from Collins Barracks told me, for some unknown reason, ‘you know, you’re just too pretty for your own good.’ Another time, the director himself, Patrick Wallace, cornered me in one of the dim, narrow passages deep in the storage basement. He was leering maliciously at me as he asked why I was spending so much time with my supervisor. ‘Are you having an affair with him,’ he asked, drawing out the word in a tone of voice laden with sexual glee. ‘I know you,’ he said, wagging his finger and winking, ‘you Scandinavians are all the same…’ And with that, he strode off.

But at least none of them ever touched me.

None, except Andy Halpin.

I worked with him only once, as I and a small group of other young interns were rearranging a skeleton on display in the Viking exhibition. He singled me out for inoffensive little jokes, and he kept laughing and repeating some of my words in a delighted sing-song voice and bumping into my shoulder a little. I thought it strange that such a senior member of staff would take delight in talking to a mere intern, and his manner was almost like that of a flirting adolescent. But I passed it off as friendliness and reminded myself that as a recent immigrant, I had to expect some cultural differences.

Sometimes, I’d have to pass through Andy Halpin’s office on my way elsewhere. He’d occasionally look up and exclaim “Nina!” with such exuberance. I found it a little odd, but amidst all the other occasional strange behaviour at the museum, didn’t give it much thought.

Then came the museum Christmas party of 2007. As an intern, I was delighted to be invited. The dinner party took place in a fancy restaurant in Merrion Row. We were all seated on benches along a long table. Suddenly, without having noticed, I found myself sitting next to Andy Halpin, with him on my right side. I thought that a bit strange, since we didn’t work together. It was a snug fit to seat everyone around the table. Not long into the dinner, Andy Halpin leaned forward, speaking to someone far on his right. At that moment, I felt his hand clasp my thigh under the table, squeezing, just over my knee. I sat there like a pillar of salt. This is a decade ago, and I can still so clearly recall his fingers pressing into my flesh. What really struck me was that he wasn’t even looking at me. He was turned away, speaking to someone else. It seemed to me like a practiced, calculated move.

I never told anyone about that incident. Frankly, it didn’t even occur to me to report it, just as it had never occurred to me to report how uncomfortable I’d been with the creepy remarks made by some of the attendants and by Patrick Wallace, whose stature in the museum seemed to me like that of a capricious, malevolent demigod. In the atmosphere of casual sexual ‘banter’ among some – but not all – museum staff, I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides, I was an unpaid volunteer, and Andy Halpin a senior and respected member of staff. And quite apart from that, I thought I would appear either insane or downright evil if I complained about someone who’d seemed so friendly towards me the whole time.

I continued working at the museum till May 2008. Some time later, I returned for a visit. In the lobby, by complete coincidence, was Andy Halpin. He came hurrying towards me with a big smile, hugged me quickly, clasped my face and planted a big wet kiss on my cheek. I felt invaded by this overly familiar way of greeting. But all I did was freeze and smile stiffly, like some ingrained reflex.

I filed all of this away for years – the grab, the uninvited kiss, the gross comments made by others at the museum. Just part of the ugliness you have to deal with in life, I told myself. I wanted to think of myself as a young researcher, not a ‘pretty ballerina’ who was ‘having an affair with her boss’ and ‘just liked to lie there and be caressed,’ and who was there for a little casual grab or kiss. But when news broke of the horrific treatment meted out against Adrienne Corless, I decided to finally tell my story in support of her.

One detail in the reporting that struck me was that Halpin may have some particular fascination with tall girls and women. I’m 5”9.

My story is hardly the most harrowing account ever given of workplace harassment. But it is one example of the many, many, many small ways that a certain type of man, unchecked by conscience or fear of sanctions, can casually strangle the self-esteem and ambition of women just starting out in the workplace.”

Violating the dignity of women as a game

Nina’s account made me feel sick. This horrible, predatory, and so-called senior man groped her thigh under the table, at a Department Christmas dinner, whilst talking to someone the other side of her. So subtle, and yet so devastating: this repulsive man who knowingly abuses his little bit of seniority in such a way that made her feel she couldn’t speak up. Just like that time Mr Halpin jabbed his left thumb in my right buttock, twice in quick succession, even though I very dramatically moved away from him the first time (he shuffled along the radiator he was sitting on so he could still reach me the second time) he kept talking animatedly as if nothing had happened.

It’s what he did every time he appropriated unwanted physical contact towards me: he would keep on talking, whilst looking in the other direction. That time, I glared at him and made no interaction with his chattering, about organizing the Viking excavations stores. I was too stunned to find the words to protest, and this man was carrying on as if everything was as normal.

Maybe I was too embarrassed to use the words about touching my ass. In fact, it appalls me right now to write it: the violation of my dignity. I remember so clearly that it was about 3PM: not yet time to go home, but I went home anyway rather than suffer the rest of the afternoon in a small shared office with him. Rather in shellshock, I gathered up my things. He watched me and asked me aggressively: “are you all right?” “No,” and I signed off, sickened for the day.

I examine this to emphasise how hard it was to speak up: and how this man knows to play to that. He did the very same thing to Caragh: arms swinging, brushed his fingertips off her, that time in company, where he knew she wouldn’t speak up.

And though I’m glad I complained about Halpin, for the record at least, I am beyond dismayed that my complaint did nothing to protect other women: as Nina’s account testifies, and as does the account of a FOURTH woman, as recently as 2016 according to this report. I am in no doubt that the systems in place by the Museum, with their Civil Service disciplinary code, are not worth the paper they are written on, and are much more about pen-pushing tickboxing than they are about protecting staff from predatory men and other abusers of power.

I went through the channels, I did what was right.  Anyone I had confided in an official sense had sympathized with me, told me this happened before, and that people had complained informally, but that nothing could be done about him until somebody made a formal complaint.

So I did. And for what?

I genuinely thought he at least stood  a chance of being fired: he was not fired.

He received the softest possible reprimand. A veritable slap on the wrist that I can tell you knocked no wind out of Mr Halpin’s sails: those two years came and went, and throughout it and beyond he continued to sexually harass women just as he always had. Belatedly, the National Museum of Ireland suspended him on foot of my blog post in 2017, and he is now suing them.  It seems possible that he will be paid off handsomely for what he did to me and to other women. I’ll wrestle with having to make peace with that.

In spite of repeated reportings, formal and informal, the workplace systems in place have enabled this man’s predatory behaviours towards women to continue and to flourish.

The systems must be completely torn down.


This blog post is based on a long post published originally by Grace Dyas on her blog in January.  




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Silver pins and lamp posts

I remember the little anti-abortion pins on school uniforms. I remember the earrings, the same design, the two little footprints. I gushed to a girl in my class:

WHERE did you get that! That’s ADORABLE!

She looked at me quizzically. A hint of derision.

They’re against abortion, she told me. My face must have betrayed my mortification. She went on: “it’s the size a baby’s feet are when the baby is aborted in the womb.”

13-year-old me tried to make sense of this. The disembodied silver feet. It all seemed macabre and controversial.

When I was 16, I heard the gossip that other girls my age had abortions. I was scandalized: not because they’d had abortions, but because they’d had sex with a boy in the first place. At that age, I was mildly terrified of boys. Somehow, I think since going to an all-girls school, they had become a species apart. (Incidentally, one of the nuns called them “undesirables” and barred the gate in case they tried to take a shortcut through our grounds.)

Looking back I know I completely judged those girls, for knowing what I shouldn’t have known about them, their secret abortions. Part of me ignorantly thought maybe abortion was like contraception. Quite apart from how personal and intimate the information was, no wonder it was secret with judging eyes like mine. In my ignorance I didn’t even know that abortion was not accessible in Ireland, that they’d have had to travel.

All that those little silver pins had signified for me, was that, accessible or not, abortion was reality.

Just like the sudden assault of pink “NO” posters signified for my daughter, on our drive between Dublin and Wexford last weekend. Lamppost after lamppost on every street we drove through. Inevitably she asked me about them. Thanks to those posters, my daughter is hearing the word abortion and is being treated to a meaningful discussion about it now, at the age of ten.

We explore it. I tell her that sometimes a woman does not want to be pregnant. We talk a little about this as a scenario. She didn’t know the word “abortion” until she saw it on those posters, but we’d already touched on the topic for International Women’s Day,  when we painted slogans on vest tops together:

“Trust Women”

“I Trust Myself”

She and I both know that pregnancy as a condition, as a process, as an experience, is enormous. She watched me go through it last year.

It’s all very fascinating and interesting to her, and to me, the amazing inner workings and energies of the woman’s cycle. We talk about monthly cycles. I tell her that women’s periods should be honoured as a restful, mindful time when it’s OK to take a back seat, to retreat: instead of teaching girls and women to hide and ignore their periods and to try to and get on with their lives as if it’s not happening. I suggest that we should also be talking about ovulation, and what that is, because that’s just as important a part of the cycle and what’s more, it’s crucial that women know when about ovulating – for many reasons, not least that that’s the time of their cycle that women can get pregnant.

She was with me every step of the way throughout my last pregnancy, my little shadow: though she viewed it through the lense of her mounting excitement about the prospect a new baby in the house, she was privy to my exhaustion, my sickness, my pain and discomfort. She stayed in touch with me during my labour, demanding to know every detail. She has been exposed to pregnancy and birth and its insights, and has her own personal fascination with both, like I did as a kid. I appreciate that she has awareness of the gravity and rawness of these experiences, in tandem with the celebration and honour of them.

Unlike those who would run a campaign to outright dismiss pregnancy as just the means to an end, and dismiss the earth-shattering, life-changing, body- and mind-altering experience of birth (because, adoption). A simple obvious fact is thus completely maligned: there is no “unborn” without us, the women.

We talk about some of the stories of the women who have had to leave Ireland for the care they should get here at home. There are so many stories, shared with courage and rawness on the In Her Shoes Facebook page every day. Their realness and their insights to how women are objectified, persecuted, abandoned, strike me to the core:

…. the woman who was told her pregnancy was not viable, and that her wanted baby would die in the womb: and because of no other reason other than the 8th Amendment, they turfed her out and told her to go home and Google it.

… the woman who says she wanted to pull her skin off, because she did not want to have a baby with a man who was abusive towards her.

… the girl who could not access life-saving medication until she took a pregnancy test: even though she said she knew she couldn’t be pregnant, rules under the 8th Amendment made a liar of her, and forced her to be tested anyway. She was not even actually pregnant, but in the medical system here we are basically always treated as “pre-pregnant” no matter what our circumstances.

That last is how keenly and deeply the 8th Amendment affects us all. You don’t know this until it comes to your door. Don’t forget the women who have had High Court cases threatened by the HSE when they didn’t consent to caesarean section surgery. I confess – and Colm will tell you too – that I cried angry tears for these women , the hijacking of control of their bodies, the outright dismissal of their own knowledge, their own wisdom, their own research.

Like how the posters sideline the woman to the extent that all there is left of her is her swollen abdomen, or an ultrasound of her abdomen: the disembodied womb, the only aspect of her worth talking about anymore, now that she is pregnant.

“Don’t do that,” our instructor at my doula training course told us. “Don’t do that thing of advertising with pictures of disembodied bumps. Put the woman in the picture.”

Put the woman in the picture. That stays with me.

I think of those silver pins, and acknowledge what I now know, that an embryo at the size depicted on the pins doesn’t have formed feet like that. And it is my daughter in her knowledge of pregnancy scans and stages who points out that a poster proclaiming to depict a 9-week-pregnancy is clearly much further along.

After a while, as we near home on our journey between Dublin and Enniscorthy, my daughter says “Mammy, I don’t think I’d ever like to stop a pregnancy. But I won’t know.”

I look at at her in the rear view mirror, and I agree: we just don’t know.

That’s the point of repealing as far as I’m concerned: allowing for the unknown. Please, help us to give individual women the credit to know what is right. Please, put the woman in the picture.

Please, trust women.

Please, help us to repeal the 8th Amendment.

Check the register to make sure you are registered and on May 25th, please, vote yes to repeal.



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Vomiting slugs to tell full truths


I’d rather vomit slugs than name the truths of my experience of working at the National Museum of Ireland, but if I don’t do it I spend the rest of my life living with slug-like lodgers of my work-life past, eating me up from inside.

Such is the way of secrecy and shame.

Difficult and all as this is to do, in direct parallel to the feelings of fear and discomfort in doing it, is the simple knowledge that all I am doing is relating a story of some things that happened to me.

That’s it, I coach myself. Keep it simple: tell my story.

It’s not that I haven’t done this before. I’ve written about my experience, in a dreamy, arm’s length kind of way, without naming names. Before that, I told my story, again and again with friends and colleagues in my profession at the time, and over dinner with friends. It was almost a party piece to relay the outrageousness of what was a kind of open secret of the reality of working in the place I worked in for almost eight years.  I could deliver the shock factor with aplomb. It was one way of coping with how bad it was.

And not only that, I went on to tell my story formally, “through the channels” by making a Formal Complaint of sexual harassment. It took all my reserves of courage at the time, and what fuelled me was my conviction that I was doing the right thing. Perhaps I was. I never felt that it did me much good though, in the long run.

For here I am, still, not feeling that sense of closure I thought speaking up would give.

Ever since I wrote my blog post A Workplace Fable, I wrestled with the question of whether I should have named names. I hadn’t, because of fear, and because at the time I needed to approach it for myself with a sense of detachment. Which is the same thing I guess: fear, and shame. I shared it on my own Facebook page, and people who had known were horrified all over again: more so, now maybe, when it was being shared in cold black and white. Some people said, it happened to them too.

My post got shared on, a bit, not far  but the farther it went I could tell that some readers  didn’t know which institution I was writing about (though it was easy to find out), and that for those who knew the institution but didn’t know exactly which individuals I was talking about, they could be left second-guessing about other staff.

I probably need to name names, was my dawning realisation.

I parked that realisation as far at the back of my mind as I could, along with the slugs. Then #MeToo happened. All over Twitter and Facebook, women began to speak out. Cautiously I “liked” or shared, without comment.

I’ve already shared my own #MeToo, I shrugged.

And I continued to observe.

Colm showed me what was happening  at the Gate Theatre, and nodded as my jaw dropped.

Another cultural institution where obnoxious work relations ruled supreme. I caught up with everything Grace Dyas had to say, wrung my hands at wanting to reach out and say well done, well done, well done.  I read Justine McCarthy’s piece in the Sunday Times, and thought of all the facts, times and dates I had accumulated in my Formal Complaint.

On Monday I sat down with the baby in my arms and quietly updated my blog post. I did what I’d been wanting to do all along. I named the names in my story.

I confirmed the institution as the National Museum of Ireland, and the man who sexually harassed me as Andy Halpin.

I claimed the simple truth of my experience.

I remember that the first time this man kissed me, unwanted, on my cheek, was the day he interviewed me for the job.  The feelings of shame and the degradation of what happened to me are unearthed from where I bury them, all over again.

Grace Dyas said that she felt it was she who had to leave a room when she had done nothing wrong. In the latter six years of my job, I engineered all my movements so that I wouldn’t cross paths with my harasser. Since losing my job, I have not much felt able to return, even as a researcher or a visitor,  partly because of the embarrassment of washing my dirty linen in the open, through my blog post, even though I know it’s what I had to do. I do it again now through this post. I bleed myself dry here once again in an effort to purge myself of the shame.

It was not that my time at the Museum was all bad: in fact I had absolutely loved the nature of my work. Remember, I had been devastated to lose my job. But the power bubble that was, and likely still is, has never been more apparent to me than it is now. I reflect on the time I made my formal complaint, when a senior manager and Pat Wallace met with me in my office, informally, to check on me. I felt like they cared: but Pat Wallace elbowed the other man in a chummy way, and chuckled “HO HO, I’d never have thought Halpin had it in him”.  (The other man blanked this.) It was like he hadn’t thought him man enough before now. How’s that for ‘locker-room talk’, with me right there? I ask myself, what hope did I have if the boss behaved like he was impressed at the capability of another man in his staff to sexually harass a woman?

And then, some years later in a meeting with Pat Wallace, one of those times where snarling, desk-thumping and shouting was the order of the day, he berated me for not attending a book launch the prior evening. The book was by Andy Halpin. He demanded to know whether this was some kind of “statement” and reprimanded me for not supporting a “fellow researcher.”

My harassment assumed long forgotten, water under a bridge.  I tried to remind him, shocked, that I would never support that individual. Perhaps I should thus not have been surprised, then, when in the dying days of my contract, I was asked to debrief my harasser and hand my project back to him. I did refuse, in no uncertain terms.

My time came to leave, and I became another forgettable casualty, because hierarchies favour power, not people.  I left Dublin, moved to Wexford with Colm and our children and found a whole new profession by training as a yoga teacher. I can live my life behaving as if those eight years of working in the National Museum never happened, except that of course they did.

I see that Minister Heather Humphries and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht plan to introduce “measures” to address problems of harassment: which is nice. But until power bubbles are deflated, measures just won’t cut it. The entire culture has to be renewed, completely. Maybe sometime , I’ll walk back through the gates of the National Museum of Ireland with my head held high.





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On wings of song

I discovered some words I threw down in a notebook, exactly two years ago this week: a vignette of my daughter Aoife in a nonsuch moment I wanted to preserve for ever and ever and ever


On Wings of Song: A soundtrack playing that moment on RTÉ Lyric FM, to me standing at the sink, watching through the window as Aoife sat on the gravel pile outside.

She was seven years old, gap-toothed (I couldn’t see from where I stood, but I knew). She cuddled a kitten (Puffin). She held the kitten at arms length, spoke to her, then draped her over her shoulder. The daft little kitten was such a peata that she simply complied with whatever Aoife wanted to do with her. Aoife fluttered with her to the sand table, drooped the kitten over it to entice her to drink the (surely rank) water. Then she flitted on again.

She was seven years old, and I could envisage the “big girl” she would become. Already I noticed her stretching somewhat taller, yet still I saw the tiny fairy toddler. She teetered a dainty bridge between two worlds

Tuesday 15th September 2015


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Peace for whom in Tuam?




I was confused to read on the front page of the Tuam Herald Wednesday 22nd February that Tuam’s Garden of Peace, the last remaining aspect of the town’s Mother and Baby Home, is being added to the Record of Protected Structures.”

This site has recently been declassified as a recorded monument from the Record of Monuments and Places, where it had previously erroneously designated as a cillín (a burial ground for unbaptised babies, which this site is not). And now Galway County Council wish to list it as a “protected structure?” What are they thinking?

For families of unaccounted-for bodies of children, this place is a crime scene: not a Garden of Peace. For whom is the intended peace? Peace for the families who anguish for answers in that ground? Or peace for those who wish their whole situation would just go away?

Why do Galway County Council add confusion to a situation that is already an utter mess for anyone involved?

protected structure: “is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view.”

So what happens at this site depends on point of view – instead of justice? The proposal to designate the site as being of “special interest” is presumably for those who do not have unaccounted-for bodies and missing family.

Part of the wall that currently delimits the burial site, possibly the only part of the enclosure that marks any kind of actual boundary – the modern walls are completely arbitrary – is associated with the workhouse. This is the only above-ground structure that fits the criteria of “special interest” from architectural, historical and archaeological points of view. The burial ground of unaccounted-for children from the Mother and Baby Home does not fit this criteria.

Further, it makes no sense that Galway County Council propose to stamp a “protected” label on a site that they own and have responsibly for, and which is already the subject of forensic investigation by the Commission appointed to investigate Mother and Baby Homes.

According to the Tuam Herald, “the matter will be considered by members of Galway County Council at a forthcoming meeting”.  Councillors ought reach out to those affected by this decision. No family members of unaccounted-for children, and no survivors of Tuam Mother and Baby Home were consulted about the proposal to “protect” a ground where the children are supposed to be buried. Information about the proposal posted in County Hall and Tuam local area office in January and February was not seen by those affected.

Galway County Council did not publicly acknowledge children’s bodies there during works, but quietly built around them and left the site to become an overgrown wilderness. Galway County Council would also do well to come out and apologise to former residents of the Home and their families for their part in cover-up of the burials during building works.


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A Workplace Fable

Once upon a time, I worked in a crumbling old archaic and beautiful institution*. Within its many walls, two worlds co-existed side by side, adjacent and sometimes overlapping, but utterly distinct and separate and unrecognisable from one another in character and experience.

One was the dazzling front-of-house public veneer, and one was the creaking, chokingly toxic, behind-the-scenes underbelly.

If you didn’t spend much time beyond the locked and pass-coded “Staff Only” doors, you might think it would be a wondrous place to work. You might even desire it and daydream about it! How wrong you would be. Within days or weeks or even just hours you would realise that all was not as it seemed. That this was a venue that you might describe as all fur coat and no knickers.

For behind the scenes was a carved up and disjointed landscape of independent fiefdoms. Multiple departments of highly stratified staff worked in isolation from one another, cloistered away in different offices or cubicles and even in different buildings. Which would be fine, except that nobody ever organised cohesive staff meetings. Introverted staff could be left alone in their corner from one end of the year to the other. You could work there for years and walk past corridors where there were hermit-like staff that never came out.  I used to think it all suited the nature of the academic’s psyche – that academics liked working alone, even in the window-less deepest reaches of old attics. I think there is a level of obsessiveness required to be a researcher.  Extreme focus is how you become an expert. The place was full of them.

But expertise will come at a price if you don’t go for some fresh air, have lunch and talk to other people every now and then.

Not that many staff didn’t meet up for tea and lunch and socialise together. Only for teabreaks did staff detach from their desks at all. Because there were no staff-wide meetings, it was only over scones that anything new ever happened. It was your own loss if you missed out what was happening by not attending teabreaks. Here, and only amongst the more extroverted characters, ideas formed and schemes hatched as to how to convince decision-makers that new initiatives were good.

But the extraordinarily hierarchical staffing structure meant that decision-making was a nightmare. The Hierarchy seemed to be held in great regard, especially by those who operated from  within its ranks. Relative to the amount of staff, there were loads of bosses, meaning that a single member of staff could answer to a Supervisor who answered to a Manager who answered to a Higher Manager who answered to a single overall manager – referred to here as The Great Boss – who seemingly answered to a Board, but truthfully everyone in the entire place was answerable to The Great Boss, including the Board who never set foot in the place anyway and nobody was sure whether they even existed at all.

The Higher Managers all had big important meetings together around mahogany tables and made big important decisions that got emailed out to the rest of the organisation every now and then, with no warning or explanation or consultation.

And that would seriously piss off everyone else in the entire place. If this was fed back to the Higher Managers, all they could do was shrug and say nothing because this was the entitlement of their role and in “time-honoured tradition” this is the way it had always been and always would be, and one day if other staff were promoted to Higher Management then they would also do it the way it had always had been done, because that was their entitlement now too and nothing would ever change.

In fact change was not welcomed at all. Vibrant new proposals may or may not be indulgently listened to, but almost never ever approved. A persistent young enthusiastic female like me was nothing but a bemusing nuisance.  Ideas from lower grades of staff (don’t forget how important the Hierarchy was here) were a repugnance. Really, only Higher Management got to think up ideas.

Most other junior staff knew not to provoke Higher Management with ideas. They knew to respect the tradition.  But not even with their mahogany tables and their decision-making and their big important emails out to “All Users” were the Higher Managers happy. Not even when they had the power to think up Ideas for new projects were they happy. The entire organisation lived in fear of The Great Boss, but nobody feared him as much as the Higher Managers. Higher Managers would pale before visitations of the Great Boss. He could never appear without warning, because a highly-stressed staff is always highly alert to its stressors and The Great Boss was the greatest stressor of all. His whereabouts was always vigilantly communicated by phone to everyone else in that corner of that building at that time.

Nobody had even to mention his name or his title, all they had to do was phone and say “HE”:

“he is here.”

“he is downstairs.”

“he is outside the door now.”

And without a hello or a goodbye, the phoneline would click off and go dead.

No matter how much preparation was laid before a visitation, that one overlooked impossible detail or that one tiny nonsensical transgression would put Higher Managers into spins of incoherent babbling before his wrath.

That’s unless The Great Boss was in good form. These days were known as the days When the Great Boss had had his Weetabix.

Oh how charming and disarming he could be then!

He had enormous wit and knowledge and he could employ it lethally. Even Higher Managers who hated his guts because he made them stutter and lay awake at night with worry of him would laugh uproariously at his acerbic humour and fawn over his photographic memory that made him remember their great-aunt’s fondness for súgán chairs. On those days, the whole staff would bask in the temporary burn of his cheer, the deathly calm before the next storm of his more typically bad temper.

And so, morale in this place was not good. Too many variously dejected bosses under one nasty Great Boss under a faceless Board meant nobody felt supported, or heard, or valued.  In this environment isolation and and harassment and infighting was allowed to fester. Like I said, it was toxic.

For my part, when I started work there I felt excited and privileged to undertake my new job. I was getting to work on a staggeringly enormous and famous project. But my immediate supervisor sexually harassed me and in time the Great Boss bullied me directly.

The supervisor harassed me from the first day with utterly unwanted and inappropriate physical contact at every opportunity. It was insidious and persistent and I was expected to carry on a normal working relationship as if nothing was amiss.

I buried my head in my work and relished the satisfaction of it and of working in what I wanted to believe was the beautiful institution as was known from its public face, but I felt paralytically uncomfortable at sharing the office with my immediate boss. I grew to hate the office with its ivy green carpet and still can’t bear the tinny sound of a moped bustling up the street.  I was all but completely lost in the confusing hierarchic structure. It all made me uncharacteristically shy and retiring, and I developed a tickly cough and ulcers in my nose and in my mouth. The great privilege of working there was soured.

I confided in new friends in other departments and they told me sadly that it had happened before. I made an informal complaint to HR, as I heard others had done, and overnight the supervisor was removed to another office without him being told why. Just like the way the Catholic Church quietly transfers priests from one parish to another. I was left flying blind in my job, but I knew what to do and I can tell you I didn’t mind. I was so relieved he was away from me.

Unfortunately, I think that rather than feel empathy with previous recipients of this man’s harassment, I felt angry at them for not taking a stronger stance which might have protected me. HR told me that the only way they could really do anything was if I made a Formal Complaint. I felt responsible in ensuring it wouldn’t happen again to other women.

HR told me I was brave. I didn’t feel brave. I felt terrified.

I went through the strain of invoking a formal investigation. A specialist mediation company was called in and I was interviewed several times. He was interviewed. We were fed reports of each other’s words. He mostly admitted it, and even tried to justify some of it, by telling them that he was a “naturally touchy-feely person” and wanted to kiss me and hug me so much because I was such a capable assistant. He confessed he had unhealthy thoughts towards me. He explained that he’d pushed me against the door one day to measure my height because he’d seen some tall school girls visiting the public side of our workplace and he “wanted to prolong the fantasy” he had with tall women, by contrasting my short stature with the school girls he’d seen just prior.  He said I was a “foil for his fantasies.” Re-reading  the investigator’s report of his words makes me shudder.

The investigators told me that the whole thing was the most disturbing case they’d had to work on.

The organisation upheld my complaint. They created a new fixed term contract to give me the role he’d had. Somebody joked that I’d done well out of the situation: that I was the cuckoo that had pushed him out. I didn’t feel amused. So what if I had had pushed him out? I had suffered under his treatment of me and as such he wasn’t deserving of his role. My responsibility and my workload increased dramatically.

After that I didn’t speak to him again, and I hardly saw him: I had to engineer my movements to avoid his. I heard that he still worked alone with women: some as young as Transition Year. It made my blood boil. I felt my efforts had been a complete waste. I wished to goodness he’d been fired, but in the kind of organisation I worked in, someone with a permanent contract could only be gotten rid of through death.

Meanwhile, because the Great Boss specifically didn’t like the Manager left remaining above my grade, he cut the project I was working on off from him and thereby left me alone with no department to belong to. I worked quietly and independently and I seriously loved the nature of the work. I was glad I no longer had to work with the man who had harassed me.  I was told to report to a Higher Manager (instead of a Supervisor or a Manager now), but he knew that my work was a personal pet project of the Great Boss and who would therefore have nothing to do with itThus he offered me no support whatsoever, and referred everything upwards to The Great Boss.

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire!” another commentator chuckled to me.

The Great Boss was largely suspicious and untrusting of me, as he was of everyone else, though he seemed to value my work in a twisted way. When I phoned to discuss maternity leave, he told me angrily that it wasn’t his problem that I’d got “up the pole”. At a social occasion, in front of horrified friends from outside the organisation, he told my partner in a seemingly jovial way that he’d better not get me pregnant again.

Because I had no Supervisor or Manager, and the Higher Manager I was supposed to answer to wouldn’t have anything to do with me because he was so terrified to touch a project that he saw as the Great Boss’s baby, I had to report directly to the Great Boss. And I had the audacity to propose Ideas. I suggested technological new solutions and creative approaches to raise funds and dynamic ideas to achieve tasks.

My attempts to upgrade time-honoured traditions made him apoplectic. He yelled at me, cursed at me, slammed down books in temper at me, spittled at me in rage, snarled at me that I was “not paid to think”. He referred to other staff that I spoke up for as “nobodies” and warned me not to let the “grubby paws” of people he didn’t like near the project that he saw as his.

In meetings, because my persistence and my challenges to his inaccuracies and his utter rudeness made everyone uncomfortable, I was frozen out by Managers, or I was told outright not to upset him: that he was, after all, The Great Boss.

Oh how totally they believed in the hierarchy.

Because to see through the illusion of his position would be to cast doubt on their own.

When the end of my Fixed Term Contract loomed in the new year, the Great Boss and the Higher Manager promised me they would move earth moon and stars to get it extended. They told me to plan the upcoming calendar year’s budget as if I would still be working there. But three months into that year I got a letter to my home thanking me for my service. It came with no forewarning, no meeting, no courtesy from anyone in management in phone or in person to confirm to me that actually, sorry, they’d done nothing to save my contract. The Great Boss himself had just retired with no warning and nobody in the Hierarchy wanted anything to do with his legacy. The project I worked on so devotedly was nothing but a poison chalice.

The dismay was sickening, better off and all as I knew I would be to get out of that toxic organisation.

This was all bad enough but the project was in full swing with its objectives for that year, because the Great Boss and Higher Manager had instructed me to go ahead with them. I had contractors appointed and interns newly in place. I had to sit them all down and tell them they their contracts couldn’t be honoured now and their positions had to be cancelled. I felt I was leaving the project like a veritable can of worms, not much better than how I’d found it.

And I was half way through a PhD research project based solely on my dayjob. I was going to have to give that up too.

The Union were very kind and told me I’d worked there long enough to make an application for a Contract of Indefinite Duration (in other words a permanent contract, but nobody was allowed to call it that). I should have been offered one in the first place. I told them eventually that I didn’t have the heart to fight anymore. I had given my all to my job and my family needed a better version of me. I needed a better version of me.

Near the end I had an email from my old supervisor. The man who had sexually harassed me. It was the first contact since the Formal Complaint. It was cheerful and friendly. He wanted to meet me – he’d heard I was leaving and felt he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t get to meet me and say sorry. He could spin over and meet me in my office, or we could go for tea he said. So chillingly lighthearted and breezy. I couldn’t accept there was any sincerity in it. I had been given to understand he was told not to approach me. Through the Investigation, I’d established I never wanted to speak to him and did not want to receive an apology. Clearly he felt absolved of all wrongdoing now that I was being let go.

I told him never to contact me again.

If his startling, uncalled-for and unexpected email was a knife in my back, the Higher Manager twisted it. Before I left, he called me to his office for a chat. Seeing as how the Great Boss had left, the project could be handed back to its former department now. As I was leaving, they had decided to put my former supervisor back in charge of it: as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

How would I feel about debriefing him?

The man who had sexually harassed me?

The man who’d been absolved of his duties because of his behaviour? They wanted to reinstate the perpetrator and they wanted me to debrief him?

I believe I said: “over my dead body”.

My cheeks thundered red for the rest of that day, at the shock that was piled on the shock of losing my job, at the reminder of what I’d been through and how pointless my Formal Complaint had been.

I knew then that despite all my hard work, my enthusiasm and devotion, nobody in the Hierarchy really gave a shit about my welfare or my contribution. They didn’t even care about the project; that, as I outlined, was a poison chalice. All that mattered was the Hierarchy and the entitlement it seemed to afford to some.

Like many before me I walked away from there, helpless and alone and scarred from the experience.  I walked back through the public face of those achingly beautiful buildings, an outsider again, a member of the public, my privileged access revoked for good.

I was left to wonder what good any of it had done. I thought of the many beautiful people I had met and the gorgeous sense of purpose many of us had shared, even if the Hierarchy hadn’t. We truly made the best of a seething, sorry mess, even if it broke my heart to have to close the “Staff Only” door on what was to remain a sorry mess.

As if to keep the workplace a mess was the Hierarchy’s right.

*Postscript November 2017


At the time that I published this blog post, last February, I was miserable with morning sickness and weary of hearing my former employer, the National Museum of Ireland, come under fire with news reports of its toxic work environment. When I read an online comment that it surely couldn’t be THAT bad in there, I bristled. The news reports weren’t describing a fraction of how bad I knew it was in there.

I felt triggered.

So in an effort to come to terms with my experience of 8 years of working there, I sat down to write this story. Thinking of this place, reading anything associated with it, even relating to any of my friends who had worked there or still do triggers a sense of trauma I know I still haven’t fully dealt with, so I wrote it with a sense of distance. I veiled my story, if thinly. I wanted my story to be something of a cautionary tale, as I tried to outline the problems of hierarchical work structures and how they might contribute to such terrible work relations: so I called it a “fable”.

I did not – nay, could not – pepper my personal blog with names that are triggers for me. I would not have been able to write it in the cathartic way I needed to if I did.

I wrestle, at the same time, with the need for clarity, as is highlighted currently in the #MeToo campaign and the question of naming perpetrators is raised: I see my blog post get read and shared, and I notice that some have to try guess the name of the institution, and may find themselves speculating as to names, so I write this postscript to clarify.


The institution is the National Museum of Ireland.


The “great boss” is its former director, PF Wallace.

The “supervisor” who harassed me is a member of the Irish Antiquities division, named Andy Halpin

Update here: https://kettleontherange.com/2017/11/09/vomiting-slugs-to-tell-full-truths/




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There once was a woman who didn’t know what to do with all her iPhone photos

There was once a woman who lived …  on a hill…. she had so many photos she didn’t know what to do …

I have possibly upwards of 100,000 digital photographs. They’re stashed on cloud storage facilities like Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Images, that I don’t remember the passwords for. They’re stashed on breakable hard-drives. They’re suffocating my iPhone.

I am digitally drowning.

Worse than that (I think) are the several thousands of digital images that I’ve lost over the past few years. Stashes were vanquished when one of my hard-drives slid out of my hand onto the desk below and never worked again. I also lost all the digital files from my indefinitely-paused archaeology PhD research when it happened. (That was the end of that.)

One old iPhone fell heavily against the old stone walls of our house when I waved it a little too vigorously – as if to improve the hopeless phone signal where we live – and I lost all the thousands of photos on that.

Another old iPhone won’t charge and I can’t access the thousands of photographs on that.

A few months ago, all the recent-ish photos I’d stashed on my laptop to make space on my storage-choked current iPhone were lost when I closed the lid on said laptop a little too firmly –  because our useless WiFi kept dropping! and its hard drive packed it in.

I don’t seem to practice taking good care of my technology.

And despite an old job I used to have where I was responsible for unprecedented archives of archaeological collections, I have no practice of collating my own digital photographs.

Even though I love my iPhone photographs. My iPhone is really a camera to me, with a phone facility attached that I hardly ever use because hey, the signal in our house is so bad anyway. I use cool apps to edit my photos to make what are to me beautiful images of the life I live in. One of the last things I do at the end of every day is flick through the photos I took that day, as if to distil my day into an aesthetic of memory. It’s a rare day that I don’t take any. I don’t even go to the clothes line in our back yard without my phone in hand (or thrown on top of the basket of laundry) in case I miss a Fleeting Beautiful Sight. And it could happen!

I do use Instagram, on five different accounts, sporadically and agonisingly. I tend to only publish what I consider my loveliest images, or those that fit the narrative I like to portray. Then months as later I look back over the images “from the cutting-room floor”, as it were, I wonder – why did I not share those? These were good too. I share even less on Facebook (though I do use Facebook in inconsistent bouts of activity, depending on mood and WiFi.)

Which leaves me, at the end of 2016, with 3,351 images on my iPhone and no space to take any more, unless I delete Shazam again as a temporary measure, and that’s just inconvenient.

And what to do then? Try to painstaking upload a few hundred to cloud storage, if I remember the passwords, where they will languish unseen and effectively lost?


Time to publish, and be damned.

In new blog posts I stash, via the WordPress app on my phone (whilst there is still space for it), images I clear from my iPhone. Some are already on Instagram, or Facebook. Most are not. As I share them I delete them from my phone, reward it some well-deserved digital space and consider myself absolved of a responsibility towards curating them.

I also endeavor to do this in the interests of giving this sorely neglected blog some visual narrative in a new theme of Kettle PicturesClick the link to see, and the new category of the same name is in the tabs above.

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