Tag Archives: Ciaran Tierney

From top: site of the Bon Secours Mother and  Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway; Ciaran Tierney

It can be very empowering when the marginalised, the denigrated, and the shamed overcome their fear and find their voice.

In a quiet Galway graveyard last year, I heard an amazing man tell a heartbreaking truth with unbelievable conviction and power in his voice.

Where, he wanted to know, was his little sister?

Why was nobody giving him any answers?

It brought tears to many an eye to hear him speak his truth. I stood there, stunned in admiration, listening a man who had been told he was worthless all his life.

Born into a horrible institution, fostered out to a family who beat and abused him; dealing with the terrible stigma of being branded as “illegitimate” as he set off on his journey through life.

And now, late in life, he found out that he had a little sister who may or may not have been buried in a septic tank.

I marveled at the conviction in the voice of a man who had found love and become a good father against all the odds, despite rather than because of a land which proclaimed to cherish all of its children equally while it branded some of them “bastards”, considered the cruellest label of all.

In the same graveyard this year, I heard an amazing woman find her voice.

She wanted to know why she had been locked up for years, even though she had committed no crime.

She wanted to know why she worked as a slave for nuns in a laundry, within a two minute walk of the beating heart of an Irish city.

Why was she imprisoned?

Why was she forgotten by the world outside?

Why? Why? Why?

And, in case we wanted to blame the nuns, she reminded us of a girl who managed to get a workman to sneak a letter out to her sister in affluent Salthill.

The man thought he was doing the poor girl a favour.

Instead, she was beaten black and blue, and denigrated for months for daring to make contact with the outside world.

Her sister let it be known that she never wanted to hear from her again.

And she was distraught for months afterwards, if not for the rest of her life. The trauma of being locked up in an institution compounded by being rejected for a second time in caring, ‘Catholic’ Ireland.

This country owes a massive apology to these two individuals; and to so many women, elderly now, who were locked in institutions for the terrible crime of bringing a child into the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’.

Funny, how I never see the prominent ‘Vote No’ campaigners in my area attend the poignant annual ceremony of remembrance for the Magdalene Laundry women in Galway.

They express such concern for the sanctity of human life, but don’t seem so concerned with showing compassion for those who were victimised or had their lives ruined by the land of shame.

The voiceless are finding their voices now.

Their testimonials are so, so painful, and they remind us of an appalling past when our nation shamed its own women.

If you became pregnant outside marriage, you were locked up for a year before your baby was taken from you. Forever.

If your baby died, he or she may have been buried in a septic tank. Or – and you may never know because there are no ‘official’ records – the child was adopted, illegally, by a ‘good’ couple in the United States.

If, God forbid, you were unlucky enough to become pregnant for a second time, you were branded a “repeat offender”.

Even though you may have been raped, or totally innocent to the ways of the world after being incarcerated in a Mother and Baby Home.

This was the land which locked up women for a year and confiscated their babies for the ‘crime’ of having a baby outside marriage.

It was the land which locked them up for two years if they were unfortunate enough to become pregnant for a second time.

It was unimaginable how badly this country treated these women and their “illegitimate” children, treating them as second class citizens when they attended ‘normal’ schools outside the home or locking them up in harsh Industrial Schools, where abuse was rife and nobody heard their cries of despair.

Compassion was nowhere to be found.

This is the land that told us sex was sinful, that the most natural thing in the world was somehow shameful, and that a pregnant daughter or sister was the biggest shame a “respectable” Irish family could face.

This is the land that told so many of us that we should be ashamed of our bodies.

It ensured contraception was illegal right up until the 1980s, divorce only became legal in 1995, and a woman with a crisis pregnancy would have to travel to another country if she wanted health care.

No wonder so many of us buried ourselves in alcohol, suppressing the natural Irish joy for life, and that alcohol abuse led to risky behaviour and yet more crisis pregnancies.

During my own university days, I had no idea that a group of women I was friendly with were so brave.

They were the first generation of ordinary Irish women who dared to bring their children up as single mothers. Had they become pregnant just a decade before, they could have been seized from their own homes in the dead of night and locked up in Mother and Baby Homes.

Perhaps the women themselves, struggling to juggle motherhood, work, and college, did not even realise how ground-breaking they were in the early 1990s.

This is the land that told an Indian woman in distress that “This is a Catholic country” when she was denied the health care she was crying out for at my local hospital.

The death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway led to a huge outpouring of grief in my city, a beautiful candlelight vigil in Eyre Square, and the start of a movement for change.

It is the land which told hundreds of women there was nothing it could do for them when they received a terrible diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

They found there was a special section in Liverpool Women’s Hospital just for Irish women, who made the same lonely journey knowing that the child they desperately wanted had no chance of survival.

This is the land which banned books by the likes of John McGahern and Edna O’Brien, which seem so innocent now but were seen as “controversial” because they dared to explore issues of sexuality in a place gripped by guilt and shame.

This land had the power to destroy a writer’s livelihood, or force him or her into immigration, for daring to explore issues which seem so tame to the modern reader.

It’s a land where priests had the power to name and shame single mothers from the pulpits, or could collude with Gardai to drag them from their beds at dawn, never to be seen in their homes and villages again.

It’s a land which had the power to force the resignation of a Government Minister for daring to try to introduce a mother and child healthcare system. It would have greatly enhanced the ability of single mothers to bring up their own children, rather than being locked up in horrible institutions.

Dr Noel Browne, forced to resign in 1950, was way ahead of his time. His radical measure was seen as too much of a threat to the power structures in Irish society at the time.

It’s a land which has exported so many of its problems. As a much younger man, I met so many wonderful but troubled Irish people in Britain who had fled their native land, branded as “illegitimate”, beaten or abused, and many dealing with addiction issues brought about by so much pain.

In 2018, Ireland is still exporting its ‘problems’ in terms of so many women with crisis pregnancies from every one of the 26 counties who travel to the UK for terminations every day, week, and year.

Not many people I know want to see a widespread “culture” of abortion in this country.

Nobody I knows believes in the concept of “social abortion” which has been repeated as a mantra over the past few weeks.

But we do have compassion for women in crisis and we sure as hell want an end to this land of shame.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Farewell to the land of shame (Ciaran Tierney)

From top: (left to right) Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes campaign speaking in Galway; supporters of the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project, also in Galway; Ciaran Tierney

Ahead of the abortion referendum on Friday, May 25, 2018, Ciaran Tierney attended the launches of both the pro-choice and pro-life campaigns in Galway.

Ciaran writes:

Two meetings in the same city, but they felt like different worlds.

As campaigning begins in earnest ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum on May 25, the battle lines were drawn recently when both sides of the debate launched their respective campaigns at a series of regional events and rallies throughout the country.

Two very different events took place in Galway within 48 hours of each other which underlined the strong feelings in both camps and the intense battle expected to win the hearts and minds of undecided voters over the next seven weeks of canvassing.

Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe and the legislation, known as the Eighth Amendment, which acknowledges the equal right to life of the mother and unborn child was passed by referendum after a bitter, divisive debate in 1983.

Most of those who will vote on the issue next month would not have been around or entitled to vote 35 years ago.

It was notable at the launch of the ‘Together For Yes’ campaign in Galway that many young women in their 20s and 30s were hugely engaged in a political issue for the first time.

Young women made up the majority of the 200-strong attendance at the Harbour Hotel in Galway city centre where a range of seekers called for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in order to legalise abortion in Ireland for the first time.

For Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes, the key issue is to show people that abortion already is a reality in Ireland, but that women are being forced to travel to the UK or Europe for terminations or take illegal pills in secret at home.

Although canvassing had only just begun, she said that those who were in favour of change were receiving a very positive reception at the doorsteps.

“A really important part of our campaign is making sure that people know that women are already travelling to the UK every day or taking abortion pills at home, in secret, but they feel they cannot go to a doctor. It’s already a reality here,” she said.

“Our experience being out leafleting or canvassing is that a lot of people have changed their minds on this issue. People have seen that the Eighth Amendment did not work. It did not stop people from having abortions overseas and it also had devastating consequences when we think of, for example, the death of Savita Halappanavar here in Galway.”

Six years ago, Savita’s death at University Hospital Galway (UHG) made headlines all across the world and galvanised activists in the West of Ireland to seek a change in the law.

The young Indian dentist is remembered at a candlelight vigil in the city on her anniversary every year.

Savita (31) died from blood poisoning at UHG after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week long pregnancy. When the distressed young woman requested a termination in the hospital, she was told: “This is a Catholic country.”

She had presented to the hospital with back pain in October 2012, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later. The resultant outpouring of anger revived Ireland’s abortion debate.

“It’s important for us to make sure that people come out to vote. Our feeling is that people want change. This is affecting thousands of women each year and people have changed their minds about this issue. They see that this is necessary. We are confident, but we are not complacent,” said Ms O’Connor.

“We can see that this is an issue which has really captured young women, but it’s an issue that affects everyone. It affects men, it affects couples. It’s about making sure there is proper health care here in Ireland and about making sure that people don’t have to go through the trauma of having to travel.”

She said that the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage via a popular vote, showed how much Irish society had changed over the past 35 years.

Ms O’Connor said that the issue had galvanised young Irish people abroad so much that many were planning to fly home just to vote on May 25.

Less than 48 hours after the Together for Yes launch, the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project came together for a rally to mobilise support for a ‘no’ vote at the Leisureland conference hall across the city in Salthill.

Bus-loads of supporters from throughout the West of Ireland attended the event. It was notable that there were far more elderly people and families with young children in attendance at the ‘Stand Up for Life’ event.

There was also far more merchandise on show in the vast hall, including graphic images, posters, and sweatshirts, calling on people to vote no on May 25.

During an extremely well-choreographed event, everyone was asked to move to the front of the hall to take a large group photo to mark the launch of the ‘Vote No’ campaign in the West of Ireland.

There is a widespread perception out there that there is far more financial backing available to those who oppose repealing the Eighth Amendment, including funds from the United States, and this was very much in evidence at Leisureland.

One of the organisers, Katie Ascough, defined next month’s referendum as an “absolutely defining moment” in Irish history.

“I want you to think about the thousands of lives that will be protected when we win this referendum,” she said, to a huge round of applause. “There won’t be any second chances to save the Eighth Amendment. We must stand united.”

Another speaker, Bernadette Goulding, claimed the Irish Government had “awakened a sleeping giant” by attempting to repeal the country’s abortion ban.

“Women don’t talk about abortions, it doesn’t lend itself to conversation,” said Ms Goulding, who runs Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for women who have experienced painful post-abortion emotions.

“Those who are pro-abortion don’t acknowledge the grief women experience after having an abortion,” she claimed. “No country is perfect but we all need to be proud of Ireland’s abortion laws.

“Those who are ‘pro-choice’ believe that ‘pro-life’ people only care about the baby, but ‘pro-life’ people care about the mother and the baby. Many people are alive today because of the Eighth Amendment.”

She claimed that the birth of a child “heals the effect of rape” and called on people to stop rape from happening rather than kill an unborn child.

One of the organisers of the launch, Eilis Mulroy of Galway for Life, said anti-abortion campaigners were incredibly encouraged by the huge number of people who were enthusiastic about protecting Ireland’s ban on abortion.

“We want to encourage people to get out and canvass, to tell their families, their friends, their neighbours about the preciousness of the Eighth Amendment, to explain to them how many lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment. There are people in this hall tonight who are alive because of the Eighth Amendment,” she said.

“Certainly, Ireland has changed since the 1980s, and there’s a lot of positive change, but not on this topic. I’m very encouraged that recent opinion polls have shown there is no majority in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. If you look at the numbers here tonight, you couldn’t but be confident about a ‘no’ vote on ballot day.”

Ms Mulroy said it was too easy to “stereotype” people, but it was clear from the huge gathering in the hall that a huge cross-section of Irish society was concerned by the prospect of having legalised abortion.

“I know many people who have been through an abortion and, for many of them, it wasn’t their own choice. It was the people around them. The challenge for us is to be the type of society that supports women,” she said.

“Our view is that people should get online and inform themselves. People should inform themselves of what’s involved in this legislation, unrestricted abortion, which is a horrendous proposal of ‘social’ abortion.”

When it was put to her that many people would have a difficulty with the term ‘social’ abortion, given the trauma involved, she said that every abortion was a tragedy and claimed that one in five pregnancies in Britain ends in a termination.

“Once you introduce a liberal or unrestricted regime, it becomes socially acceptable in the same way as the smoking ban. You can probably remember being able to smoke on an airplane, but now it’s socially not acceptable, because laws change behaviour. If you say that some people have less of a right to live than others, of course it’s going to make an impact,” she said.

“This proposal is for unrestricted abortion up to eight weeks. I think it’s really important that people are straight and that the facts are out there. We would encourage everyone to be respectful of each other. It’s important that the science and the truth about ‘abortion culture’ and how it harms babies needs to be articulated, and given fair treatment in the media debates.”

An intense period of campaigning is now underway to win over undecided voters ahead of the referendum on May 25.

Ultimately, the real-life testimonies of women across Ireland could be pivotal in terms of deciding the outcome of the vote.

Arlette Lyons of a group called Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) spoke of her personal trauma when she was forced to travel to England for an abortion after being diagnosed with a case of fatal foetal abnormality six years ago.

“We were expecting our third baby when we found out she had a fatal condition at 12 weeks,” said Ms Lyons. “I expected something to be done there and then, but I was told that there was nothing that could be done for me and my family here in Ireland.

“To be given the news that my baby was going to die and then to be told that the only options were to go to the UK or to go full term, I actually thought I was the only one this had ever happened to. The staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital were so understanding, they had seen Irish couples in this situation so many times.

“I travelled back home by boat, because I could not face the ‘plane. I did not want to fly after having my termination. I felt travelling by boat was less public. When I got back to Ireland, an anger just came over me. That’s why I just went public. It was unjust, what happened to me. Since then, I came together with other women to form TFMR and at least 400 families have been in contact over the past six years.

“The only way women and couples with fatal foetal abnormalities can receive the help they need is to repeal the Eighth Amendment. My story could be anybody’s story, even though I hope it does not happen to anyone else. We need to stop punishing tragedy.”

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Rallying the troops for a divisive campaign (Ciaran Tierney)

From top: Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass and  Joan Nolan arriving at Dublin Airport following their deportation from Israel; Ciaran Tierney

Northern Ireland during the Troubles was not quite the equivalent of modern-day Palestine and, even during the worst of the violence, the British authorities did not take measures to prevent international observers or journalists from seeing what was going on.

In Belfast, people on all sides were welcoming towards journalists and international observers in general, happy that we were able to tell the truth we had seen with our own eyes.

But in Palestine, in 2017, it seems that more and more people are being prevented from seeing what’s really happening to those who have been living under an illegal occupation since 1967.

Earlier this month, four Irish people found that they were not welcome at the start of an eight day fact-finding tour.

On their way to meet Israeli and Palestinian NGOs in the West Bank, they never made it to their destination.

They were seized by the Israeli Authorities at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, questioned, and deported.

It’s amazing this issue did not receive more coverage in the Irish media.

To look at the photo of  them arriving back at Dublin Airport, it’s hard to believe that they were considered such a threat to the Israeli State.

Not that we should ever judge anyone by his or her appearance, but Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass, Joan Nolan, and Stephen McCloskey hardly fit the profile of “terrorist sympathisers”.

One of them, Elaine, has brought 451 people, mostly Irish citizens, to the West Bank on fact-finding missions over the past 11 years.

Her only aim is to show people the reality of life under occupation for Palestinians and to let the visitors speak to NGOs and peace-makers on the ground, including organisations from Israel.

Elaine doesn’t preach. She lets her groups make up their own minds about the kind of conditions Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under for the past 50 years.

Elaine was particularly singled out this month because of her history of bringing Irish groups to Palestine. She was deported on the basis of public safety, public security, or public order considerations.

She has since asked the Israeli Embassy in Dublin for clarification, given her record of bringing almost 20 tour groups to the region on fact-finding missions since 2006.

They only intended to be in the West Bank for eight days. All four were travelling with valid Irish passports and they didn’t kick up a fuss upon their return out of concern for the welfare of the 27 other members of their travelling party who were allowed through to the West Bank.

What did they not want them to see?

Was it the humiliation of daily checkpoints or the way in which Israelis and Palestinians have different coloured licence plates on their cars?

Was it the way in which “settlements” (illegal under international law) are encroaching more and more onto Palestinian land, beyond the 1967 borders?

Was it the daily humiliation of strip-searches, checkpoints, and attacks on farmers trying to tend to their olive trees?

Was it the consequences of living beside a huge wall, which in some cases cuts the West Bank farmers off from their own land?

Veteran broadcaster Mike Murphy was one of the 27 who was allowed through after being questioned at Ben Gurion Airport. He was genuinely shocked by the conditions he saw Palestinians living under over the following week.

“The only resistance open to the Palestinian people in the face of their daily degradation and humiliation is simply to remain. The Israelis patently wish them gone,” he wrote in a moving piece in The Irish Times.

At the airport, he had asked Israeli immigration police why his colleagues had been deported.

He was shown a video of a demonstration which showed a couple of Irish people waving a Tricolour and throwing stones at a huge wall. All four had denied attending the regular demonstrations in the village of Bili’in.

On a visit to a small village in the West Bank last month, Galway activist Ian O Dalaigh was told of the intimidation faced by a Palestinian man, Omar Hajajla, whose house happens to be near an illiegal Israeli settlement on occupied land.

There have been repeated attempts to force Omar off the land and he refuses to leave after taking care of it for more than 40 years.

It is hard to imagine how much more difficult his life would be if international observers were unable to visit him and bear witness to the pressures he is subjected to at regular intervals.

In Hebron, international visitors to a refugee camp visited a Palestinian house which had been seized by Israeli settlers.

Draped in an Israeli flag, it was clear that the original inhabitants were no longer welcome in their own home. There has been a systemic campaign to remove families from similar homes across the region.

One suspects that, deep down, even the Israeli authorities themselves must feel there is something wrong with the daily humiliations Palestinians are subjected to as a result of the 50 year occupation of their land.

Why else would they prevent four peace activists from Ireland from visiting in order to bear witness to the reality of life on the ground in Palestine?

Millions of people have been abused and humiliated on a daily basis for five decades and the cost of a never-ending conflict has taken a terrible toll on everyone involved.

It’s harder to show solidarity with the oppressed, people who are abused and discriminated against every day, when you are not allowed to even visit them to see the stranglehold the occupiers hold over their daily lives.

* If you wish to protest the unjust deportations of four Irish people from Israel this month, you can contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, at minister@dfa.ie.


Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway

Deported – for trying to bear witness to degradation (Ciaran Tierney)

Galway fans celebrating their side’s All-Ireland final victory under the Cusack Stand at Croke Park on Sunday (left to right): Conall McGarrigle, Mura Tierney, Micheal O Tiarnaigh, Karen Reen, Ciaran Tierney (author), Reamonn Canavan, and Orna Canavan.

Ciaran Tierney writes:

I was a young student, squatting in London, the last time Galway won the Liam McCarthy Cup and I consoled myself that there would be plenty more September victories when I declined my father’s offer of a ticket and a fare home.

Our team was the best in Ireland and I figured there were plenty more glory days ahead, so I delayed my return home for a winter of studies at NUI Galway.

I thought of the old man, aged over 90 now, presumably shedding a few tears at home in Galway City.

He brought me to Croke Park when I could barely walk and, as an adult, I used to curse him for this strange, seemingly fatal, and beautiful addiction which can arise such passion on summery Sunday afternoons.

He had followed the team long before I was born, with the same sort of fatal pessimism which was common to our Tribe until about 5pm on Sunday.

I remembered 1980. My brother and I were small boys, held aloft by crying adults amid the din of seeing our side become triumphant for the first time in 57 years. Those tears made a lot more sense now, after so many years of heartbreak of our own.

My brother and I had been to every final Galway had lost since a youthful Conor Hayes bounded up the stairs to collect the Liam McCarthy back in 1988.

Galway didn’t score a goal, again, but it didn’t matter when we had such supreme marksmen scattered around the field. They tested our nerves by letting in two goals, but was it ever going to be any other way.

In my previous life as a sports reporter, I had been to many All-Ireland finals. But this was different. I had watched Kilkenny and Cork teams pick up the Cup with the casual appearance of people who were out for an afternoon shopping trip.

But what’s rare is wonderful and, all around us, people in maroon were shedding tears of joy…

…I thought of friends in London, Sydney, New York, Vietnam, and Brazil, and how joyful they must have been at that very moment, crammed into Irish bars in their maroon jerseys at all sorts of hours. Few things can unite our global diaspora like an All-Ireland final.

I thought of men like Ollie Canning, Joe Rabbitte, Eugene Cloonan, Kevin Broderick, and Damien Hayes, so many brilliant Galway hurlers who had put their hearts and souls into winning that elusive Celtic Cross. And, as I looked out towards the Hill and the emotional outpouring all around me on the Cusack Stand, there was no shame in our tears.

And nobody wanted to leave. Why would they, when we had been waiting for 29 long years? Those of us who remembered the glory days of 1987 and 1988 were reminded of our mortality, while the youngsters singing on the Hill must have felt they’d never see those kind of days.

It wasn’t just a victory, it was something wondrous achieved with such class both on and off the field.

To have a captain like David Burke, a man who battled back from injury and knew the pain of losing finals, step forward to collect the cup on behalf of the maroon hordes.

What a magnificent speech he produced, to remember the late Tony Keady, Man of the Match in 1988 and a man who had roared on among us just a few short weeks ago during the semi-final win over Tipperary.

He hoped that the win would give Tony’s wife and children just a little comfort in the midst of their grief, just as the fans had risen en masse to salute their former centre-back six minutes into the game.

What a wondrous gesture to remember the late Niall Donoghue, whose tragic passing in 2013 devastated an entire rural community. In the absolute joy of what once seemed an impossible victory, he reminded us all of the need to look after our mental health.

What a wonderful platform he used to raise this issue in front of hundreds of thousands of TV viewers. Even at the happiest moment of his life, he gave a shout out to those who struggle with demons and the organisations, like Pieta House, who provide wonderful help in the darkest of times.

There’s a lot wrong with Galway GAA – I know too many loyal fans who failed to get tickets for the final – but our young sportsmen did us so proud on Sunday afternoon.

Down on the pitch, our 28-year old ‘superstar’ showed the kind of humility he never gets enough credit for as he embraced Margaret during his captain’s speech.

Without Joe Canning, Galway would never have reached this final and now the nay-sayers can no longer slag off the most gifted player of his generation for not having that elusive All-Ireland medal.

Did he bask in the glory? Of course he did. But he took time out to hug the newly bereaved widow, shared a tear with his parents at the front of the stand, and embraced children with special needs long before he made his way back to the dressing-room.

Such class from a young man who has faced far too much derision and begrudgery since his phenomenal talent began to generate headlines a decade ago.

The Galway hurling community is very much like a big family and the family rallied around the Keady family with absolute class throughout the weekend.

It would have been the perfect weekend if the GAA could sort out the ticketing arrangements which somehow leave some genuine supporters out in the cold.

The single mum from East Galway who takes her son to every game or the club hurler in the city who only missed the final deserve better than the people who attended their first and only game of the year on Sunday.

It was embarrassing to note that Galway fans were outnumbered about 4-1 by their Wexford counterparts at the Leinster final in early July.

Too many Irish sports fans tend to jump on bandwagons and it seems hugely unfair that so many tickets for the showpiece occasion of the year don’t go to the people who actually go out and support the teams in the earlier rounds.

Having said that, the Galway team of 2017 conducted themselves with absolute class, both on and off the pitch, throughout the weekend.

What a moment of pure emotion it was to see their wonderful manager Micheal Donoghue embrace his father, Miko, after bringing the Liam McCarthy Cup across the Shannon for the first time in 29 years.

Micheal surrounded himself with a wonderful backroom team and instilled the kind of self-belief in his players which has been lacking in Galway teams for much of the past three decades.

It was a wonderful championship. My favourite memory of all was of the three Tipperary supporters who embraced us and wished us well for the final in the Upper Hogan Stand at the end of a thrilling semi-final in August.

So magnanimous in defeat, such worthy All-Ireland champions, I thought to myself as I remembered that I used to “hate these guys” when Tony Keady was at his pomp back in the 1980s.

Hatreds can disappear with time, old enemies can embrace and share their love of a brilliant game, and sometimes even the bridesmaids can become champions.

Thank you, Galway hurlers, for filling an entire county with wonder, joy, and pride. And for showing us that some tales of woe and heartbreak really can have wondrous endings when you mix in belief, hard work, and skill.

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The West has awoken from its slumber and the new dawn is a joy to behold.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway

To Win With Class (Ciaran Tierney)

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From top: A remembrance ceremony for the mother and babies of Tuam in Salthill, Galway on Sunday evening.; Ciaran Tierney

The Tuam Mother and Baby revelations have given survivors a new voice.

Ciaran Tierney writes:

I met an extraordinary man last night, only he doesn’t really believe he’s so extraordinary.

In recent months, he has found a voice he never realised he had. Now in his 60s, he has learned how to tell his story and speak out against injustice.

He spent much of his childhood in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, a place which is now notorious all over the world.

It took him an awful long time to learn to love and take care of himself.

It’s not easy to care about yourself when you are told you are inferior to others.

When you walk to school in hobnail boots and you are forced to sit apart from the rest of the class.

When you are beaten for the most minor transgressions, not given enough food, and branded with labels like “home baby” and, worse, “illegitimate”, because your mother committed a terrible crime just by bringing you into the world.

It didn’t even matter if your mother was raped, or terrified to reveal the identity of the father. That’s just the way it was in those days.

It’s not easy to let go of that kind of baggage, especially when you live in a rural community.

Oh, look, there’s your man, the “home baby”. The one who was adopted because his mother, shockingly, never got married, or the one who arrived late and didn’t smell too good at school.

It’s the kind of baggage you carry with you well into adulthood, if you ever manage to shake it off at all….

…And, yet, in recent months his life has changed.

He has begun to find his voice. The global headlines generated by the “Tuam Babies” scandal have allowed him to talk about his sense of injustice and even do media interviews for the first time.

He wants justice for the 796 and he wants people to listen. He’s full of praise for Catherine Corless, the historian who first told the world the truth about what happened in that terrible home.

By making it clear that the truth about the “Tuam Babies” was worth fighting for, she made him see the value in his own life.

He says he’s one of the lucky ones, because eventually he was shipped out to a lovely foster home.

His childhood was not all bad, although he can’t say the same for many of his old friends and contemporaries.

In Tuam, he has helped to set up and organise a support group for survivors. They find great comfort from meeting up and talking and healing, and he’s found that he of all people has the gift of being able to express their pain.

He doesn’t want much, he says. Just some recognition that a terrible wrong was done to him and the other children in homes around the country, in the name of the Irish State.

It would help if those in authority would reply to his letters or answer their phones.

For months, since the start of the year, he’s been trying to get the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to come and visit his little group of survivors down in Tuam.

It wouldn’t be a huge burden on the Taoiseach, the Irish Prime Minister, to take a little detour from the road to Castlebar on his way home some weekend.

Just to sit with the survivors and to hear their stories, the stories they were afraid to tell for most of their adult lives.

But when he rings the phone goes dead. Or a faceless official makes a non-committal promise that he or she will get back in touch. But never does.

He knows the abuse, the denigration, the labelling didn’t happen on the current Taoiseach’s watch, but it was done to him and his friends with the collusion of the Irish State.

It wiped out his self-esteem, to the extent that he could not hold his head high in the local pub, and he just wants to sit in a room with a few other survivors and tell the Taoiseach what that was like.

How he didn’t kill himself or drown himself in drink.

He wants some acknowledgment of the pain that he and others went through and the huge transformation he had to go through to be able to stand and talk to a reporter in a Galway park on a Sunday evening.

His friend had a little sister he never knew about, who may or may not have been buried in a septic tank. He’d love the Taoiseach to come to Tuam and just listen to their honest words.

They are not going to be able to turn back time, but it might help the healing process if the most powerful people in the land sat and listened and acknowledged the hurt caused.

He watched a new scandal erupt in Dublin last week, involving nuns who have been awarded a national hospital despite their refusal to pay adequate compensation to the victims of childhood abuse.

He watched the Taoiseach visit the White House last month and give a wonderful lecture about immigration to US President Donald Trump.

And wondered how he could make his way across the Atlantic to Washington, but not sit in his car and take a short trip down to Tuam.

After more than half a century of pain and needless shame, is that asking too much?

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway

Hey, Enda – is it really such a long way to Tuam? (Ciaran Tierney)

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From top: The outline of an average-sized Direct Provision room in Eyre Square, Galway on Culture Night last Friday; Ciaran Tierney

Last week, on Culture Night, passers-by in Eyre Square, Galway were invited to imagine living in the Direct Provision.

Ciaran Tierney writes:

It was a gorgeous evening in Galway.

The giddy excitement which usually greets the start of a weekend was magnified by the magnificent range of cultural events taking place for free all across the city centre and Salthill.

Down by the Claddagh, three musicians called Shiftwork were conjuring up beautiful songs from the deck of an historic boat.

A seal popped his head above the water to share in the general merriment. Later, traditional Galway hookers sailed around the perfectly still waters at the mouth of Galway Bay.

There were musicians, artists, and entertainers providing wonderful free entertainment throughout the city as Galway really got into the spirit of Culture Night.

Over in Eyre Square, however, passers-by were being reminded of an aspect of modern Irish “culture” which many of us would prefer to ignore.

The Direct Provision system is not something we celebrate, not something we would prefer to highlight in the European Capital of Culture 2020.

But the role of an artist should sometimes involve exposing uncomfortable truths, and there is no more uncomfortable truth in Ireland in 2016 than the way in which the country treats its refugees and asylum-seekers.

In Galway, we know that they are living in a former hotel facing the seafront in Salthill or a hostel just off Eyre Square in the heart of the city.

But how many of us have ever stopped to check out their living conditions or to ask how they are getting on in 21st century Ireland?

Do we really know about the months and years it takes to process their applications while entire families live in tiny hotel rooms?

To mark Culture Night, the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) invited Galwegians to spend a little time in Direct Provision.

The exact dimensions of a “normal” direct provision room were marked out in the middle of the city and passers-by were asked to imagine what it was like to live in a tiny hotel room for months on end.

The space available for furniture, belongings, and beds was mapped out on the ground and the ‘live’ exhibition attracted hundreds of curious on-lookers.

Some children lay on the ground, imagining the reality of sharing a tiny room with siblings and parents for months or even years on end.

It was interesting to see so many people check out the dimensions of the tiny room, trying to envision what it’s like for a family to live in such a confined space.

A direct provision centre hardly features among the “normal” cultural heights of the city.

Residents were on hand to engage with curious on-lookers and to give us an insight into their normal lives in Galway and Salthill.

They cannot work, so they asked us to imagine what it was like to get by on €19.10 per week while sharing a hotel with dozens of others.

They told us that some of them had been living in this limbo, in the land of a thousand welcomes, for over ten years.

They asked whether we knew that 17 firms across the country were taking in about €50 million per year from the Irish Government to run 34 accommodation centres across the State.

Some of them have to survive the winter months in mobile homes.

They asked us to imagine what it was like for the children, who attend primary or secondary schools in Galway, when their curious friends asked them about their living conditions, the food they ate, or when they’d be able to invite them over for sleepovers.

They can’t cook or bring food to their rooms and they most certainly can’t invite their school friends over to stay the night in the centres. Keeping a pet is also out of the question.

It was news to me that they were given a rule book, containing 44 pages of rules, when they arrived.

Or that any complaints they may have had about the running of a centre could only be made to the manager of their own centres. Even if their complaints may have been related to the management of the centres.

During the week, residents of the centres had written testimonies about the reality of their lives. The testimonies were posted on a wall, next to the Browne Doorway, for revellers to read as they made their way around Eyre Square.

“At least as a prisoner you know when you are getting out – not when you are an asylum-seeker,” wrote one lady.

The asylum-seekers present were so welcoming, so happy to share their stories. They spoke of the depression they experienced, as they waited anxiously to discover if they would be allowed to stay in Ireland or deported back to their countries of origin.

Mental health problems in the direct provision system are estimated to be five times higher than in the wider Irish community.

It reminded me of a heart-breaking exhibition I attended in Galway last year, in which a South African asylum-seeker admitted that the system felt “familiar” – because it reminded her of the Apartheid system.

In terms of raising awareness, it was a hugely admirable three-hour event organised by the Galway Anti-Racism Network and the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland.

It was not the most “enjoyable” event in the packed programme for Culture Night in Galway, but it served a hugely important purpose in reminding hundreds of people of one of the great scandals of our own era.

We can ask why Irish people turned a blind eye to clerical sex abuse or the scandal of the Magdalene Launderies in the past.

With Direct Provision, we have no excuse. Thanks to initiatives like last Friday night’s, nobody can claim that they don’t know about this system which condemns children to grow up in unsuitable accommodation for months or even years on end.

An uncomfortable truth for Culture Night (Ciaran Tierney)

Previously: Alternative Culture Night

Pic: Galway 2020

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Sinéad O’Connor

Last week, police in Illinois released a statement expressing their concern for singer Sinéad O’Connor as she had gone for a cycle and hadn’t returned within 24 hours. She was later found safe and well.

Further to this…

Ciaran Tierney writes:

When my best friend Joe died, I was an angry young man. We got drunk, we got stoned, we attended the Funeral . . . and then life just went on. The world kept turning and there was no such thing as counselling or grief recovery in the early 1990s.

It was nobody’s fault. Everyone around me was trying to cope with their grief in their own way and my little sister, Cliona, had passed away less than a year earlier. People shrugged and told me to get on with things.

As a young Irishman, I didn’t know how to talk about feelings . . . not without alcohol on board at any rate.

Of course, there was no Internet in those days. I didn’t rant on Facebook after returning home from the pub at 4am or put up photos on Instagram of my friends and I drinking ourselves into oblivion, which was the norm for most of my friends at the time.

We didn’t think there was anything unusual about our hard drinking, we were just wild, out for the craic, living all the Irish clichés. It probably took years for me to realise that there was a lot of pain hidden behind that heavy drinking.

For me, one of the constants at the time was the music of Sinead O’Connor. I came home from a summer in London to become enraptured by this gorgeous, provocative diminutive singer who seemed to speak out for my generation in a way nobody else dared to.

I was 20 and I hated Ireland. I wanted to be back in London, going to punk and metal gigs, following my beloved Liverpool FC around. I wanted the freedom of meeting women from Italy or Spain or England, who were far more liberated than I was.

Back home, I wondered how somebody from my generation could be so daring, so sexy, so sure of her own voice in late 1980s Ireland.

When she sang ‘I Want Your Hands On Me’, Sinéad was sexy in a way which seemed almost impossible for a young Irish person at the time. In those days we wore woolly jumpers as though we were ashamed of our own bodies.

In a country in which there was no contraception, no divorce, no abortion, this young woman from Dublin sang with a raw honesty which was simply incredible. Hell, there were still women living in Magdalene Laundries at the time.

Women who had committed the ‘crime’ of getting pregnant in Catholic Ireland were locked up barely a ten minute walk from my newspaper office, the sex abuse cases which rocked the Church had not yet been exposed, and hardly anybody questioned what was going on.

When Sinéad (she’s so familiar, we call her by her first name) combined with the brilliant Benjamin Zephaniah to sing a song about the crimes committed by the British Empire, I was immensely proud.

When she reached number one with ‘Nothing Compares To You’, it felt as though there were boundless possibilities for a young Irish person who spoke out or sang the truth. I wasn’t mad into pop songs, but there was such passion in her voice.

I grew up on metal and punk, outlets for my rage in a very repressive Catholic Ireland, and here was an amazing young woman from Dublin who was willing to take on the world.

When she tore up a photo of the Pope, I thought she was a little misguided but I was also immensely proud. Nobody, yes nobody, was that brave in Ireland at the time.

Sinead O’Connor’s music has been a constant in my life for more than half my life. I don’t claim to know her, although I did meet her once in Galway during the height of a summer Arts Festival. I was struck by how unassuming and shy she was that night, for someone who was a hero for so many of my generation on the Emerald Isle.

I thought about Sinead again this week, when a friend of mine alerted me to a troubling post on her Facebook page.

It was deeply personal and should never have appeared on a public social media site in the first place.

It shocked me when I did a Google search to find that quite a number of media outlets had shared the post in full, as though this very public meltdown by a ‘celebrity’ – or cry for help – deserved to become a form of entertainment.

No doubt the post, and the subsequent media reports, must have caused anguish to her close friends and family members as Sinead was clearly not in a good place when she wrote it.

I didn’t read it in detail and I most certainly didn’t want to read the comments underneath, but what shocked me was the fact that more than 1,000 people had taken the ‘trouble’ to ‘share’ it with their friends.

This was just two days after she had been reported missing by friends where she was staying, near Chicago. Thankfully, she was found safe and well.

Social media has transformed our lives in many ways, but have we become so dehumanised that we see entertainment value or ‘news’ in someone else’s anguish?

She might be a famous singer, but she is also a human being, facing the kind of troubles, challenges, and life-changing events we all have to face every day.

If she was clearly not in a good place on Tuesday night, where was the value in reading her deeply personal rant, aimed at some of the people closest to her, or sharing it on social media?

Or, worse, making jokes on Twitter about the whole sorry affair?

When Sinead went missing two days earlier, The Daily Telegraph felt that the ‘event’ merited a ‘live blog’.

It was clearly of no concern to the online editors that this in-depth coverage of such a vulnerable woman in distress might be deeply hurtful to Sinead and her family and friends.

Getting clicks on their website was clearly of far more importance than the well-being of a woman who was going through a tough time.

In 2016, a public figure’s meltdown can become a form of entertainment which would have been unthinkable back when my friend Joe died back in 1990.

Life was hard enough for me and my friends back then, without people making jokes on Facebook or posting insensitive remarks.

So … have we really moved on?

Ireland is going through a mental health crisis and the turn-out at this month’s Darkness Into Light walks (an estimated 120,000 across the country) showed that thousands upon thousands of people felt that the State is not doing a good enough job in this area.

Organisations like Pieta House and Console exist because our State health service is not addressing the crisis in mental health.

When I was in A&E with the MRSA ‘superbug’ last year, a young man who clearly had mental health problems was left languishing in a hospital corridor for hours.

He should have been in a state-of-the-art unit, not mixing with elderly people and accident victims lying on trolleys in an overcrowded corridor.

I wonder sometimes if the support available to a 20-year old whose best friend dies in 2016 is any better than it was in Ireland a quarter of a century ago.

I treasure Sinead as one of the most gifted songwriters of my, or any, generation. I firmly believe that people will still listen to the music of Sinéad and Shane MacGowan long after most of today’s artists are forgotten.

But her personal demons are none of my business. I’m not going to ‘share’ them on Facebook as some form of titillation for my friends. I’m certainly not going to make hurtful jokes about a troubled soul on Twitter.

I only hope she gets the help she needs.

That’s all that matters right now for Sinead, her family, and her friends.

The reaction on social media made me wonder whether we really have progressed from the witch trials and public hangings of the Middle Ages.

For all our technology, have we become so dehumanised that a public figure’s tragic meltdown is worthy of a click on a keyboard, or a Facebook share, on social media?

Do people even stop to think about the damage they cause when they post vicious or mocking posts about someone who is clearly going through a tough time?

It doesn’t seem that way. People post words on social media which they would never dare to utter to a person’s face.

We might be “connected” to each other 24/7 through our laptops, tablets, and smart phones, but in many ways we’ve become “disconnected” from our fellow human beings … We sit behind keyboards, poking fun at people who only need our help and good wishes as they struggle to make the most of this crazy, complicated life.

And, what’s worse, many of us don’t even think we are doing anything wrong.

Have we really moved on? (Ciaran Tierney)

Hillsborough

Hillsborough,April 15 1989;

Last month, an inquest jury ruled that the 96 football fans who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed.

It also found that match commander Chief Supt David Duckenfield was “responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence” due to a breach of his duty of care.

Ciaran Tierney writes:

Like all Liverpool FC fans of my vintage, I remember the day well. The sun shone all day and there was a real summery feeling in the air as we sat around the television to watch one of the most eagerly-awaited games of the year. I would have been envious of those who were “lucky” enough to have tickets for the big game.

I had been at a number of Liverpool games in London earlier that season, including one at Arsenal where overcrowding prevented me from seeing most of the first half at Highbury. Fans were herded like cattle onto the terraces in those days. That’s just the way it was.

It was terrible to sit in front of the TV and watch the scenes unfold ‘live’ as fans were squashed to death in front of a global audience of millions. It only took minutes to realise that something was seriously wrong.

Looking back, it was unbelievable that the match kicked-off at 3pm when so many people were crowded into the pens behind the goals. Had [Liverpool striker] Peter Beardsley scored a goal – he hit the bar just a few minutes into the game as fans were still streaming down the tunnel behind the goals – the death toll might have been even worse.

If it was distressing to watch the scenes unfold back at my parents’ home in Galway, the anguish of relatives watching on Merseyside – knowing their family members were on the Leppings Lane end – must have been unthinkable.

There were no mobile phones in those days, so many of them just jumped into their cars and hit for Sheffield as the news filtered through that so many fans had died.

Hard to imagine now the anguish they experienced when they were escorted into a gym, which had been converted into a makeshift mortuary, only to be quizzed about the drinking habits of their loved-ones even as they were in the process of identifying the dead.

Phil Scraton outlined the appalling treatment of the families in his comprehensive book, ‘Hillsborough’, a distressing but riveting read which was first published as far back as 1999. In it, the families and friends of the victims outlined how disgustingly there were treated even as they searched for their missing loved-ones.

If the pain began with the live TV coverage, it was compounded in the first 24 hours by the heartless reaction from the police – already intent on a cover-up – in response to the distress of the families.

Many of the police officers in Sheffield that weekend looked upon the victims as though they were criminals when their only ‘crime’ was to follow a football team and to be ushered, like cattle, into overcrowded pens.

Within days, the South Yorkshire Police were changing their statements, more intent on covering up the truth of what really happened than finding out why such a terrible tragedy occurred.

Officers were told not to apportion any blame to their superiors and any who did had their statements redacted or changed. If David Duckenfield, in charge of the police operation on the day, had not ordered a gate to be opened outside the terrace, it is believed far fewer fans would have died.

It was a heartbreaking week for everyone on Merseyside. There were so many funerals, so many injuries, and so many survivors who found it hard to live with the guilt of coming out of Hillsborough alive.

For many people, football died a death that day. After all, how could so many suffer so much merely for following a football team? The game just didn’t seem to matter any more.

And, in the middle of it all, the shock of seeing that headline, that devastating front page, in The Sun. It resulted in a boycott of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid right across Merseyside which has continued to this day.

The police, the Tories, and The Sun looked on the victims as expendable, people who could be lied about in court, at inquests, or in print, because they were mainly from Merseyside and mostly working-class. They didn’t have a voice.

The subsequent report by Lord Justice Peter Taylor changed the face of football forever, with the removal of terraces and the introduction of the all-seater stadiums which are taken for granted in the English Premier League today.

Over a year after the tragedy, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was insufficient evidence to press charges against the police, or any other individual or group, as a result of the tragedy.

An inquest returned a verdict of “accidental death” in March 1991 and the authorities expected that to be the end of the tragedy.

They wanted the families to simply fade away or disappear. Two years later, the 96th and final victim, Tony Bland (22), passed away after he was taken off a life support machine.

A change in Government saw Home Secretary Jack Straw ordering for evidence to be re-examined eight years after the tragedy, but he ruled out a manslaughter charge the following year.

And the taunts continued. Imagine the grief of the families when they heard some rival fans chant “Always the victims, It’s Never Your Fault” or, worse, “Murderers” when Liverpool travelled to play clubs such as Manchester United or Chelsea.

They were still being tarred with the slurs depicted in The Sun back in 1989.

To their credit, the families never gave up. They opened a little shop under the shadow of Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium and mingled with the fans, reminding them of the tragedy, on match days.

And so, gradually, the calls for justice grew. By the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, they had reached a crescendo.

I remember one FA Cup game against Arsenal in January 2007, when three-quarters of the ground chanted “Justice for the 96” throughout the first six minutes of a game which was shown live on BBC TV.

Liverpool lost that night, but anyone present in the ground was moved to tears by the conviction of the chants and the huge mosaic, The Truth, which adorned the Kop at the start of the game. Somehow the result of the game did not seem to matter.

The fans mimicked the hurtful headline from The Sun and turned it into a rallying cry.

And, somehow, despite the legal barriers they faced, the families decided they were no longer going to play the role of victims.

At the Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield in 2009, chants of “Justice for the 96” drowned out the politicians and Andy Burnham MP, a fan of city rivals Everton, became a champion of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

Everton, although footballing rivals, and Burnham were hugely supportive of the campaign and Burnham spoke brilliantly about the grave injustice inflicted on the families of the 96 following the verdict of the new Inquests last week.

It was the 20th anniversary memorial which prompted the setting up the Hillsborough Independent Panel and, two years later, British lawmakers agreed to hand over all Government papers relating to the tragedy. Quite simply, the families refused to give up.

Fans at the game were convinced that lives could have been saved if the authorities had reacted in an appropriate manner but, shockingly, official confirmation of that fact did not emerge until 2012, 23 years after the tragedy.

By then, some survivors had committed suicide and some key family members, including Anne Williams, did not live to see last week’s verdict of unlawful killing. Anne lost her son, Kevin, at Hillsborough.

There was good news in 2012 when the Hillsborough Independent Panel found that the South Yorkshire Police orchestrated a cover-up, falsified witness statements, and blamed innocent supporters who, if anything, were the heroes of a terrible afternoon.

Thanks to the dogged determination of the families, the High Court quashed the original coroner’s verdicts of accidental death and so began the new inquests, the longest in British history, in March 2014.

For two years, the family members turned up daily to hear the evidence at Warrington, including that of the police officers who caused so much pain in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Not in their wildest dreams could they imagine that the jury would return a verdict of unlawful killing – vindication, at last, 27 years on from a tragedy which should never have occurred.

If the Hillsborough disaster changed football, the dogged determination of these ordinary heroes in the families of the 96 changed British legal history.

It wasn’t their fault.

It took 27 years for the wide world to learn something which the whole of Merseyside had known from the start.

Justice, at last, for the 96 . . . and for the families who refused to be bullied or silenced by a rotten police force, a hostile Tory Government, or the vicious lies published by a sensationalist tabloid. None of whom ever seemed to consider, or care about, the hurt they caused.

An amazing “victory” for ordinary people who stood together and were not afraid to take on the most powerful in British society.

Justice at last for the 96 (Ciaran Tierney)

Pic: The Guardian