Author Archives: Grace Garvey

From top Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir Rememberings; Grace Garvey

During an interview to promote her new memoir, something Sinéad O’Connor says jumps out. She believes she annoys some people because she’s like a mirror in which they see all the noes they’ve ever had to say. ‘So many people in this country, women in particular, had to say no when they wanted to say yes. They never got to say yes to themselves,’ she says. So, could Sinéad be a scapegoat for national self-denial? Now, there’s a thought for the day.

Few would blame Sinéad for saying yes to all of life’s pleasures in light of the abuse she endured as a child. She touches on it lightly in the book, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, which of course is how it must have seemed at the time. She recalls some devastating events: a family weekend away when she was left behind, locked in her bedroom without food; or picking herself off the floor after the latest beating by her mother and setting the table for breakfast. Everyday life intermingled with terror.

It always surprises me when journalists attempt to patronise Sinéad. On BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour last week, the interviewer referred to her reputation as ‘the crazy woman in pop’s attic’. Sinéad wasn’t having any of it, and denounced comparisons with the mad wife in Jane Eyre as abusive. Happily, it didn’t unsettle her as she went on to lambast the music business for sexualising children while calling it liberation and feminism.

She described American pop artists as looking like Donald Duck, ‘on stage with no pants on’, showing she hasn’t lost her sense of fun. When it comes to the exploitation of women in the music industry, the times are not a-changin’, she says.

Sinéad’s enduring interest in religion used to bewilder me, but having read her memoir, I appreciate how it sustained her during episodes of abuse. ‘I love Jesus because He appeared in my head one night when my mother had me on the kitchen floor,’ she writes.

She regards music as a form of priesthood – with artists such as Van Morrison as priests, ‘someone by whom you know there’s a God’ – and speaks not of faith, which relies on belief, but of fact. Listening to her hold forth, a chink appears in my own scepticism, but then I wonder why God hadn’t sent the cavalry to Arnold Grove, and any such notions of divinity fade.

I was gratified to discover that Sinéad regards Universal Mother as the most special album she’s ever made because it’s probably my own favourite too. I recall playing it so often in my London house share in the mid-90s that the entire household begged for mercy.

‘Specifically, I want to talk about the famine,’ I would shriek to Sinéad’s rapping, as my English housemates tucked into their breakfast croissants. In an album of contrasts, the tenderness of My Darling Child is all the more touching when you read of the record company executives who tried to convince her not to have the baby. She owed it to them, they said.

Of course, we’re all entitled to like who and what we like, but when detractors dismiss Sinéad as an attention seeker, it’s hard to see it as a major flaw. As a six-year-old she would wander around the neighbourhood knocking on doors and asking people if she could be their child. In the circumstances, who could begrudge her a bit of attention if they have a little to spare.

Besides, as one of the most captivating voices this country has produced, it’s not exactly a big ask. Whether as singer, song writer, truth teller or mischief maker, she never fails to reward. It comes as no surprise then that her memoir is well worth the read.

Those who call her an unreliable narrator are right on one score at least. Just a week ago, she spoke of her excitement at the prospect of touring next year. ‘I like working, I get bored,’ she told Brendan O’Connor [on RTÉ Radio One]. She sounded as enthusiastic as is possible to sound while dragging on a cigarette. In hindsight, the mention of the buzz she gets from being able to pay the electricity bill should have told us something was afoot. ‘Singers are like footballers, there’ll come a time when I’m too old to be singing,’ she said. It turns out time was on the express train.

Less than a week later, she announced she was hanging up her nipple tassels. ‘A wise warrior knows when to retreat,’ she said. The desire to put her feet up and make other dreams come true had prompted the move.

While it’s sad to see her go, Sinéad deserves to bow out whenever she wants. Only a fool would try to stop her and besides, her instincts tend to be sound. All anyone could want is for her to keep on keeping on. Or rather, to soldier on like the fighter she is. She has done it her way and she has done it well. Brava to a brave soul! Let her next chapter begin.

Rememberings by Sinead O’Connor (Penguin)

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at

From top: Forty Foot swimming area, Sandycove, County Dublin; Grace Garvey

Listening to writer Rosita Boland speak candidly on the radio recently about the loneliness of the past year, I felt like giving her a call to share the secret to a tolerable solo lockdown: tear off your clothes and jump in the sea. Seriously! It’s that simple.

High tide and a brisk wind at lunchtime Wednesday combined to create optimal conditions for a dip. I didn’t so much wade in as get swept away. Bobbing on the swell of the waves was nothing short of exhilarating. It was not the day for exchanging pleasantries with fellow swimmers unless you wanted a mouthful of salt water, and even that had a payoff. On an interminable Teams call later, a salty knuckle to the lips was all it took to revisit the thrill. I have no idea why swimming in the sea makes for instant lightness and glee, but believe me when I say it does.

Boland spoke of finding the latest lockdown most challenging of all, but for me, the first one took the biscuit. The shutters hadn’t even gone down when I found myself in the throes of a Covid infection in early March. Being ill while living alone wasn’t particularly lonely – general wretchedness tends to leave little room for specifics – but I certainly considered the logistics of not making it through the night.

Boland wondered how long it would take for someone to find her if she died in her sleep, whereas at peak sickness, I was more concerned about whether I should leave the front door unlocked as I didn’t fancy someone kicking it in.

My birthday, which fell on Easter Sunday, brought no resurrection. Although five weeks had passed since I’d first woken up feeling awful, my experience of Covid wasn’t the straightforward two-week ailment of news reports. It was rather a trickier beast with myriad symptoms that seemed to wallop me at intervals of two weeks. No sooner would I begin to celebrate my recovery than I would be hurled back to bed.

By the time restrictions were eased, I was well and truly weary. When a friend arrived over for a socially distant visit outside, he was a wonder to behold.  Waving him goodbye was probably the loneliest moment of the entire year.

Subsequent lockdowns have been a walk in the park. The effects of Covid lingered, so days were either spent feeling sick or glad that I wasn’t. Through it all, swimming never failed to give me a lift. It also provided structure to the day and afforded social contact without flouting the rules.

No one had told me how convivial swimming could be. I’ve had some great chats with complete strangers in a state of undress. People of all ages, from all walks of life, congregate along the wall to peel off wet togs and set the world to rights. Faces became familiar and before long, you’re getting recommendations on everything from books to heart surgeons. Eilis McGovern has magic hands apparently, should your ticker ever act up.

Every day is different in the sea. I look forward to rounding the corner of the hill on the drive down to see if I can gauge its mood. Is it grey and belligerent or hazy and calm? The temperature fluctuates too, but the colder the better I find. Looking like a lobster is the closest I’ll get to a colour without the spectre of melanoma looming, and that tingling sensation in every cell reminds me I’m still here.

Another thing that has helped immensely to ward off feelings of isolation has been forming a support bubble for the duration of lockdown three. It may not be feasible for everyone, but being able to break bread with friends at Sunday lunch makes the world of difference. As with proximity to the sea, I appreciate my good fortune in this. Being roundly beaten by my 11-year-old godson at chess prompted me to start playing online, so that’s another gift from Covid, thank you very much.

Of the estimated 400,000 people who live alone in Ireland, chances are most of us felt lonely at some point during the pandemic. Actually, that probably goes for the rest of the population too. We all need companionship to one extent or another and while technology has helped, it’s no substitute for the flesh-and-blood presence of others. Boland rejects the trope that suggests what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I feel there’s some comfort in knowing we can prevail.

As freedom beckons and restrictions are set to lift, here’s hoping we can fling ourselves back into the maddening crowd any day now. Until then, there’s still time to answer the call of the sea.

As the old-timers are fond of saying, you’ll never regret a swim.

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at


From top: Jason Corbett and Molly Martens on their wedding day in 2011; Grace Garvey

Reading the reaction to the news that Molly Martens and her father, Tom, have had their convictions for the murder of Jason Corbett overturned and are now considering a plea bargain, I was reminded of a heated discussion I once had.

It was 1988 and I was in London for the summer, working in Harrods, a shop so labyrinthine I sometimes got lost on the way to the loo. It was the tail end of an era when the odd old Etonian would choose Trinity College Dublin as an alternative to Oxbridge, which is how I ended up in Soho one evening having dinner with a college friend and his Tory dad. The father was chatty and, somehow, conversation turned to the Birmingham Six. At that point, the six Irish men were 13 years into a life sentence for the IRA Birmingham pub bombings of 1974. I had read enough about the case to be persuaded of their innocence and didn’t mind saying so.

The father was appalled, and railed against the cost of keeping the six at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The gallows was too good for them, he fumed. He was entrenched in his position and no amount of reasoning on my part could move him. He couldn’t countenance the fact that their convictions were unsound; in hindsight, they were simply too ‘other’ and he couldn’t relate. Coming from a place where the anomalies of the case were dispassionately discussed, this was an eye-opener for me.

Similar intransigence surrounds the Martens case, it seems. For those unfamiliar with it, Limerick man, Jason Corbett, was found beaten to death in his home in North Carolina in 2015. His American wife, Molly Martens, and her father, ex-FBI agent Tom Martens, were convicted of his murder two years later.

In February 2020, their convictions were quashed and a retrial ordered, partly because evidence that Jason may have abused Molly, which would have bolstered their self-defence claim, was excluded from the trial. The state appealed, but three weeks ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the judgment. A retrial was expected to take place sometime next year, but having since been offered a manslaughter plea bargain, this might not go ahead.

Judging by comments on social media, this case has created a dichotomy of us and them. Largely, the Irish contingent feels the Martens should rot in jail, while the Americans are open to the idea that justice has not been done.

The general public first heard of the case when Marian Finucane interviewed Jason’s brother, John, two weeks after the killing. He spoke of getting the awful call at work and the battle for custody of Jason’s children that ensued. Jason’s first wife had died of an asthma attack and Molly had cared for them since 2008, first as an au pair in Limerick and subsequently as their stepmother in the US. John surmised that Molly, a suspect by then, wanted custody of the children to gain control over Jason’s estate. He gave a glimpse of the horror that had engulfed his family, and listeners responded with sympathy, wishing the children a safe return home.

In February 2020, the North Carolina Court of Appeals found that both Martens had grounds for a new trial. The ruling said:

‘All of the evidence supports that Jason was the initial aggressor in the affray, and the first person who used deadly force.’

Mike Earnest, Molly’s uncle, said the result came as a surprise only to those who read news reports in Ireland. He claimed many Irish media organisations had published ‘fiction’ about the case, which is why so many were surprised at the appeal’ success.

One such bone of contention was the widely reported fact that Jason was planning to leave Molly to return to Ireland with the children for good. According to Jason’s sister, Tracey Corbett Lynch – who got custody of the children – this was the crux of the dispute.

The Martens family contend this is not true. According to Mike Earnest, no evidence was presented at trial to support this. He said:

“The sheriff and district attorney issued subpoenas and search warrants to try to find any email, text, internet search, anything that would have corroborated this – and they came up empty-handed.”

At the very least, he believes Jason would have been discussing such a move with his employer, but no such evidence was found.  he added:

“This is yet another example of fiction being presented as fact in an effort to paint Tom and Molly with a conspiratorial brush.”

In August 2017, Tom Martens’ sister, Mona Earnest, set up a crowd funding campaign to pay for the appeals. She received ‘an unbelievable amount’ of hate mail from Ireland but got several donations too. One of these came from a journalist who said she believed the pair had acted in self-defence, noting what she described as a tendency in the Irish media to take the side of men who abuse their wives. ‘We have had several murder-suicides in this country and the newspapers focused on “what drove nice, respectable pillar-of-the-community so-and-so to do it?” rather than on the fact that it should not have happened,’ she wrote. ‘Irish editors are biased in favour of the Corbett family,’ she added.

The problem with claims of domestic abuse is that abusers tend to be shape shifters and notoriously difficult to pin down. Tom Martens claims Jason dictated what his wife would wear and what she could buy; he would text her repeatedly, demand to see her phone and look at her computer history, all signs of coercive control if true. The Corbetts point to Molly’s loose relationship with the truth and her secret recording devices stashed about the house. Jason had packed up his life and moved to the US at Molly’s behest. Was that her way of isolating him from family and friends?

Although Molly had been de facto mother to the children for most of their lives and wished to adopt them, Jason wouldn’t agree to it. Was he trying to maintain the upper hand, or had he genuine concerns? Molly had invented a younger sister who had died, a fabrication that would give most people pause for thought. In a recent interview with Elle magazine, she says she hasn’t necessarily lied more than the average person, but that everything she’s ever said and done has come to light.

Jason’s children, then aged 8 and 10, were interviewed by social services in the days following his death and both described incidents of domestic abuse – punching, hitting and hair-pulling ­– in the home. Jack later recanted his statement, saying he had been coached by Molly to lie. For this reason, their evidence was not presented at the trial, but the Martens maintain the later statement given in Limerick, where the children now live with their aunt, was given ‘under coercive circumstances without any of the safeguards to ensure trustworthiness or reliability’.

One thing that can’t be denied is that deadly force was used that fateful night. Jason suffered at least a dozen blows to the head. Mike Earnest believes Tom Martens did what he was trained to do to eliminate the threat to his daughter’s life. But despite the alleged struggle, neither Tom nor Molly sustained a single mark.

At the heart of these tragic events are two families whose lives have been torn apart. Both insist on the integrity of their stance. If the Martens accept the plea bargain on offer, they’re likely to be released on bail before returning to prison to serve whatever remaining time is agreed. If they opt for retrial, the Corbetts will be forced to relive the trauma of Jason’s death.

While we might sympathise with one side or the other, tribalism has no place in due process. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial. Real cases are messy, and more nuanced than can ever be conveyed in a courtroom drama. All we can hope for is that justice is served.

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at

From top: Last week’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle interview with Oprah Winfrey; Grace Garvey

A week is a long time in lockdown. Last Monday evening, some 725,000 of us tuned in for the RTÉ broadcast of Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan, while a further 100,000 watched on Player the following day. The prospect of a squabble in someone else’s family was a welcome diversion, but a mere week later, it’s wall-to-wall plague again.

Not so for royal biographer and New York-based Brit, Tina Brown, who said on CBS the morning after, that we will be talking about the landmark interview in 20 years’ time. ‘Let’s all bow down to the real queen here: Oprah!’ she said.

Oprah is certainly a dab hand at the celebrity interview but had it been a legal setting, we’d be calling for a cross-examination to move things along. Questions were left unasked, and it seemed to go on. Although the host said at the outset that no subject was off limits and Meghan hadn’t been primed, it felt somewhat staged. The battle lines had been drawn under the neighbour’s pergola.

None of this would matter if such damaging accusations hadn’t emerged. Oprah managed to weave together the threads of the story but left some niggling knots behind.

Why, for instance, hadn’t she asked why Harry couldn’t access mental healthcare for his wife? He himself has been in therapy for years, and is patron of a mental health charity. He had spoken previously of the importance of getting help. Surely it would have taken but a quick call.

Shortly after the interview went live, I got an email from a London friend calling Meghan a despicable witch. She pronounced her a con woman who had pulled off a heist. Clothing herself in Diana’s weeds, she had manipulated Harry, before making off with fame and fortune to the Santa Barbara sun. Behold Meghan the villain!

Furthermore, my friend had a ready answer to the mental health conundrum. Approaching HR was all about the optics. It wouldn’t have served Meghan’s purpose to arrange help privately as no one would know. She had to be seen to make the request and be rebuffed.

But what if HR had said yes? I asked, momentarily donning Oprah’s boots. Would that not have scuppered the plan?

My sister took the opposing view. Any couple who had a rescue dog and chickens was fine by her. The Palace had done nothing to protect Meghan from the vitriol of the tabloid press, and Harry had been quite the prince in freeing himself of the straitjacket and getting his family out. She was glad the Queen had come up smelling of peonies, but felt the royal legacy of dysfunction speaks for itself.

So, having invested almost an hour-and-a-half in this bonus episode of The Crown, I felt a little let down by Oprah’s approach. Due to her nonchalance on a few crucial issues, I simply didn’t know what to believe. I wasn’t expecting Frost Nixon, but a more interrogative style might have nailed things down.

On the racism allegation, a bit of context wouldn’t have gone amiss. Meghan mentioned ‘concerns and conversations’ about how dark their baby’s skin might be. Racism is someone being disadvantaged or denigrated because of their race; a discussion about a person’s race or skin hue is not. Was their child to be denied a title because he might not be lily white? That was implied but never actually said.

A London contact with bi-racial children, who has previously lived in LA, questions the wisdom of swapping life in the UK for ‘the race-relations pressure cooker that is America, now contaminating the UK with its racial-tribal politics’. But clearly for Meghan, it was an informed move.

How seriously the issues raised will be taken, who can say. The Palace issued a short, conciliatory statement two days later, the Queen reportedly having rejected an earlier draft. “Recollections may vary,‘’ it said – someone’s telling porkies, let’s find out more? And promising that matters would be dealt with ‘by the family privately’. That sounds promising as long as it doesn’t amount to sweeping it under the Aubusson rugs.

Whether or not Oprah is the real queen, she’s the only winner here. CBS paid her production company $7 million for the interview rights, and the fallout continues to make news. On this side of the pond, we’re eyeing Michael D with fresh regard. He costs the Irish taxpayer a puny €3.5 million a year, as opposed to the £350 million per annum it takes to maintain the relic to an imperial past.

We can now return to our own domestic strife knowing at least that we’re all created equal and none of us is born to rule. It’s also liberating to be able to pop out for a pint of milk without worrying that the security detail has been pulled.

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at

Pic: Harpo

From top: Bank of Ireland CEO Frances McDonagh this week announced the closure of 130 branches; Grace Garvey

Did Bank of Ireland’s advertising boffins have Brendan Kennelly’s poem ‘Begin’ in mind when choosing their Bank of Ireland Begin‘ tagline, I wonder. ‘Begin to the pageant of queuing girls,’ if you insist on bothering a cashier.

I was more than a little dubious when listening to the bank’s boss, Francesca McDonagh, on Morning Ireland earlier this week placing responsibility for the closure of 103 branches firmly at the feet of her customers. According to McDonagh, they had abandoned their local bank in droves, preferring to do business online.

My last trip to a branch, pre-Pandemic, was a shambles. The tiny suburban branch was jammed with office workers on lunch break. Rather than have all tellers on deck to facilitate the lunchtime rush, they had just one counter open, while another member of staff did her best to divert people to a series of ATMs.

The queue moved at a snail’s pace and by the time I got within spitting distance of the front – and mindful of the five-minute drive back to work for a 2 o’clock meeting – I had to down tools and leave. Mission not accomplished and an hour lost.

This frustration has been shared by countless bank customers over the past 10 years, and suggests that people have not abandoned their local banks; they have been pushed out as part of a long-standing plan, dating as far back as the mid-80s, to get rid of the branch network and move customers online. It is disingenuous of McDonagh to claim otherwise.

The reasoning behind the shift towards automation was obviously to cut costs – as was the decision to outsource production support to India – but also to eliminate human error, on the basis that better lending decisions are made by computer algorithm than a fallible human. It was felt that a bank manager might be swayed by sentiment when dealing with someone they knew.

A friend and I were reminiscing lately about a personable bank manager we once shared. He was such a pleasure to deal with that we both followed him when he was posted to a new branch. He knew his customers well: where we lived, where we worked, what kind of car we drove – and how seriously we were likely to take repayments if he gave us a loan.

He was keen to drum up business for the bank and would always try to recycle the money he had just loaned you in the local economy. For instance, signing off on a motor loan, he might ask casually what kind of car you had in mind and lo and behold, his local dealership – also a customer – had exactly that model, and before you knew it, you were driving out their forecourt with your new wheels.

The value of relationships of this kind, developed over years, count for the little in the latest scheme. The social dividend isn’t something the banks factor in. Lending dictated by algorithm as opposed to lending to the person is seen as progress from the bank’s point of view, but lending will always have an element of risk if the economy is to grow. Besides, how fail-safe is it really if a bewigged couple can create multiple fake accounts and swindle the bank of thousands over a couple of years?

In October 2006, the Bank of Ireland in Glenamaddy, Co Galway, closed its doors for the last time. Since then, the Ulster Bank branch has followed suit, as well as the Garda Station and several businesses and pubs.

Locals claim the initial closure ruined the town. People who used to come from surrounding villages to bank were forced to drive to bigger towns, and ended up shopping there as well. Once busy streets are now deserted. ‘You drive through the town and it’s dead; the streets are empty, even before Covid,’ a local school teacher says.

Those most affected are elderly people, particularly those who no longer drive. They’ve had to forego their privacy to enlist adult offspring to do their banking online. Younger people, many of whom bank with Revolut or N26, are unaffected. But plenty of the over-40s, who are at home online, either have no interest in online banking or don’t trust it.

Most farmers over 60 couldn’t care less about internet banking, I’m told. They don’t want a cashless society and are wary of scams. Patchy broadband is also an issue. These dissenters feel ignored and can’t understand why the Government hasn’t objected to the latest closures, when policy purports to endorse economic and social development in rural areas such as theirs.

As any banker will tell you, the Bank of Ireland is a private enterprise, albeit one in which the Government has a stake of 14%. Sure, it got a bailout from the taxpayer in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, but that’s been repaid in full. They’ll talk about how challenging Irish banking is right now, with onerous Central Bank capital requirements, data protection, no margins and low interest rates.

But the fact remains that Bank of Ireland made a handsome profit of €758 million in 2019. Granted it took a hit last year on foot of bad debts on loans that cannot be repaid due to Covid-19, but it returned to profitability in the second half of the year. So, it’s fair to say the bank is profitable overall.

Given its position at the heart of communities countrywide down the years, it remains to be seen whether financial inclusion will be part of its Corporate Social Responsibility remit in future.

If we’ve learned anything from lockdown, it must surely be the importance of the personal touch, of having a human at the end of the phone. This is not just a question of urban-rural balance, it’s equally a virtual-real dilemma.

It’s not about stopping the march of time or being a neo-luddite, it’s about using this pause in activities to appraise the commercial landscape and decide how we as a society want to live.

Relentless automation continues to lay waste to livelihoods, while funnelling wealth into the pockets of a few. When a corporate entity urges us to begin, it suggests wiping the slate clean. Let’s not lose sight of all that is rich about life as we know it before rushing to obey.

‘Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.’ 

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at


From top: 1980s Irish school life as depicted in Sing Street (2016); Grace Garvey

Following the recent revelation by author John Boyne that he was abused as a schoolboy in Terenure College – though not by John McClean – it occurred to me that, all things considered, my cohort had been pretty lucky in emerging from school in the 80s relatively unscathed. And yet, few of us have fond memories of the experience.

Corporal punishment was prohibited in Irish schools in 1982 but it would take a while for the pupil-teacher power dynamic to shift. In primary school, I recall getting the occasional slap of a ruler, which was water off a duck’s back.

We had a teacher whose specialty we called ‘wigging’ involved her sticking a thumb in your mouth and jiggling your cheek. Although mildly disgusting, no one minded because we liked her and she was fair. In secondary school, however, psychological warfare was the punishment of choice. The spectre of getting into trouble hung in the air, leaving us forever on alert.

I remember surprisingly little about secondary school. I had an agreeable group of friends and the highlight of our day was morning break, spent huddled around a radiator drinking cups of watery hot chocolate. It was a co-ed school, with a mix of lay teachers and nuns. Religion featured heavily, which for a sceptic was alienating but not a big deal. It wasn’t as if the notion of God were up for debate.

We spent singing class learning hymns and little else. One day I asked the singing teacher, a tightly coiled nun, if we might veer away from our heavenly repertoire once in a while. This met with stony silence and another rendition of Ár nAthair, atá ar Neamh.

I retaliated, as minions have before and since, by withdrawing my labour and standing mute before her from then on. Since I was no Maria Callas, this can’t have been any great loss. Weeks passed and the teacher called me aside after class one afternoon. She shut the door, stared at me with terrifying intensity and mournfully told me I was giving her a nervous breakdown.

I have no idea if this broke the détente, nor would I condone a middle-aged teacher blaming a 15-year-old for her angst, but it seems to me now that most of the trouble at school was caused by adults in distress of some shape or form.

One nun who chased me around the school for wearing legwarmers – I was a repeat offender, I’m sorry to say – would probably have been a brilliant biologist in another realm. A second, who barked like a sergeant major at recalcitrants going up the down stairway had definitely missed her calling – and indeed later re-joined civilian life. In other words, many of those teachers had lost their way.

A friend refers to her convent boarding school as the gulag. Dead Poets Society, it clearly was not. ‘That was Ireland in the 80s, inspiration was in short supply,’ she says. She describes her school experience as being dragged through the system, and feels most of her teachers were disengaged. ‘What would you expect,’ she asks, ‘they were dragging themselves through their own lives.’

Another friend fared better and describes her private day school as fine with good teachers who were nice. ‘It was a posh, rich school, although no one had money in the 80s. No nuns, thank God,’ she says. ‘Anyone I know who had nuns was scarred for life.’ She feels sorry for the nuns, however, saying they were shunted off to the convent with scant regard for what they wanted in life. ‘At least priests were treated like royalty,’ she adds.

For the sake of gender balance, I poll a couple of fellows too. The first was bullied in a Catholic boy’s school before moving to an inter-denominational co-ed where he thrived. The second went to the Christian Brothers.

‘The 80s was an odd time,’ he says. His school had been founded in or around 1967 when free education was introduced in Ireland. As a result, lots of the brothers, Arts graduates, became teachers by default. ‘We had some psychos but plenty of decent people too. They made full use of threats and sarcasm to keep us in line.’

The Christian Brothers alumnus, while half-joking that he still has issues arising from his time at school, contends that they got some things right. ‘I don’t remember them expelling anyone. No matter what we did, they dealt with it there and then.’

He contrasts that with the situation today where anyone in breach of school policy – ‘whatever is the latest trend’ – gets kicked out. ‘A boy behaving in a sexist way towards a girl can be expelled. We’re talking 14-15 year olds. They’re kids, they don’t know which way is up.’ In the 80s, the school board was generally run by a religious order. They would mete out punishment as they saw fit. ‘These days, you’ll find parents on the board insisting on expulsion. It’s very black and white,’ he says.

As regards other changes, he feels peer bullying was less prevalent back then. ‘It was us versus the teachers, united in our misery. We were less likely to have a go at each other when the teachers were having a go at us,’ he says.

There’s probably no such thing as a typical 80s education – my own sister liked our school so much, she returned there to teach – but conversations on the subject tend to turn up common themes.

Most of us were champing at the bit to get out, and it was a lucky person whose exuberance wasn’t damped down. If Greta Thunberg could time travel, she would have her wings well and truly clipped. Whether or not it has had any long-term effects, possibly, but who can say.

As for John Boyne, I wish him well and hope he can block Terenure College on Twitter lest they get to him first.

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at

From top: Mary Robinson on this week’s Panorama documentary about captive Saudi Princess Latifa on BBC 1; Grace Garvey

Mary Robinson’s brief appearance in Tuesday’s BBC Panorama documentary about missing Emirati Princess Latifa has raised more questions than it answers.

Robinson claims to have been misled by the princess’s family and says she felt ‘horribly tricked’ when photos of a private lunch she attended at the royal household were released to the world.

However, in a prior interview with BBC Radio 4′s Today programme less than two weeks after that lunch in December 2018, Robinson spoke about having filed a report on the visit to Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, saying:

” I sent her the three photographs that I was happy would be released to help the family to allow it to be understood that this is a family matter now and that she is in the loving care of her family.”

Furthermore, she managed to set aside her feelings at being a dupe to reiterate the official family line, that Latifa was troubled, vulnerable and receiving appropriate psychiatric care.

Mrs Robinson’s refusal to answer any further questions on the matter since then, until this week’s Panorama documentary, leaves us wondering what exactly caused her to feel hoodwinked.

She had agreed to the photographs being taken as proof of life – unlike Latifa who was a reluctant participant in the photo op; she had agreed to the photographs being released by the UN to show to the world that Latifa was still alive.

Presumably, her misgivings were caused by the photos being released by the UAE foreign ministry, and a mere nine days after the lunch.

Was she, on some level, feeling sheepish about accepting free flights and accommodation to the Arab state?  Was she embarrassed to be seen cosying up to an obscenely wealthy regime with poor human rights record? Or did she feel she had abused her former office as UN High Commissioner for human rights? We can but speculate.

Speaking to the Panorama team, Robinson said she had been misled by her friend Princess Haya, Latifa’s stepmother and sixth wife of the ruler of Dubai, who in turn had herself been misled.

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that Princess Haya is neither a trained lawyer nor human rights activist. She is the sixth wife of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whom Latifa accuses of snatching her from international waters in March 2018 and falsely imprisoning her since. In other words, Princess Haya had skin in the game.

Lawyers are trained to be objective, told that objectivity is a professional value, and praised for their objectivity. Robinson owed Latifa – and the world – a higher duty of care than to be fobbed off with the ‘troubled young woman’ proposition. This is after all how families got rid of their headstrong daughters in bygone times. They were locked up and died in asylums. Or Magdalene laundries.

FreeLatifa is an international movement based around securing freedom for Latifa. It was set up by a Finnish national Tiina Jauhiainen, a close friend of Latifa’s who helped orchestrate her escape from Dubai in February 2018. She was on the ill-fated yacht when it was stormed by Emirati and Indian troops off the coast of India, kidnapping Latifa and bringing her back to Dubai.

The group feels that Robinson’s intervention – in a matter that was the subject of live legal proceedings at the UN – undermined the work of Michelle Bachelet.

They are at a loss to know why anyone familiar with UN human rights protocols in cases of enforced disappearances would pay a personal visit that could be used to manipulate media perception. They go so far as to question her bona fides, claiming:

‘Mary Robinson’s unwillingness to help Latifa raises questions about how much was she paid for participating in this Dubai government propaganda and about her role in supporting Latifa’s abductors.’

Criticisms levelled at Mary Robinson over the years centre on her apparent fascination with wealth, power and privilege, her need to keep the hoi polloi at bay, her lack of ‘the common touch’. Can she really have been so bedazzled by the oil billionaires’ bling that years of learning and experience went out the window?

Only one woman can answer that.

Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. She is a former student of Mary Robinson’s at Trinity College.