We are a better, safer place

Thu, Mar 13, 2014, 01:00

Too often on the death of a well-known figure as the tributes flow there may be a tendency to hyperbole and exaggeration. It has not been so – it can not be so – where Christine Buckley is concerned.

Her death on Tuesday morning unleashed a surge of high praise from leaders of church, State, law, and the many others she touched. All wholly deserved. This unusual recognition was flavoured with words like “courage”, “indefatigable”, “pioneer”, “determination”, and, most appropriately, the phrase “a warrior against injustice.”

In truth there was a quality of greatness about Christine Buckley. Her intelligence, and particularly an unusual strength of character, allowed her to overcome a life story loaded against this small, black orphan girl growing up in mid-20th century Ireland. She turned disadvantages into the tools with which she prised open that closed door to a darker Ireland, a measure of her extraordinary qualities and achievement.

Ireland locked away its shame in the sort of institutions where she grew up. She released that shame to confront our awful past, and, instead of letting it rest on the shoulders of innocent children, she made that shame rest where it truly belonged, on an uncaring society. So burdened, so many of those children had grown into adult lives, hobbled, stifled, damned to years of dysfunction.

No other individual did as much to help lift stigma from the souls of those men and women who had been put in orphanages, industrial schools, and reformatories as children. No one did as much to give a strong voice, confidence and courage, to those in this society who had been diminished through such institutionalisation and shame. No one did as much to achieve redress for them either.

This was extended to include women who had been put in Magdalene laundries and to those abused as children in parishes and homes all over Ireland. It is no exaggeration to conclude that Christine Buckley paved the way to a greater honesty about the abuse of children generally in Ireland.

She helped make this a better and safer place for children and for those adults whose childhoods were marred and stunted by their abuse and neglect as children.

Where Christine Buckley was concerned there were no lesser Irish men or Irish women. She cherished all the children of the nation, whether abused child or wounded adult, equally.

She would never have claimed it but she was that rarest of people, a true Irish patriot. Possibly a great one. She was a unique Irishwoman of great character and great heart.

Her work is now done and Ireland is a much better place because of it and because of her. May she rest in peace.

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