Gardaí are appealing for witnesses after the author Gavin McCrea, who is currently writer in residence at the University of Limerick, was seriously assaulted in a homophobic attack earlier this month.
A group of six boys, aged between 12 and 14, attacked him, breaking his nose and cheekbone, while he was walking in Dartry Park, Rathmines, Dublin about 6pm on February 1st.
McCrea, author of the novel Mrs Engels, which was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize and Desmond Elliott Prize in 2016 among other honours, had just left University College Dublin's library, from where he had emailed his publisher the manuscript of his second novel, The Sisters Mao, when he was set upon.
He was walking past the Dropping Well pub and speaking on his mobile phone to his uncle about a trip to Berlin to celebrate the completion of his novel after five years’ work when a group of boys began abusing him with homophobic insults, jostling him and throwing stones.
He flagged down cars to get rid of them, paying little heed given their age, and they ran off. However, 15 minutes later at a dark, deserted part of the Dodder river path the youths attacked him again from behind, knocking him to the ground, punching and kicking his face, breaking his nose and fracturing a cheekbone.
McCrea was treated in St James Hospital for his injuries and reported the incident to the Garda, who are treating it as a possible hate crime. No arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing. Gardaí are appealing to anyone with information in connection with this assault to contact Rathmines Garda Station on 01 6666700, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111, or any Garda station.
McCrea has lived abroad for most of the past two decades, including several years in Spain. El País in Madrid covered the assault last Friday, after he spoke to Andrea Rizzi, its international news editor, under the headline: "Attacked for being homosexual in the EU in the 21st century" and standfirst: "A writer beaten up for his sexual orientation in Dublin is a reminder that legislative advances do not dissipate centuries of intolerance".
The article noted that recent advances in legislation in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe have not erased centuries of homophobia and that such homophobic attacks by young boys highlight the need for anti-bullying training in schools.
“I am a private person and going public in this way makes me uncomfortable,” the author said, “but I felt it was the right thing to do. I think it’s important. I was bullied severely from the ages of 10 to 20, after which I left Ireland vowing never to return, and now I have and I am made revisit those old experiences. It has been quite intense. I say ‘revisit’ because the kids who beat me up were 12 to 14 years old, the same age as the kids in my youth. It gave me a bizarre feeling of deja vu.”
One positive outcome of the incident has been the rallying of friends and colleagues. “Since the attack, I have been overwhelmed by the love and support I have received. I feel fortunate and proud to have around me such a community of big hearts and brilliant minds.”
More negatively, the cost of healthcare has added insult to injury. “I also received a €100 bill from the hospital where I was brought and that made me furious. After 20 years of receiving top care for free abroad, it felt like the final kick.”
A study by Columbia University, New York and the charity Belong To last year which found that 73 per cent of the 800 Irish LGTBI students surveyed felt unsafe in school, 77 per cent suffer verbal harassment and 11 per cent physical attacks.
On January 31st, a young gay Dublin couple on their way home from a trip to Newbridge, Co Kildare were viciously assaulted and one of them was stabbed. LGBT Ireland’s CEO, Paula Fagan, said then: “We have been raising the need for Hate Crime legislation with general election candidates from all parties over the past two weeks, calling on them to make it a top priority if they are elected. This brutal attack should signal to politicians that urgent action is needed to send out a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in this country.”
LGBT Ireland runs a helpline for victims of harassment and violence on 1890 929 539.