Why are there so many Irish women crime writers? Why is there so much crime against women?

If crime fiction acts as a mirror to society, women have a lot of ugly truths to tackle

When I began writing crime fiction there were several reasons formulating in my mind as to why I was drawn to it. At the time, I noticed many other emerging Irish authors were writing it too, and these were quite often female.

There were certainly external factors influencing the rise in popularity, including those who argued the end of the Troubles meant the exploration of crime fiction became more palatable. There was also the rise and demise of the Celtic Tiger, coupled with the movement of people towards ever-growing cities. After all, if your next-door neighbour is a stranger, in theory, they could also be a fictional killer.

Within this melting pot were the past sins of the Catholic Church, with widespread abuse exposed almost on a daily basis. It all felt like a pressure cooker ready to explode, and if crime fiction puts a mirror up to society, all those factors set Ireland up as rich pickings for the writer’s imagination.

Notably, the rise of successful Irish female crime writers became more and more evident, with four or five of the six writers shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year in consecutive years being female, alongside growing success on the international stage.


Why were there so many Irish female crime writers? I began to dig a little deeper, and it wasn’t long before other reasons surfaced, starting with my own journey growing up.

I grew up in an Ireland where women had far fewer rights than they have today. Coupled with this, the stranglehold of the Catholic Church, especially the dark cloak it placed over women in society, was undeniably cruel, often feeding into the ideology of women being sinners, rather than victims.

I recall the political speeches after the revelations about the Mother and Baby Homes, how one politician asked whether clerical abuse, with young mothers being banished from society, was the result of the church’s belief that women had impregnated themselves? The whole thing seems ludicrous now, but that was life back then. I know this because growing up I was terrified of becoming pregnant outside of marriage.

I also grew up in an Ireland where domestic abuse, still prevalent today, might be seen as a husband’s right, and if not, for the most part, people looked away. I grew up in an Ireland where woman were forced to leave their careers after marriage, and where women had little political representation. Even their rights over the family home held no security. The use of contraceptives was illegal too, as was the right to choose, and if you happened to marry a man who abused you, well, you made your bed, so you better lie in it.

The constraints imposed on women’s lives not only precipitated gender discrimination but violence too, all within an inflamed misogynistic society. I remember the young school girl, Anne Lovett, losing her life while giving birth in a grotto. I remember too the Kerry Babies scandal, where a woman was charged with a crime she couldn’t have committed, and when finally a tribunal was set up to investigate the false confessions, it was not the police officers put on trial, but rather Joanne Hayes, the woman who had lost her baby. Joanne was quizzed on the stand for five days, longer than anyone in the history of the Irish judicial system, and the focus wasn’t on how the false confessions came about, but rather, her relationship with the man who had fathered her child, and whether she still held hopes of him leaving his wife, and if not, why did she allow intimacies to take place between them? The tribunal became a witch-hunt against a grieving mother, and it took three decades for its findings to be finally overturned.

I grew up in an Ireland where at 16, I was attacked by a stranger, a man. He grabbed me from behind as I walked through a pathway on church grounds. It was the middle of the day. He had one hand around my waist, and the other over my face, as he pulled me into the bushes. When he dropped his hand from my mouth, I screamed, only it felt like someone else was screaming, as if I was having an out-of-body experience. Somehow, I spotted two men in the distance at the entrance gate. I screamed again, and got lucky – the man loosened his grip. I ran, and ran, and a part of me felt ashamed, even though there was no reason for it. When I reported it to the police, their response was uninspiring. Despite having a good description of the man, my words were ultimately dismissed, as no actual rape had occurred. I felt small and irrelevant, and too young to argue. Decades later, I still get anxious if someone is too close behind me.

I live in an Ireland where attacks on women are still prevalent, including the spiking of drinks, and where the wearing of a nice suit by an accused rapist is considered part of his defence. During the Aisling Murphy vigils, I was struck by so many female voices talking about abuse, one saying, “it has happened to nearly every one of us”.

Others spoke about it not being all men, but how it affects all women, and how, from a young age, girls are aware of the inherent danger. This danger manifests itself in many ways: avoiding being too close to a group of men when passing by; not walking home alone; being conscious of your dress; being alert that your drink might be spiked; nervous, even in a taxi, because you’re alone with a stranger; always avoiding dark, deserted places; always on hyper-alert until you reach home; texting your friends that you are home safe, when few of us know men who ever do this.

I live in an Ireland where one in four women has suffered domestic abuse, including psychological abuse and coercive control, a pattern of behaviour used by some men to achieve power and control over women. I live in an Ireland where there are no women refuge centres in several counties, and where those involved in organisations that protect women leave work on a Friday, hoping the woman is alive on the Monday.

I live in an Ireland where on a daily basis, women are forced to leave their homes, and it’s not bad enough that they go through the trauma of abuse but in fleeing, uprooting their family, seeking protection in either a refuge or with relatives or friends, they then have to fight a court system which has many questions to answer, while the perpetrator stands in the shadows, looking on.

I grew up and live in an Ireland where women walk a very different path to many men, and if crime fiction acts as a mirror on society and its cultural norms, then, there are many reasons why my writing tends to explore darker issues, and why female voices are currently being heard loud and clear.
They All Lied by Louise Phillips is published by Hachette Ireland on March 3rd