Kate Holmquist: Highlights from a career in journalism

Her work showed a consistent interest in issues of sexuality, family life and social change

Kate Holmquist, working from home in Glenageary, Co Dublin, circa 1990

Kate Holmquist, working from home in Glenageary, Co Dublin, circa 1990

 

Kate Holmquist – who died this weekend aged 62 – began writing for The Irish Times in 1985. Kate (or, earlier in her career, Kathryn) wrote on a range of subjects, specialising at different times in the arts, social affairs and education coverage.

Over more than 30 years, she showed a consistent interest in issues of sexuality, gender, family life and social change – her work in these areas was marked by an extraordinary ability to win the trust of those she interviewed about deeply personal subjects.

A gifted writer, she was as comfortable writing light-hearted opinion columns as she was composing ground-breaking features journalism. Here is a selection of her work, beginning with one of her first major articles, a collection of interviews in 1985 with Irish men, including Colm Tóibín, Michael Colgan, Dave Fanning and Ivan Yates.

Irish men on maleness

March 22nd, 1985

Barry Devlin, former rock star of “Horslips” fame who is now embarking on a career in film and video direction, feels that you can’t talk about masculinity with­ out being in danger of condescension towards women. “It’s impossible for me to define myself as a man without reference to women though I can define my job without reference to them; even though I work alongside women, men are currently bending over backwards to prove they’re making amends for two or three millennia.

By definition, you’re either slithering around trying to get on with the women, and you’re consequently damned as patronising, or else you’re unredeemed ... It’s very hard to comment for fear of offending women. If you’re saying you’re willing to give women their due, you’re just saying that you’re the one setting the status quo and, really, in just talking about this, I’m a patronising bastard.”

Fortunately, he waived this dilemma by saying: “I’m not ashamed to be a man. I’m delighted to be a man. I’d be happier if the structure were such so that women could be more delighted to be women. Women have a capacity for caring that men don’t have. Traditionally, the husband is not as close to the children, for example. Men and women subscribe to different versions of what is the real world. I just became a father at 38. It’s a very sobering experience. You come face to face with a different reality. The family becomes more important than success. I didn’t expect that to happen. I’m only just beginning to realise loads of things that arc important to just being human. I think it takes men longer to get to this point.”

Sexuality is an area in which, he feels, men and women are equally bereft of self-awareness. “For the Irish sexuality is a very restricted area and that diminishes people’s responses. Other races let the borderline between friendliness and intimacy be fudged more. You’re born with a sex, and the decision that that should be brought down to one bit once a week under the covers, says a lot about us.”

Babies, he believes, are the great levellers. “They have none of the prejudices. They exhibit their sexuality in the way they behave. By the time we Irish reach adulthood we think of sexuality as some­ thing that comes into play when the two minutes of foreplay are over and then comes the sex bit. For the Irish you have to be a bit oiled to express your sexuality. The struggle for men and women is lo make sex less sexy and more human.”

In spite pile of all this, however. Devlin feels that men will continue to face their sense of restriction in isolation. “When men congregate in pubs they talk about business, sport, gossip. There’s never going to be an upsurge of two or three getting together to discuss male orgasm.”

Colm Tóibín
Writer Colm Tóibín has been questioning recently the way in which men tend to define themselves exclusively in terms of competition and success. “With the increasing Brutonisation of the country, the word ‘workaholic’ is being used about people as a term of praise more and more. To me it’s the worst thing you could say about anybody. To put it very simply, if you’re a workaholic you don’t survive. When men meet they say, ‘how’s business this year?’ The question of ‘are you happy?’, doesn’t arise,” he says.

“I’m very aware of the whole business of what men have been through, everything being measured by achievement and how much money one makes. Ulcers and heart attacks are the result of all that hard work. If I noticed myself becoming too ambitious, I would stop doing it, I’d take action. That mentality of ambition is one of the dangers of being male. I don’t think that women are as apt to fall into that ego-trap. I have long given up the ambition of being editor of the Irish Press, and I’ve given up the notion that journalism is a ladder which you have to climb up.’’

He finds himself aspiring to what he sees as the female approach to fulfilment. “I love women and I really Jove the notion that there are1 other things than career; that there’s a whole private thing to be nourished and to be worked on. I see that as a feminine thing.

If you look at pictures by Holbein or Vermeer you see the men painted with all their worldly goods while the Vermeer portraits of women show them in their homes, against a simple background. Traditionally, a man’s place is in major indulgence in the public world and a woman’s place is in the home. I love being at home more and more ... The women’s movement has changed the way my generation look at themselves and at everything else.

“The business of there being so many warm, bright, intelligent women everywhere has shifted perspectives and I think the more of it the better.” Dispensing with the cliché that the man always has to be in the driver’s seat, Tóibín adds gleefully: “My greatest joy in life is to be in the front seat of a car when a woman’s driving. I don’t intend to learn to drive myself until I’m at least forty.”

Malcolm Douglas
Actor Malcolm Douglas disagrees with the notion that men are experiencing a collective identity . “I don’t think men will ever re-examine themselves. All they’ll do is feel threatened two minutes a day.” He doesn’t feel he’s a typical male, mainly because he was brought up by four women.

“I find myself very puzzled by men’s attitudes to women. I’ve felt like an intruder in the man’s world in some way. I was brought up a Quaker and I’ve never understood the Virgin Mary type of thing.” He feels that he and his live-in girlfriend of seven years, actress Kate Thompson, have an unusual and untraditional relationship, and that this relatively unorthodox role in it is not always viewed kindly by other men.

“The fact that I do not try to dominate might lead people to see me as hen-pecked. I find more problems with other men than with women. It’s more difficult to treat women equally because of pressure from other men.” One way in which men exert pressure on each other, in his opinion, is through humour. “I find a lot of male jokes really distasteful. I laugh because it’s accepted but it’s a bit like laughing at Biafran jokes. It’s a form of mental violence. I find men’s attitudes a bit disturbing. Men tend to force women into stereotypes.”

Male friendship is an area which eludes him. “I don’t particularly like men. I never have. I think Kate’s my best friend. I don’t need to have men friends around me to bolster my self-image.” He finds that sexuality is a major pressure zone in male friendships. “I picked up some strange ideas about sex at the two all-male boarding schools I attended. But I still found it difficult in my adolescence to relate to the idea of women as sex objects. Films such as Porky’s show that adolescent attitude, and I must admit I could see myself in that. I think I was an absolute shit at that time. If I found a woman who I thought was nice I couldn’t relate to her because of the pressure to score.”

He’s in tune with women, now, however. “You’re much more likely to meet women than men who will relate to you as a person and not as a sex object. Men relate to each other as sex objects all the time from a maleness rivalry point of view. It’s noticeable in a rehearsal period. If there are any women watching then the men tend to look at the women to see if there’s any reaction, even if it’s a man who’s directing them.”

Douglas isn’t sure how the Irish male would define himself, but he says confidently: “If you want to do research on the Irish male go to Leeson Street any night of the week.’’

On his own masculinity, he muses non-committally. “I don’t think I’m particularly male. I don’t have biceps, I don’t have a hairy chest . . . I have no interest in sports at all. I think there are an awful lot of macho men who are more latently homosexual than a man who cries and reads women’s magazines (two activities which Douglas engages in occasionally). Filming Glenroe, they set up a rugby scrum pack for some scene and I had to go in and join it. Bending over, I felt a pair of hands on my balls, and I said to myself, “This is macho’?’”

On the notion of a load of men having a shower with other men Douglas’s response is simple. “Personally I’d rather have a shower with a woman.”

Dave Fanning
Dave Fanning, television presenter and radio disc jockey, tells of an experience he had recently which he feels sheds some light on the state of Irish masculinity. “I went to a well-known Dublin hotel to meet my girlfriend and I found her at the bar surrounded by three of her girlfriends. Four men in business suits were hovering nearby. When the men realised I knew the women they started making comments about them to me in voices loud enough for the women to hear. I found this so offensive, obnoxious and immature. It was as though these men had gone into a museum and, because I knew the women, I was the keyholder who could open the case that surrounded the exhibit.

Like Malcolm Douglas, he finds that men are still under considerable pressure to conform to a standard of behaviour with which be’s uncomfortable. “The man is supposed to chat up the woman, and pornography is directed at men. Maybe those guys at the hotel were doing what was expected of them. I object to the male knee-jerk reaction that is expected of men in some movies, such as ‘Porky’s’ and ‘Deathwish’. The accepted level of violence in ‘Deathwish’ – the wife killed and the daughter raped in the first five minutes – is set up so you’ll supposedly react like a man and cheer and clap when Bronson kills the villains. I find that really offensive.

About women, he says: “The most incredible, the most beautiful thing in the world is the attraction to a woman, when it clicks. If that leads itself to chauvinism, I’m sorry, but to deny the wrapping of sexuality around everything would be ludicrous.”

Fanning concludes: “There are a billion differences between men and women, but I can’t name one of them. If you got underneath it all, there’d be a lot less differences. On the surface it seems that the male’s sexual appetite is more, but beneath it all, if there’s a loving and stable relationship I think the man’s and woman’s sexual appetites are very much equal.”

Michael Colgan
Michael Colgan, artistic director of the Gate Theatre, finds that his striving for success can be a barrier to spending as much time in his role as father of two young daughters as he’d like. “I want the children to be the centre of my life, but they can’t always be. I personally think that if you’re going to succeed in your work you have to give so much attention to it that it bites into family time. I’m a workaholic. I work 12 hours a day, but I’m in a unique situation because my wife is an actress. If I can go home and tell her that I managed to get such and such an actor, or the rights to a particular play, she’s delighted.”

Colgan points to the vogue in fathers being present at the birthof their children as being a sign of change in the way they view their masculinity. “I know one Italian footballer who couldn’t be at the birth so he had it videoed.” Perhaps the delivery-room has seen the birth of a new status symbol. He tells a story about being in London for a friend’s wedding and going to a nightclub with a group of male companions. His friends failed to engage themselves in conversation with three women who caught their fancy.

Colgan, however, approached the women and was accepted by them immediately to such an extent that soon the pals too were invited to join the women’s table. Asked later how he did it, Colgan told them: “I asked them, ‘Do you want to see my baby picture?’”

Dick Spring
Dick Spring feels that men haven’t experienced the soul-searching and self­ definition that women have because there’s been no necessity for it. “If men thought they were being discriminated against they’d have men’s issues. As it is, there’s no pressure on men to define themselves. There just isn’t the same demand for change as with women. I can’t see men’s groups organising themselves. But women’s issues are not the preserve of women, they involve men just as much.”

The change initiated by women has resulted in a new closeness between men and women, in his opinion. “Understanding is definitely increasing between men and women, and this openness is, of course, beneficial. As men and women learn to ease their inhibitions they become more intimate. Younger people’s attitudes to marriage are changing quite a bit. They’re thinking of it more as a partnership.”

On the subject of fatherhood, Spring, who has two children says, with some regret, “l really have no right to comment. My work demands that I be away from home so much I don’t feel qualified to talk about it.”

Ivan Yates
At 25, Ivan Yates is the youngest TD in Fine Gael and the only Protestant. He and Colm Tóibín share the same home town of Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. “Women are more ambitious for themselves now. It’s nothing to do with women’s movements; it’s a competitive rat race and women get on with it and good luck to them. Masculine qualities are now limited to physical aspects. Stereotyping is a load of humbug ... I’d push a pram, no problem. It would never strike me as strange. In fact, I’d quite look forward to it.”

Asked how he would balance a career with children, he replies: “It’s the woman who manages. Women now are teachers, nurses, secretaries. Those careers take account of time off. There’s total equality in relationships. You just won’t get away with anything else. I’m used to getting my own way, it’s part of my job to get things done, but with women in todav’s world you don’t just get your own way.’’

Yates has a label for successful young men and women today. “The New Macho term applies, regardless of sex, to trendy, successful, ambitious, hardworking young people who have a vibrant image. There’s quite a lot of them in the country. The New Macho is typified by self-confidence. They know what they want and they go after it. It’s a new brand of professionalism based on initiative, effort, ambition. Somebody who is very masculine is outdated, red-neck, and assertive to the point of arrogance and intolerance. The New Macho is deep down just as interested in assertiveness as the traditional male.”

Dawn of a new, more brutal Ireland

January 22nd, 1996

Crime in Ireland seems to have a new viciousness an American style randomness that many of us find disturbing. We are seeing a new, more brutal Ireland, where humanity is dissolving: a woman heinously defiled, her naked body discarded a few minutes - from her own front door... thugs roaming the country torturing old people for . . . a Hallowe’en night that turns into an orgy of violence on a Dublin housing estate.

We are no longer defined by our green fields, but by urban ghetto areas which gardaí call “hostile territory”, where children run wild in the streets, helping to attack cars. We have eight year olds shop lifting, 10 year olds joy riding, 12 year olds injecting drugs and 14 year olds trying to support expensive drug habits by mugging elderly women in the streets.

Many of us feel instinctively, that some sinister change is happening in Irish society. What are the roots of it? Who do we blame? Politicians like to clamber onto their soapboxes to give the answers: they talk about drug abuse, unemployment, moral anarchy, absent fathers, bad parenting and a lack of discipline in the schools. Many blame crime on our loose bail laws and revolving door prison system, in which criminals serve fractions of their sentences and commit crimes while on temporary or early release. There is a growing feeling in the Republic that we need to become more punitive, to impose harsher sentences and build more prison cell.

But should we be talking, about punishment - or compassion? Some experts say that the middle classes themselves are to blame for tolerating the existence of the poverty and social deprivation that lead to crime. Others say no crime is a moral issue; that animals make a choice to do bad things.

One thing we can be certain about, however, is that criminal behaviour usually starts in childhood. People working with anti social children and juveniles, in the Republic and internationally, are telling us that we need to understand the minds and motivation of the vulnerable, troubled children and young people for whom crime is a lifestyle.

Are the roots of their behaviour social, moral, biological? These questions have to be answered if we want to stop the crimewave.

Compassion can be as expensive as building more prison cells but it is not nearly as fashionable. Nobody wants to be seen to be soft on crime”. Providing psychological assessment in the schools and outreach programmes to vulnerable families in the community is not as politically attractive as opening up more detention centres for 12 year olds. But there area compelling reasons why punishment alone is not the answer - and why tackling the social and psychological roots of crime may be the only thing that will save our society from the staggering trend towards greater viciousness and violence.

WHEN animals have been abused in Limerick Marian Fitzgibbon is called in to collect the singed corpses. She used to feel safe enough driving alone onto the housing estates to gather up the sickening remains of decapitated dogs and tortured kittens, animals with their eyes cut out and female donkeys with nails driven up their backsides. Since being stoned and badly beaten by a gang of children a few years ago, however, she dares not go into such unfriendly territory without an escort.

“Ten years ago I could go into the worst areas in Limerick and never be afraid but you can’t do that now,” says Ms Fitzgibbon, who is national chairperson of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “The kids are too dangerous. They’re high on drugs. Some of them look as young as eight, nine, 10 although you wouldn’t know. They could be small due to malnutrition.

These children seem to spend their time thinking up new ways to torture animals and bonfires particularly seem to drive them crazy. One of the favourite entertainments is to throw kittens into the fire, then wait for the mother cat to walk pathetically into the flames in an attempt to rescue them. The mother will always give up her own life in vain.

They have also tied dogs up in barbed wire and hung them from low bridges, then waited to see lorries drive beneath, decapitating the animals. Ms Fitzgibbon finds the remnants the next day.

“I am terrified for the future when these latest graduates of schools for torture grow up and start practising their terrorism on other people,” she says.

If you want to get some measure of the level of disturbance among young people today, look at the statistics for cruelty to animals, suggests Dr Nuala Healy, a psychiatrist with St Joseph’s Adolescent Centre at St Vincent’s Psychiatric Hospital in Dublin.

Reported cases of cruelty to animals have increased four fold in four years, from 106 in 1991 to 407 (including 54 badger baiting and dog fighting) in 1994, according to the Garda Siochana Annual Report 1994.

These statistics may be an omen of what is to come. Children who torture animals may be rehearsing for the real performance, some experts fear.

It would be reassuring to think that the 400 per cent increase was due to greater awareness of the problem and a better detection rate, but this is only partly responsible, according to Ms Fitzgibbon. She is convinced that something sinister is happening within the very character of Irish youth. She thinks of her friend - a frail, crippled elderly woman, who was terrorised by youths who broke into her home. They beat her up and tied her by the neck to her own toilet for the sake of £17. She lost all her confidence and died not long after.

Is it unreasonable to make such a connection between the bodies of dead kittens and an old woman tied to a toilet and left for dead?

Dr Healy, who has more than 20 years’ experience of working with severely troubled children and teenagers, describes these children as being utterly devoid of the ability to comprehend other people’s feelings. There is no doubt that many of the troubled children and teenagers being seen by professionals working in the area lack empathy and have a complete inability to comprehend the fact that their victims have feelings.

When Dr Healy asks these young teenagers why they do what they do, the answer she hears is always the same: “for the buzz”, as though the “buzz” was justification in itself.

Was the mob violence in the Dublin suburb of Gallanstown last Hallowe’en “for the buzz”? When youths went on the rampage and stoned Garda cars, were they doing it “for the buzz”? Meanwhile a mile away a young woman, like the kittens of Limerick, was being killed near a bonfire in the woods. Was that also “for the buzz”?

These were only some of the events in recent months which whatever the experts may think - have ordinary people feeling worried, and not a little frightened.

“We are reaping the whirlwind,” believes Noel Howard of the Irish Association of Careworkers. He says that he and his colleagues were warning us 10 years ago that increasingly vicious children in the care system were going to grow up to become dangerous criminals but nobody did anything.

“Some of these children do vicious things and yet they come here and they are just young children whose childhood has passed them by. If a child has no childhood what sort of adult will he be?”

Today we are beginning to discover what sort of adults they turn into. And the victims are paying with their trauma and sometimes their lives.

All the various experts have many theories to explain why children grow up to be criminals. Sociopathy is surely a factor, with between three and five per cent of all criminals suffering from this personality disorder which inclines them towards impulsive, destructive, manipulative behaviour with no regard for the feelings of others. It cannot account for all crime, however.

“The problem is multi faceted,” says Paul O’Mahony, formerly a forensic psychologist in the prison service and author of Crime and Punishment in Ireland. There may be a biological element, such as a brain disorder, along with poor nutrition, poverty, broken families and bad parenting. He claims that 80 per cent of crime, is drug related, although alcohol abuse is also a major factor.

We also have a chaotic revolving door prison system, as Mr O’Mahony has described it, in which criminals commit crimes with impunity while on bail or so called “temporary release”, a means of easing pressure on the prison system while risking the well being of citizens.

However, poverty and deprivation are by far the most important factors in Mr O’Mahony’s view. He cites Farrington and West’s British study which has shown that most criminals are from poor, deprived, larger families doomed to educational failure and unemployment - in short, the “under class”.

This is also the view espoused by John Lonergan, governor of Mountjoy prison who points out that 75 per cent of the inmates come from five postal districts in Dublin. He sees most of the 6,000 offenders who go through the prison system annually as suffering from poor self image and low self esteem and as being “more sinned against than sinning themselves”.

These are people “damned almost from the moment they were conceived”, who are born into ghettoes rife with drug abuse and 90 per cent unemployment, in some cases. Today’s offenders were children who, if they didn’t learn about drug abuse in their own homes, soon picked it up at the doorstep where drug dealing, overdosing and sickness was going on around them as they played.

And there are still children who are growing up in a sub culture which involves an ethos where crime is the normal way of life, Mr Lonergan says. In Mountjoy, where you are as likely to see visitors’ prams as Garda cars parked outside, whole families of sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers are incarcerated, making inter prison family visits routine.

These “people feel justified in stealing or in filling their homes with stolen goods because they are excluded from consumer based society. They see others possessing so much - cars, holidays - while they are expected to live on £61 a week and have to feed a £700 a day drug habit at the same time. This is at the root of crime.”

At Oberstown Boys’ Centre in Lusk, Co Dublin, where 30 boys aged 11-16 are detained by order of the court either on remand or commital, “we’ve never had a referral from Foxrock”, says Ann Wall, the centre’s deputy director. Her boys come from the criminal sub cultures based in the urban “ghettoes” of Dublin, Limerick and Cork where “they perceive stealing as a way of life”. They see themselves as failures from the moment they start school and suffer low self esteem as a consequence. They see no role for themselves in society other than a criminal career, which typically: starts at age eight or nine.

However, not everyone agrees that economic anger and social exclusion are at the roots of crime. This socio economic explanation is “out of date”, according to Dr Art O’Connor, consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum. Many of the violent offenders he sees have good parents and come from stable economic backgrounds. He sees something more sinister at work: a world wide shift towards brutality of which the Republic is only a part.

Dr O’Connor is among those who are suggesting that crime may be a moral issue after all and that we need to put less emphasis on protecting the rights of the criminal and more on protecting the rights of the innocent citizen. There are many criminals - psychopaths and sexual offenders, for example - who are incapable of empathy and self control and who will almost certainly reoffend if released and we need to think about locking them away from society permanently.

He believes that we are seeing more sadistic offenders whose “humanity has evaporated”. When they weep after being caught and say that they are filled with remorse, their only feelings of pity are for themselves because they are locked up, not for their victims.

Ten years ago criminals had “more sense of humanity”. The criminal “was less likely to gratuitously torture his victims in the process of taking money. Acts of wanton violence are more frequent than they were,” he believes. Today, a house breaker is more likely to have a knife than in the past and with more guns on the streets, who knows what will happen?

“A number of these offenders - you see it more and more give themselves a licence to go berserk into careers of violence. It used to be they were more interested in the money but now they will go to any lengths and it does not stop with just getting the money.

“Crime is changing and becoming more vicious. There is more violence and aggression coming into criminal acts. More and more one comes across the person in late teens and early 20s who could not give a damn and has no concern for his victim and what he may be doing to them.”

Is this sympathy or human nature? Dr O’Connor believes that we are being fooled by the “gloss of civilisation” which overlays the deeper animal instincts of people. Look at the former Yugoslavia, for example, and how within weeks - days even - civilised people turned into brutal rapists and murderers. It can happen so easily once people give themselves permission to surrender their humanity in favour of their basest urges, he believes.

The collapse of the Catholic Church’s authority and the lack of social opprobrium for anti social acts has made those with criminal tendencies feel less inhibited in giving in to their urges.

Drug and alcohol abuse are crucial features of such wanton acts as sexual attacks and beating people up. Drugs and alcohol lower inhibitions, with alcoholism by far the greater problem than drug abuse despite what people believe, according to Dr O’Connor. Alcoholism is a major factor in acts of sexual violence - of which there were 645 cases in 1994, the most ever recorded.

Another psychiatrist who doubts that unemployment and poverty are at the root of crime is Dr Patricia Casey, Professor of Clynical Psychiatry at UCD. She also believes that more people are choosing to do bad things because moral beliefs and authority are no longer important in their lives.

“I certainly believe very strongly that the moral sense of people has shifted,” she says. “There’s some evidence that personality disorders (such as sociopathy) are increasing as our society becomes more tolerant and open; and less judgmental, so people who function on the fringes are less well controlled. People whose behaviour was once barely contained by society are now given free reign. The sadistic killer who may not have acted before due to moral opprobrium is now given reign to express his desires.”

The cult of individualism has also contributed to this shift away from people taking cognisance of others’ emotional, psychological and personal needs. It has also made parents “less diligent” about instilling moral values in their children. In Dr Casey’s view, “the lone man living in a society whose sense of what is right and wrong is shifting from the absolute to the relative, combined with a sense that he himself is the centre of the universe, presents a pretty frightening prospect”.

Life after grief: The Philbin-Bowman family

April 13th, 2002

Jonathan Philbin Bowman in the late 1980s. Photograph: INI/NLI/Getty
Jonathan Philbin Bowman in the late 1980s. Photograph: INI/NLI/Getty

His father, the broadcaster and historian John Bowman, describes him as “a minor cultural figure of the 1990s”. For many people, the really irritating part is that Jonathan was a minor cultural figure while still a minor. He defined the word “precocious”, yet there was far more to Jonathan Philbin Bowman than that.

Love him or loathe him, Jonathan was a day-maker. Sometimes he love-bombed you with creative ebullience; other times he tempted you into debates you could never win, in the Shelbourne Bar, the Unicorn or the middle of Grafton Street. This trait of arguing for the sake of it irritated his father. He could be infuriatingly obnoxious or endearingly entertaining, but, either way, few things were more stimulating than an encounter with JPB.

At 16, he announced on the Late Late that he had left school because he didn’t believe in rules and authority. Byrne asked him, with eerie prescience, how he saw himself as a “grand old man”. Jonathan replied that he couldn’t see that far ahead. Byrne answered: “At 18, who thinks of being 58?”

Jonathan never got to think about being 58. His death in March 2000 at the age of 31 was, in his father’s words, “a silly accident caused by alcohol”. Jonathan stumbled home drunk, fell down the stairs into a glass door and slowly bled to death, too intoxicated to call for help. “He died from drink – he was too drunk to get help,” says John.

Those who rushed to eulogise him were a who’s who of Irish life; as poet Brendan Kennelly wrote, many had been swept away by his “mastery of comedy, of mad, incisive, intelligent, outrageous fun”. But behind the public grieving was his family, including his son Saul, then aged 11, his parents, sister Emma (30 at the time), and brothers Abie (then 19) and Daniel, also aged 11.

Emma, a computer specialist, shared Jonathan’s interest in Buddhism. She now rents the house in which Jonathan lived and died and, in the absence of Jonathan’s chaotic habits, has turned it into the kind of haven that both she and Jonathan had aspired to.

Abie, who teaches in a programme for gifted children at Dublin City University, felt overwhelmed by the level of public affection for his older brother, and increasingly found himself playing “bad guy” at home, reminding his parents of Jonathan’s failings.

Eimer, Jonathan’s mother and a psychiatrist, was in such deep mourning that getting out of bed was difficult. She thought she would never recover and each morning had to build up courage to start the day. “It was as though the world was suddenly in black and white, having been in technicolor,” she says. “Jonathan had created such magic. When he was gone I thought I would never laugh again.”

John coped by immersing himself in the postbags of letters of condolence. An idea emerged that he would create a book for Saul, made up of letters and photographs. As the project grew, John considered publishing it privately for about 1,000 of John’s bereaved friends. Saul, who may have attended more media launches during his young years in a pram than most journalists do in a lifetime, helped by contributing his own memories of his father’s escapades.

Publishers asked John to write a biography. Ever the historian, John felt that his son’s life didn’t merit a biography and that the letters should speak for themselves. So, eventually, he decided to create a book of memoirs and letters, combined with extracts of Eimer’s journal and contributions from people who had known Jonathan.

John enhanced the bank of volunteered contributions by soliciting others from people who had known Jonathan well, amongst them teachers and bankers. John wanted to publish the book himself to ensure its quality, rather than as a business proposition. His friend, Jarlath Hayes, who died a year ago, started the ambitious design, which was finished by his daughter, Susan Waine.

Yet while John found comfort in creating the book, Jonathan, published at considerable cost this week by his own How Tatt Press, his wife, Eimer, and son, Abie, were less enthusiastic. Abie has had “serious reservations” about the usefulness of his father’s project. “I have been particularly worried that contributors writing to my father about his deceased son will be too generous in their praise and not honest enough in their criticism,” he writes in the book’s ‘Afterword’.

Eimer felt angry that while she was left coping with the practical and emotional issues surrounding Jonathan’s death, her husband, John, was “running away to be with Jonathan” by immersing himself in the book.

“John withdrew into himself,” she says. “I think this book for him was survival, a way of being close to Jonathan and reconstructing Jonathan and getting to know lots of aspects we didn’t know about. I was left with all the human beings here. I had to keep the show on the road.”

CaraIosa Mehigan, Saul’s mother, was then a single mother with a new baby at home. Eleven years earlier, she had handed the rearing of Saul to Jonathan, with the support of Eimer, who understood CaraIosa’s desire for travel, education and career. Eimer advised CaraIosa that if Jonathan was to be the sole carer for a while, CaraIosa would one day have her chance. Neither woman understood how soon and how tragically that day would come. Luckily, CaraIosa and the Philbin Bowmans remained close.

When Jonathan was a baby, Eimer herself had stalled her medical career for 10 years to care for him and his sister Emma, only 11 months younger. Jonathan had been such an easy and happy baby that Eimer and John, then students, had decided to have another soon afterwards. Reality hit Eimer when, as a junior doctor, she realised there was no way she could continue her medical studies with two babies at home.

She threw herself into motherhood, teaching Jonathan and Emma to read their first words by the age of two. That’s not so unusual, but it soon became clear that Jonathan had a frighteningly advanced intelligence for his age. Whether he had a mother “hothousing” him at home (as Emma says) or not, Jonathan would always have been unusual, awkward and challenging - the curse of the gifted child.

Daniel, John and Eimer’s son, is nearly the same age as Saul and feels “competitive” towards his uncle. While the family is united, Eimer and John see CaraIosa as Saul’s main caretaker, and like any other parents of a teenager, invest their parenting energies in Daniel. “When a child dies, parents can lose sight of their other children, but Daniel wouldn’t let you lose sight of him,” says Eimer.

One can only imagine what a strange experience it was for Jonathan’s family to see his memory taken over by so many famous people who wanted to write about him. Eimer says, convincingly, that she was amazed by the postbags which followed the funeral.

She had always worried about her son’s apparent lack of intimacy with people and was concerned that his many friendships were superficial. “Jonathan had a wide range of interests and knew so many people, but in the more intimate setting of relationships with women and in family life - in the sense of the ongoing low-key relationships we all have - that was more difficult for him. His verbal intelligence was way ahead of his emotional judgment,” says Eimer.

She used to nudge her son to “be real” and engage with the intimacies of ordinary life. Each time he visited home he brought a different friend. For Eimer, good friends mean a tight-knit group of people that you have known for at least five years and spend time with. It was only when Jonathan died and the private letters began flowing in that Eimer realised how many people her son had known and how well-loved he was. “I really had no idea,” she says.

Two years on, she believes that Jonathan’s 1,000 close friends were, indeed, close and that he engaged in friendship with intensity. Because Jonathan’s legacy of admirers is so overwhelming, John is steeling himself against accusations of hagiography from cynical colleagues in the media. But he feels that the book stands on its own as a record of a changing Dublin as much as it does as a tribute to Jonathan. The index is a who’s who of 1990s Dublin and the book is evocative of the period.

Yet there’s no avoiding the fact that Jonathan bled to death, alone, from a treatable injury because he was too intoxicated to seek help. Where were the friends then? Before he died, some of Jonathan’s friends worried about his excessive drinking. Jonathan dropped a hint to his mother that he had a problem.

“It did not register with me,” says Eimer, “When he said ‘I’m going to give up drink’, I never asked, as you might: ‘Are you drinking a lot?’ After he died, I thought ‘God, the things you don’t see, the things you worry about as opposed to the things you should worry about’.”

Jonathan was good at compartmentalising his life, Eimer says, presenting different sides of himself to different people. “He was drinking a lot, but only in the last few months. We weren’t really aware of that. It all happened so quickly.”

If Jonathan had lived, John believes that he would have been a “great broadcaster” with his own chat show. John refutes the accusation that Jonathan’s influence was gained through having a famous father; he had encouraged him to be a scientist or barrister and Jonathan’s talent for journalism came as a surprise. John insists that Jonathan had achieved on his own merits, just as he had insisted on rearing Saul on his own. One of the many perplexing issues left behind is that, at the time he died, Jonathan was taking anti-depressants and getting advice “over the phone” from a psychiatrist, who didn’t know that he was drinking heavily. It’s possible that the combination of the two drugs – alcohol and anti-depressants – colluded in the behaviour that led to his death.

John and Eimer have grieved intensely, but in the end, says Eimer, “you cannot blame yourself”.

Jonathan: Memories, Reflections, Tributes by John Bowman with Eimer Philbin Bowman is published by How Tatt Press

Men and escorts: ‘I think I could tell if they didn’t like it’

May 4th, 2013

Let the right one in: some prostitutes go ‘on tour’ around Ireland. Photograph: Thinkstock
Let the right one in: some prostitutes go ‘on tour’ around Ireland. Photograph: Thinkstock

“I used to be under the illusion that I was a nice respectful john. Today I am tortured by my memories,” says David, a successful Dublin businessman in his 50s who is married with children. He says he has bought sex 200 times, in 13 countries over 20 years: on the street, with escort call-ins and in brothels, bars, clubs, hostess bars and strip clubs. He even sent a girl to a business associate as a “gift” and fell in love with a working girl he would marry if he could – but a crisis of conscience, after an underage prostitute he used was found dead, has filled him with guilt, and he has stopped buying sex.

“Some girls were so controlled that I can only conclude they were slaves. Many girls never get to exercise their right to refuse a customer, and I was involved in breaking in a trafficked girl.

“The recent move to change the law caught my attention, so I read up on laws, regulations and practices around the world. Globally, prostitution is a very ugly industry.

“Some things I read have been very upsetting, partly because they shed new light on my own experiences – incidents that previously were happy memories are now nightmares – and partly because they describe the world from a female perspective, which is new to me,” says David.

“I find it impossible to separate prostitution from the status of women in society. I am astounded when I see feminists promoting sex work. I am literally dumbstruck. I don’t know what to say. I can’t understand why anything needs to be said, it is so obvious. If they had seen what I have seen, if they had done what I have done, there would be no debate. The institution of prostitution is abhorrent. Women and girls deserve better than this.

“Because I believe it is impossible to separate forced from unforced, trafficked from willing, underage from overage, legal from illegal, I think the only reasonable option is to criminalise purchase.”

Adam, another man who uses prostitutes, disagrees. “I probably visit escorts about once a month,” he says. “Sometimes there’s elation afterwards, sometimes even indifference: the experiences vary.”

A comfortably-off single Midlands farmer in his 30s with a background in finance, Adam is one of the 6 per cent of men who admit to having paid for sex at least once, according to the 2006 Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships. A self-confessed commitmentphobe, he is wary of relationships and more comfortable paying for sex.

He says he’s been wrongly blighted by the view that all men like him are, in the words of the author and former prostitute Rachel Moran, “sexual abusers and rapists” who, in the words of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, are causing “emotional, physical and psychological harm”.

Adam rejects the idea that, with few exceptions, prostitutes are “vulnerable women who are coerced” and that “prostitution is a form of gender-based violence” , as described by Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama.

Turn Off the Red Light says that “organised crime is absolutely linked to Irish prostitution”, but this is not the world that Adam believes himself to be taking part in when he surfs the internet, researching the next “independent escort” that he plans to visit when she comes to town.

“When I’ve had a busy week, or am just in a terrific mood, I’d venture to the website to see which escorts are in my area, and if there is a particular escort I find attractive I’d ring looking for an appointment.

“Ten or 15 minutes before the appointment I ring her number again to confirm, and she gives me general directions to her location. When I reach the apartment block or hotel I make a final call for the room number.

“You reach the door with slight nerves as you knock, but nerves in the stomach turn to excitement if you hear boots on the floor as she walks to the door. Imagination is a powerful thing.

“You pretty much know within the first 10 seconds whether you’ll click or whether it will merely be a friendly but formal time, conscious of the fact that any man with any intention can walk through that door. I’m very aware of making her immediately comfortable in my presence.”

Adam says he treats the escorts he pays for sex with respect, and he is convinced they are independent and have not been trafficked or pimped. “I would love to have the courage to publicly fight for the cause of sex workers.”

If Turn Off the Red Light is successful and leads to the criminalisation of men who buy sex, Adam could be named and fined if he were caught; he says he would probably stop.

But he doesn’t regard prostitution as immoral, believing it is far worse to go into a nightclub and pick up a woman near closing time when she’s full of alcohol.

It’s more honest to be upfront about sex as a financial transaction, he says, and he disagrees with “the prevailing stereotype that prostitutes are lowest of the low and anybody consorting with them is a loser”.

Adam’s belief, and that of other men who buy sex, that escorts are selling their bodies voluntarily and are in total control of their destiny makes these men feel justified in using prostitutes.

Patrick, a Dubliner who is in his late 20s, says that looking at the provocative photographs of the women on websites and reading the “reviews” of them by other punters is part of the thrill of using escorts. He avoids using the word prostitute.

Before the internet, using prostitutes required a certain knowledge of the underworld, but today easy access through the web makes it appear almost normal, which is why, according to some escorts, the punters are younger.

For Patrick, a middle-class, educated, well-mannered young man, the emotional complexities of having a girlfriend – and he’s had a few – are sectioned off in one part of his psyche; the sex he has with prostitutes is purely recreational.

Patrick believes the notion, promoted by the websites he visits, that there is a type of woman with the steel and ambition to sell her body and that neither he nor she is doing any harm. “I admire them. They seem to enjoy it. I think I could tell if they didn’t,” he says.

Other men, such as Ciaran, view prostitution as a solution to their emotional problems. As a child, Ciaran was physically abused by his mother’s male partner. “I sometimes think that my experience of abuse may have been a contributory factor in explaining why I use the services of prostitutes. It has reduced, and continues to reduce, my confidence when relating to people in social situations, particularly women,” he says.

Ciaran, who is from Co Cork, says he is saddened by the view that “ all clients get off on hurting women”. He says, “This is certainly not the case with myself, and, speaking with escorts, they frequently state that many – but by no means all – their clients treat them with respect.”

Daniel, an older man who uses escorts, says that he feels ill at ease with women, because he is chronically shy, but that he needs to have sexual experiences in order to feel alive. He lost his virginity to a prostitute many years ago, believing that it was the only way he ever would.

Daniel sees himself and not the prostitute as the weaker person in need of the solace prostitution provides, with the prostitute the more confident person in the exchange.

Do these men deserve to be labelled as criminals? They don’t believe so.

All names have been changed

We should ban the word ‘grand’ before we go mad

June 19th, 2015

There’s so much talk these days about overcoming stigma around “mental illness” that banning the words “mental” and “illness” would be a start. I would also ban the word “okay”. How many times a day do we say it? “How are you?” “Okay, thanks.” It’s the standard greeting and it means nothing. “Are you well?” “Grand, sure, nothing to complain about.” Banning the word “grand” would also help.

Most people live behind masks, never quite exposing their authentic selves.

“Authentic”. That’s a fashionable word in psychology speak these days. Being “authentic” means that you’re marching to your own beat, singing your own tune, not having to tell white lies because you are being yourself most of the time.

“Howya?”

“Feeling a bit paranoid, actually.”

“So down I just want to spend the weekend in bed.”

“Anxious with a capital A.”

Imagine the workplace where everyone is going around telling each other how they are actually feeling. It would be chaos, but nice chaos. It might even improve productivity.

Perhaps it’s a bit of a luxury, being authentic. Celebrities and talented artists make their livings being “authentic”. When you’re famous, it’s acceptable to be a bit loony. It may even be your calling card.

Concert pianist James Rhodes, author of Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music, is an adequate performer, but what his audiences really love is his openness about the “madness” that provoked composers such as Beethoven and Bach to make sense of their crazy worlds through music.

He knows all about it, having gone “mad” himself over 30 years of coping with having been sexually abused by a sports coach at the age of six. His ex-wife tried to have the book banned, so fearful was she of the stigma it might place on their young son.

At the end of a self-exposing in-depth interview about his struggles with being a victim of child abuse and the psychological travails that resulted, John Murray, on RTÉ Radio 1, asked him, “How’s your health?” Rhodes answered that sometimes he felt “just a few bad weeks away from a locked ward, but apart from that not too shabby”.

“And how’s your health?” Rhodes asked Murray.

“Very good thank you. Can’t complain at all,” he answered, in true Irish style.

The snap answer is, of course, polite. And it makes us all feel a little better on one level, but perhaps lonelier on another, if we believe everyone when they say they’re “right as rain”.

There’s a great illustration of this in psychiatrist Jeffrey A Lieberman’s book Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry. Lieberman attended the launch of a suicide-prevention charity organised by a famous socialite in response to her son’s suicide. It was a brunch event; socialites and other influential people snacked on smoked salmon, sipped Chablis and made polite conversation. These were the sane people helping out those who fall through the cracks. Or were they? Within days of the event, Lieberman started getting phone calls from the seemingly well-adjusted people at the party. One after the other, they rang him to share their psychological difficulties and ask for help.

Most of us are good at masking our inner turmoil, even though emotional pain and confusion are part of the human condition. It’s why the Irish drink so much and why there seems to be a new “mental health” charity or fundraiser launched every week. One of these efforts encourages people to share how they’re feeling with others. Another, for the Alzheimer Society, has posters with pictures of “normal” looking people with the slogan, “I have dementia, I’m still me”.

I’d like to see similar posters with “I have depression, I’m still me”, and “I have chronic anxiety, I’m still me.” People who suffer from such problems look just as normal.

Public campaigns encouraging openness are to be welcomed, but there is some way to go before people with mind problems are given more than sympathy. To feel empathy, you need to identify, but that’s difficult when so many of us are afraid to reveal our authentic selves. We live in a society where the unspoken mantras are “pull yourself together”, “look who you’re hurting” and “try going for a walk in the fresh air”.

A lot of us feel inspired by people such as James Rhodes who share their emotional trials. But would we do it ourselves? A fear remains that saying too much will stigmatise us.

And so we go on saying “okay”.

“Grand, sure.”

“Not a bother.”

When we’re screaming inside.

The naked man, the Dart, and me

July 3rd, 2015

Last Monday evening, 7.15pm. The southbound Dart train’s emergency brakes screech and scream for several deafening, terrifying seconds until it halts abruptly. Then silence. No crash. We’re still alive, is my first thought. Hundreds of homebound commuters on the packed train have had their routine disturbed. They look out the windows.

“There’s a naked man on the tracks,” a woman says. People raise their iPhones to take pictures of the tanned body with the wizened face running past the window. Some laugh and joke. Most ignore him and go back to their digital devices and books for distraction. This is an annoyance, nothing more. Let’s hope it doesn’t last too long.

The naked man disappears. For several minutes we don’t know what’s going on. Next the driver announces that there is a naked man lying on the tracks in front of the train, preventing us from moving. We have been stuck between Blackrock and Seapoint stations for 10 minutes. The naked man emerges again along the side of the train like a freakish sideshow. A female commuter comments that he must be enjoying the attention.

“If there is any security on the train, please come to the driver’s cabin,” comes the announcement. Burly men in black do not appear.

Eventually the train begins to move again in slow fits and starts, then stops at Seapoint station. The doors open and remain open, giving access to the platform and giving the weary passengers much-needed fresh air. The naked man runs past the open doors. He is losing his novelty for the commuters, mostly workers, on a hot evening when they want to get home to enjoy the last of the good weather.

As he runs back and forth, I catch his eye and see the fear in his face. He is terrified. A young woman in dark trousers and a pink jacket leaves the train to talk to him. He is very agitated. She tries to hold his attention. Her body language is confident but she is having difficulty keeping him from moving past her to jump on to the tracks again.

The driver has given the naked man an orange hi-vis vest to wear. It barely covers what it’s meant to. It’s comical to some of the commuters and provides another photo opportunity.

****

I leave the train and approach the man. “What’s your name? Why are you doing this?”

He fixates on me.

“What’s your name?” I ask again.

He latches on to my gaze and tells me his name. Let’s say it’s Joe.

“Joe, why are you doing this?”

“They’re after me. The train; it wants to kill me.”

His language and his story are confused, as he speaks about enemies that only he can see. “No guards, no guards.” He tries to jump up on a metal bench and over the wall. He is bleeding.

“What happened?” Joe says that he fell off a 30-foot wall on to the tracks and lost his clothes.

“Lost them where? Were you sunbathing?”

“Yeah,” he says, before insisting that he was not attempting to take his own life.

When he tries to run again, the young woman grabs his arm in a professional manner. He doesn’t like this. He threatens to jump again.

“Joe, are you on drugs?” I ask.

“No. They’re after me. I don’t want the guards. The guards will kill me.”

The young woman says calmly and with authority, “I’m sure you know some guards. They’ll take you to hospital. You’re bleeding. You need to be looked after.”

The driver is standing firm on the other side of the young woman, the three of us corralling him. The driver tells me the naked man was lying on the tracks. He’s lucky to be alive, and the driver is shaken. His heart “won’t stop beating fast”, he tells me.

The gardaí are taking ages to arrive. The young woman whispers, “I’m a garda, but he can’t know that.”

The off-duty garda keeps trying to ring the nearest Garda stations, but they don’t answer. For 30 minutes there is no response from them. We hear sirens, but they’re not for us. The siren sounds agitate Joe further and he talks insensibly about the terrible things they are going to do to him.

“I’m on my way to a party and now I’m late. Really late,” the young woman says. She has to go home and change, and then head back into town.

I ask Joe where he lives, whether he has a family, and whether I can phone anyone for him. Like the off-duty garda, I stand close enough to him to keep him from running but not so close as to threaten him.

I don’t let his gaze leave mine. He keeps looking to me for reassurance.

“You’re going to be okay, Joe,” I say, wishing I could believe it.

“When they come for me, will you come with me?” he asks me, like a child. He says he is 53. He looks older. Has a gold stud in his left ear.

“Tell me about your tattoos.” The question seems to ground him a little. He looks over his body and shows off a tattoo on one arm with his daughter’s name, and a tattoo on his chest with an ex-girlfriend’s name. Joe seems utterly unselfconscious about standing almost naked on a train platform dressed only in an orange high-vis vest.

“Have you been in hospital? Do you need to be back in hospital?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, to both.

“The gardaí will take you to hospital,” the young woman says.

I tell him that I am a journalist and ask him to tell me his story. I ring the newsdesk at The Irish Times and give him my phone to speak to a reporter. Joe seems eased by this acknowledgement that his story is important. He tells his story and it calms him down.

A tall, thin man emerges from the train and walks slowly towards Joe, as one might approach a scared wild animal. He says gently: “You know me, Joe. I know you. I’m a nurse.” He names the psychiatric hospitals where he has worked. I can see the hospital ID tag around his neck. “Look at all these people who want to go home. Why don’t you come for a walk with me, and let them go home,” the nurse says gently.

“No,” says the off-duty garda.

The naked man turns away from the nurse, who withdraws, and tries to climb on to a bench to jump over the wall. The off-duty garda grabs his arm to stop him.

Joe becomes more agitated and wants to run along the tracks to Dún Laoghaire. He wants only to go home.

A man, an insurance salesman, gets off the train and stands by the end of the platform so he can stop the man before he attempts to jump back on to the tracks.

Finally, the gardaí arrive, walking confidently at a slow pace down the platform. The train doors start to beep. It starts up again as the gardaí approach Joe. They are much bigger than him, and he goes peacefully.

The train doors start to beep indicating that it’s about to leave. I jump back on to the train, and a few seconds later the young garda just makes it through the doors .”I was terrified the train was going to leave before they got here and I was going to be alone with him. I’m late for my party,” she says again.

“He really wanted to tell his story. I think it calmed him down,” I say.

“I was going to kill you at first,” she says.

“You’re a great social worker. That training in Templemore must be pretty good.”

She smiles.

We chat our way back to normalcy for a couple of stops.

I disembark at my station and walk home. I’m unable to sleep wondering what has happened to Joe. There is a news report about the disrupted Dart services. But there is one disrupted life that I can’t forget.

*****

Three days later, I am on my way to work when Joe gets on the Dart and sits beside me. He’s delighted to see me and is in much better form. He’s wearing a shiny green and orange Adidas tracksuit, and new fluorescent orange and green runners.

“You’re looking well. Much better,” I say.

I notice a few stares as I sit with him and he blurts out his story. He says he was trying to kill himself on Monday. This is the opposite of what he had said to me and the off-duty garda that evening.

“Why?”

“I was psychotic. It was the drugs. I thought the train was going to kill me. It wasn’t even a train. This voice in my head. Telling me that I had a choice. I could go out and attack a paedophile, or else kill myself.”

“What was the drug?”

It was snowblow, he says: the crack cocaine of the moment, and in many ways worse because you never know what’s in it, he explains.

“I was going to kill anyone who touched me.” I remember the off-duty garda gripping his arm and how he reacted. How she didn’t touch him again. Joe says he knew she was a garda all along.

Joe’s story flows out, more cogently than last time. He is homeless. He is living in an abandoned house in Dún Laoghaire. He can’t use hostels because he’s afraid to be in a room with other people: not for his own safety, but for theirs, he says.

He tells me he has just got out of prison in the past few days. His brother died an hour after he got out. He couldn’t attend his brother’s funeral because he wasn’t able to go to the church. He can’t go anywhere near a church. His family has fractured, with his wife and daughter living with his brother, who is his daughter’s “stepfather”. He says that before Monday’s incident he had been clean of drugs for two years: “even methadone, and that’s the hardest to come off”. That was in prison. So having been detoxed, the snowblow hit him hard.

“Where did the gardaí take you?”

To the garda station, where they locked him up, he tells me. “I was alone and the demons were all around me I could see them dancing on the walls. I don’t know how long I was in there; it felt like days. I wanted to be sectioned [put in a locked ward in a psychiatric unit] but they wouldn’t listen.

“Then I heard the bastard who gave me the snowblow in the next cell and that made it worse.” He says he is angry at the drug dealer for “playing a trick” on him with such a strong drug.

When the gardaí let him go, he left the station. Later he went to the dlr LexIcon, the new library in Dún Laoghaire that cost €36.6 million, and sat on the steps. The man who sold him the drug came and sat beside him. Joe thinks this man should be “sliced up”; he suggests this has already happened but it wasn’t him who did it. “People think I did it but I didn’t.” He says there was a fight on Dún Laoghaire pier, where the dealer was attacked. It’s impossible to know whether to believe any of this.

Joe says he was put into an industrial school at the age of 12. “I’ve been in prison ever since,” he says. He started heroin at 16 and has been in and out of prison for theft to pay for drugs.

He mentions The General, Martin Cahill.

He talks about the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse.

Joe seems unaware of the other commuters eavesdropping on our conversation. He rants about paedophiles and “Brothers”. He says he was sexually abused and that the drugs were meant to kill the pain, but they didn’t. He says he sees the demons who abused him all day and all night, and can’t get them out of his head.

The other commuters have kept their faces turned, and ignore Joe and I as we disembark at Tara Street station.

Joe says he feels that his life was destroyed in childhood, and that the decades since have been about killing the pain.

As we go down the stairs, there are several security people waiting at the gates and scanning the passengers getting off the trains. Joe puts his ticket in the machine. It doesn’t work, so he goes through the security point and is passed through.

We shake hands. He thanks me for listening to his story. “Please write it. I want everyone to know. I want my brother to know. There’s a book in me.”

Joe heads off to get his social welfare payment. After that he plans to go to Merchants’ Quay Ireland homeless and drugs service, where he will get food.

“Will you do drugs today?” No, he answers, limping severely. It looks as if he was injured in the fall and hasn’t been treated.

“See you, and thank you,” he says, as he is absorbed into city homelessness and I head to work in my shiny office.

I expect I shall meet him again on the Dart some day.

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