Norah Casey: my first husband ‘battered me senseless’
After one assault I’d three broken ribs, a broken cheekbone and bruising all over my body
Norah Casey said she had endured years of domestic abuse before leaving her husband and rebuilding her life. Photograph: The Irish Times
“I think it is healing sometimes to tell people, but I didn’t expect to tell the whole country,” Norah Casey said last night on The Late Late Show.
It was the last show of the current season and the audience was giddy with a bonanza of gifts.
There had been a piece about gardening, a man made posh gins and tonics from different Irish gins, a former royal butler drip-fed more unseemly gossip about the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
The final guest was businesswoman Norah Casey.
But she did not talk about business.
She spoke publicly for the first time about the domestic violence she suffered over a nine-year period in her first marriage, to a man named Peter.
“Why now?” presenter Ryan Tubridy asked.
“I ask myself all the time, why didn’t I do it before this?” Casey said. She explained she didn’t speak out before because she was ashamed. She was in denial. She didn’t want to think about it.
But now she was speaking out because she felt a societal responsibility to do so. “We are the first generation to share our testimony. All those brave people who talked in the Yes campaign, people who talked about child sexual abuse, about alcoholism, about addiction. If we take our secrets to the grave, we are not passing anything on humanity, to the next generation,” she said.
Casey was visibly nervous, speaking in bursts, and at speed. She was close to tears at times. Twice she stopped to compose herself.
I’m not going to make him out to be a monster, because he was charismatic
There were indisputably some people watching at home, listening to someone tell a story that bears so much similarity to theirs and who were also willing her to keep talking; to expose difficult, painful and necessary truths.
Tubridy told her to take her time. Norah Casey paused. She took a breath, and then another, and kept going.
Casey met her first husband in London when she was 23.
“I’m not going to make him out to be a monster, because he was charismatic,” she said. “My father thought he was a lovely gentleman.”
Early in their relationship, the night before they were due to go on holiday to Asia, they went out for dinner.
“That night, we were coming back from dinner and I said something to irritate him, I don’t know what it was. We were coming into the drive, and he slammed on the brakes. There was a bad atmosphere. I went to get out of the car and he got out and he came round to my side and I thought he was going to give me a hug.
He grabbed my head and slammed it off the side of the car, really forcibly
“Instead, he grabbed my head and slammed it off the side of the car, really forcibly, and then he just casually opened the door of the house and walked in... I eventually followed him in and sat on the couch for ages.
He went upstairs to bed.
I was really stunned. ‘God did that really happen, did he really do that’? He seemed so normal and casual about just going up to bed.
All night I am sitting there, thinking what am I going to do about tomorrow? And here’s the terrible thing, if I’m being really honest: I was thinking how was I going to camouflage the bruising around the side of my face?”
Camouflage the bruising
Some 15 minutes into their flight to Asia the next day Peter “leaned over and touched my face. The whole side of my face was swollen, my ear was swollen up.
He had tears in his eyes and he said, ‘I am really, really sorry.’
'That was a terrible thing for me to do. It was the stress of work and the holiday and I shouldn’t have done that.'
I think I learned later that this was part of a process; of apologising. When you love someone, and you believe they love you, you forgive them. You want to to believe that they are going to change. It was the start of me saying, I was to blame.”
They got married. Her husband did not change. The physical and emotional abuse continued. “I can’t tell you over the years how your self-esteem goes through the floor. I was the original five to niner; I was leaving as early as possible for work and staying as long as possible to avoid going home.”
She wanted to leave, but could not. “In my head, I was leaving all the time. Every Friday I came home from work and said [to herself] I was leaving. Every Monday I cried on the way into work in despair, saying why didn’t I leave him.”
I was 23; it was my first relationship. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed. That’s the truth.
On one occasion, after a night out, Casey related how her husband had “battered me senseless. He kicked me, he punched me, he got me on the ground, and he went to get a knife from the kitchen.” He was screaming at her, saying it all was her ‘own fault’.
After that assault, she had three broken ribs, a broken cheekbone, and bruising all over her body. It was days before her husband took her to a doctor, who questioned her story of falling down the stairs. She was still unable to tell anyone the truth. “I told so many lies.”
“Why didn’t you leave?” Tubridy asked.
“It’s complicated, and I don’t think anybody who has not lived that life can understand how complicated it is,” Casey answered. “On the most practical end of things, I had no money.
We had no joint accounts. He owned everything. He owned the house. I had nothing, absolutely nothing. I had no concept of what life might be like without him. I had been living with him since I was 23; it was my first relationship. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed. That’s the truth.”
Six months after Norah Casey’s husband had stood over her in their own house with a kitchen knife, she found the courage to leave. She checked into the cheapest hotel she could find in London, at a nightly rate she can still recall, decades later, “£24.99.”
She started a new life, one without her abusive husband. “I survived,” she told Ryan Tubridy at the end of the interview.
The Late Late audience, attentive, stunned and appalled, applauded her bravery for telling a story we all know is not singular to Norah Casey.
Women’s Aid - domestic violence service
Safe Ireland - supports for women and children