THE voices of two brave women who escaped abusive relationships and found support with Clare Haven rang out at the Old Ground Hotel during the launch of new book ‘Light on the Horizon’ last week.
The book is the inspiring story of a community that said no to domestic abuse, recalling the founding of Clare Haven 30 years ago, and detailing the ongoing efforts to combat domestic abuse and coercive control in the county.
At the launch, audio clips of Joan and Norma (not their real names), who had used the Clare Haven refuge, were played leaving some members of the audience visibly moved.
Joan recalled when she left her controlling husband with no idea where to turn.
“I walked out just with my handbag and I didn’t know where I was going. Him, saying to me shouting, ‘you’d be nothing, you’re nothing without me, it’s cold out there’ and I thought…just don’t turn, just keep walking. I had €10 in my bag and a €10 mobile.”
A supportive friend told her about the Clare Haven refuge.
“I thought that I wouldn’t qualify for the refuge because I wasn’t physically beaten up. I didn’t have black eyes or a broken arm,” she remembers.
However she was wrong and the refuge offered her a place to stay where she felt safe.
“The hardest part is asking for the help. That is the hardest part. Asking for help because at the back of your mind you’re fearful that people won’t believe you.
“I mean, it’s a combination of the fear and the shame that keep you trapped. That is, I think, that’s just the truth in a nutshell. It’s like you’re keeping their behaviour secret. You’re protecting them. You’re protecting the person that’s hurting you.”
She continued, “The help is available, you just have to ask for it and you have to trust that people won’t judge you and will believe you and will be there for you.
“By going to the refuge, it gave me the chance to start again with nothing. I was terrified, and it was a quantum leap into nothing.
“Leaving, not knowing and yet people are there to help you help yourself, I respect myself today and I am truly grateful that I’m not a statistic, or taken my own life, in prison or still imprisoned in a horrible place pretending to be OK.
“I have peace of mind today and love in my heart. It is priceless The legacy of my past has been broken. Trust me, there are many parachutes available to ease your way and help you and your children to a safe landing and freedom.”
The book was launched last Thursday in the Banner Suite in the Old Ground Hotel where proprietor Allen Flynn and his team provided wine and canapés to a huge audience.
Traditional Irish music was played by Brid Long and Kevin Finnucane.
Book sales on the night were extremely brisk. An archive of materials collated over the years was on display in the Lemaneagh Hall.
The book is dedicated to the 251 women murdered in Ireland between 1996 and 2022 whose names have been collated as part of the Women’s Aid Femicide Watch and which are printed at the centre of Light on the Horizon.
It is also dedicated to all the women and girls who have experienced domestic and sexual violence.
The book tells the story of the 30-year response to domestic abuse in County Clare which started in 1992 when Ennis women Colette Reddington and Mary Fitzgerald met by chance.
Colette and Mary both helped women who had experienced domestic abuse.
As there was no refuge and no services for victims of domestic violence in Clare, Colette and Mary first brought women to Adapt House in Limerick and also organised B&B accommodation for women when the refuge was full.
They then secured a house in Ennis that could accommodate one family at a time and Clare Haven was born.
Later, they established a refuge, second-stage houses, a full range of outreach services and an education programme in Clare.
As one in four Irish women experience domestic violence they realised that they needed to break the cycle, and Haven Horizons, a second organisation was founded as a national education and research centre dedicated to preventing domestic abuse.
On the night of the launch Ms Redington, co-founder of Clare Haven and Haven Horizons said, “As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
She praised people who had made important contributions saying.
“Pat Downes who owned a house on Steele’s Terrace in Ennis took a leap of faith and put his trust in Mary and me, renting his property to us so that we could provide safety for one family at a time. He was one of many champions we met along the way.”
She also remembered the invaluable support of Maeve O’Brien Kelly founder of Adapt House in Limerick saying, “Maeve was a mentor providing invaluable guidance and practical support.”
Other ‘champions’ in attendance at the launch were businessman Gerry Brennan whose family paid the rent and overheads for the premises in Steele’s Terrace and Bishop Willie Walsh who supported the work from day one and issued a statement in 2000 to say that women should leave abusive relationships.
Both Gerry Brennan and Bishop Walsh remain Clare Haven Services Trustees 30 years later.
There was complete silence in the room when audio clips of Norma and Joan’s stories were played with Colette saying, “You could have heard a pin drop.”
In her speech columnist and writer, Sarah Harte who edited the book remarked, “Tonight, is a joyous occasion. We are here to celebrate the indomitable human will to survive as evidenced by Norma and Joan’s stories – Joan and Norma are victors, not victims.”
Padraig Haran, co-author of the book said, “Researching and writing this book was a personal education. I have come to understand the nature of relationship abuse, the scale of it, and the factors that enable its perpetrators to continue abuse and to keep their tyranny hidden.
“Clare Haven always understood that raising awareness was a key part of the battle against abuse. This book is more than a selection of memories, it aims to educate and raise awareness.”
Madeline McAleer paid tribute to those who had helped the organisation including all the staff, volunteers and so many members of the public in Clare who have supported the work.
She said, “I’m delighted to say that we have a wonderful book Light on the Horizon which not only tells the story, it also identifies the social and legal turning points in the response to domestic abuse over the last thirty years and looks to the future.”
Speaking about coercive control Madeline said, “High-profile cases spotlighted in the media this year have brought the concept of coercive control into public consciousness.
“But it is particularly insidious and hard to detect unless you know the signs to look for – the tactics and threats used to micro-manage someone else’s life.
“It is only through learning how to recognise domestic abuse and coercive control and responding to it appropriately at all levels that systemic change can happen.”
Clare Haven Services’ chairman Ciaran Lynch spoke about how the refuge was a core part of their service and provoked laughter when speaking about plans for a new refuge saying, “I warn you now, money will be needed so watch this space!”
Colette commended Mairead Mannion and her award-winning team at the Clare Haven Horizons Charity Shop for the funding they generate for both Clare Haven Services and Haven Horizons.
At the conclusion of the event there was a lengthy standing ovation for Mary and Colette and for co-authors of the book, Padraig and Madeline.
Those in attendance agreed that it had been a memorable night and another milestone in the Clare Haven Services and Haven Horizons journey.
Light on the Horizon is available to buy online and in store in the Ennis and Lahinch Bookshop. It is also available in O’Mahony’s Ennis, The Salmon Book Shop Ennistymon, The Banner Bookshop Ennistymon and Kilrush, and the Winding Stair bookshop in Dublin. The book can be purchased on the Ennis Bookshop website at https://www.ennisbookshop.ie/
For anyone affected by domestic abuse contact: Women’s Aid 24-hour national freephone helpline – 1800 341 900 or Clare Haven Services – 24-hour confidential helpline – 065 6822435