The power of Abbeydorney lies not in the value of its real estate, the fertility of its land or, indeed, the reputations of its once prodigious ploughing champions.
This small north Kerry village packs an emotional punch because it once acted as a vector for one of Ireland’s coming of age struggles – with a misogynist, paternalist justice system and a perverted interpretation of morality, all seen through the prism of a young woman’s affair with a married man.
As the yellow paint peels from the walls of a main street pub, long-since boarded up, the code of yellow, symbol of those who rallied in support of this 20 year old local girl caught in a maelstrom, has a transporting effect still.
To my eyes, this is a village that seems exhausted. The church, a functional build for the swelling faithful in the 1960s or 1970s, has a struggling quality to it; its brickwork is intact, but it seems lacking for care nonetheless.
‘It did its job back then, but it no longer has the people.’
An elderly gentleman, crossing the road with his bicycle, has stopped to chat.
His means of transport is a unique result of DIY engineering; an old racing bike with rotated handlebars splayed upwards giving it the form of a stag while easing pressure on the cyclist’s back. To the rear, a supermarket basket lashed to the bicycle frame, carrying the reason for his present afternoon excursion – grocery shopping, including a dozen buns which peaked out the top, invitingly.
He himself is dressed in a haphazard manner that suggests he wants for a mirror, or perhaps for a reason to care about style at all. The fly of his grey pants being half open adds to a first impression of general disarray.
But my cycling companion is no two-dimensional village buffoon, and his thoughtful conversation confirms it.
I only know Abbeydorney for one reason, I say, invoking the unspoken.
‘Joanne?’ he replies, in quiet tones, after a silence. ‘Sure she was only young then. No more than twenty. She’s still here, still around.’
The extraordinary case of Joanne Hayes, accused of giving birth to, and then killing, two infants – one of whose bodies was found, knifed, on the shores of Cahirciveen in south Kerry, the other’s recovered on her farm, having died through indetermined causes, had fully engaged me as a young adult.
The Garda case began to fall apart when blood tests showed that both infants could not have been Hayes’, except for a remote, almost theoretical, possibility that she had been impregnated within 24 hours by two different men.
The six month inquiry, ostensibly into the actions of the Gardaí, became a vivisection of Joanne Hayes’ life – her choices, actions and putative actions were laid bare. Voyeurism ruled the airways as a sexually repressed nation became both obsessed and outraged by what might have happened. For those with a wit to listen, echoes of Salem ran through the land.
‘What’s for sure’, said this man on the streets of Abbeydorney 29 years later, ‘is that she only had one of those babies. The Cahirciveen baby was a pure coincidence and nothing to do with Joanne.’
That murdered infant, found in 1984 on the Kerry shore, has never been identified, nor has any culprit been apprehended. Joanne’s explanation for the death of her own child was deeply sad and troubling, but betrayed much more of familial tragedy than criminal intent.
He shook his head when he thought of the furore.
‘It’s much less now’, he said. ‘Time heals. At one stage though, I’d make a point of telling people I was from Abbeydorney. Just to see the reaction. Mostly they’d show no emotion. Afraid I might be related to her or something…’
He smiled a broad, devilish smile.
Beside the Church was a small, disused building, adrift with unkempt grass and weeds . I figured it was the priest’s house. Surely there was no priest here anymore?
‘That’s not the priest’s house’, he replied to my question. ‘He lives out the road. That was the barracks. Closed now. It will be sold soon, I suppose.’
Without much ado, I left this village – little more than a crossroads – which once found itself in the crosshairs. Cycling northwards, I reflected on what had transpired there, and what my curious, insightful man on the ground had said.
Joanne had survived, the village was struggling, its church dwindling. It all seemed pretty miserable.
‘Barracks’ I thought to myself, recalling the disused building next to the church adrift with weeds.
What would the Army be doing having a barracks in Abbeydorney?
It was then that it dawned on me.
He was referring to the Garda Station. That was the barracks that was closed.
Justice had left Abbeydorney, and grass was growing up through its cobbles.
Somehow, I saw this as the seeds of hope for not just a small village, but for the small nation that so disowned it.
Brian McIntyre. August 2013
About Rothar Republic
My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).
In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.
I figure this is a 28 day-long expedition covering about 2,500km.
All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.
If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.