‘There are no words to describe the darkness that I endured... working in the gardaí’

Cork-born Majella Moynihan has shared her story in a new book, about the difficult years she spent in An Garda Siochana, after she became pregnant outside of marriage, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
‘There are no words to describe the darkness that I endured... working in the gardaí’

Majella Moynihan.

MAJELLA Moynihan says she would have been “a fantastic garda” but for the fact she was blighted by shame.

The 15 years she spent in the force were extremely difficult because she became pregnant, outside of marriage, by a garda.

She was cautioned after giving birth in 1984 and later charged with two counts of misconduct under garda discipline regulations, including being accused of “conduct likely to bring discredit on the force” by giving birth outside of marriage.

However, Majella wasn’t fired. She says a meeting took place between garda commissioner Lawrence Wren and the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Kevin McNamara. The archbishop advised against dismissing her as it might encourage other unwed ban gardaí to go to England for abortions.

According to Majella, the two men decided she was to be cautioned. (The family of the late Lawrence Wren have denied there was any involvement in the case by the archbishop.)

Majella Moynihan. Pic via RTE.
Majella Moynihan. Pic via RTE.

Majella, 58, originally from Kanturk in County Cork, now lives in Leitrim, and tells her story in A Guarded Life: My Story of the Dark Side of An Garda Siochana

It has been 36 years since she gave birth to her first child whom she wasn’t allowed hold and who was put up for adoption. As she says, no matter what a single mother-to-be did at that time, she was always going to be “wrong”.

“If you went to England for an abortion, you were committing murder but if you went ahead and had your baby, you were still wrong.”

The 1980s don’t seem that long ago, but they were a terrible decade for women in this country, with the Kerry babies case and the tragic death of Ann Lovett, a teenager who died in childbirth beside a grotto in County Longford. There was also the dismissal of teacher, Eileen Flynn, in 1982, for living with a married man.

Majella says that the father of her son was fined £90 for his ‘crime’. That sure beats a lengthy endurance of guilt experienced by an innocent woman.

“I lived 15 years in shame. I put my head down and I wasn’t able to be who I truly was. There are no words to describe the darkness that I endured in those years working in the gardaí. I was in counselling for many years. Only for it, I don’t think I’d be here today. It opened up wounds. They had to be opened up for me to be free.”

Majella left the gardaí in 1998.

“I had just had enough of the hypocrisy and enough of the pain. It was just shame. I couldn’t let go of that shame. I was told I’d never get on,” Majella said.

“After leaving, I worked as a shop assistant and a home help. For a girl that had so much potential, I didn’t reach my potential.

“You think at 18 that the world is your oyster and that everyone is going to support you. You just want to go out there and fly like a butterfly. But having your wings clipped at a young age is very daunting.”

A Guarded Life by Majella Moynihan with Aoife Kelleher
A Guarded Life by Majella Moynihan with Aoife Kelleher

HER OWN CHILDHOOD

Life dealt Majella a cruel hand when she was only 18 months. Her mother died and she and her siblings were taken from their home in Banteer and put into St Joseph’s Industrial School in Mallow while their father emigrated to England.

While Majella formed great friendships at St Joseph’s, that endure today, she experienced “horrific beatings there from the age of 11 to 18.

“I was beaten because I spoke up and I didn’t agree with what was being done. The place was run by the Mercy nuns who didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘mercy’. But like every organisation, not everyone was bad. There were some nice nuns.”

As a child, Majella felt unloved.

“In an industrial school, it’s very hard for a child to get affection because there are so many other children and we were all craving the one thing which is love.

“But there was Sister Claire Caplis who I can honestly say was like the Mother Teresa of Ireland. She was a wonderful, humble, maternal, beautiful lady and a cook, Patsy, was wonderful to us as well.”

At 18, Majella moved to Dublin and lived on and off, for a while, with her father and stepmother, which she found difficult.

“I don’t know how I did it. It was very scary, going into a house with a man and a woman whom I barely knew. I was coming in as a free spirit. It was as hard for them as it was for me.”

VERY DARK DAYS

A few years later, after giving birth and being shamed she said: “I got so low that suicide was the only option I had. I wanted to go. I couldn’t see light. There was blackness there all the time.

“I was in the height of depression. I used alcohol to block things out. I couldn’t forgive myself because I believed what I was told. It was like the words were carved on my heart, that ban gardaí are supposed to be much stronger morally and that I had demoralised the force. In hindsight, looking back at that 21-year-old, I didn’t do anything wrong. The greatest gift of all was that I gave birth.”

Majella Moynihan on The Late Late Show. Picture: The Late Late Show/Twitter.
Majella Moynihan on The Late Late Show. Picture: The Late Late Show/Twitter.

Majella later married a garda sargeant and the couple had a son together. The marriage didn’t last.

“That’s no reflection on my husband. He’s a great man. It was hard for him. He had fantastic memories of the gardaí. He loved his job and was much admired in the organisation. It must have been hard for him when I was speaking about the gardaí with all the anger I had for the organisation.”

On a number of occasions, Majella had to be hospitalised in St John of God.

“The last time I was there was in February of this year. I had an awakening of all the dark pain.

“Although I had had many occasions of counselling, for me, it was the final peeling of the onion. The pain was so much that I needed help.”

REUNITED WITH HER SON

Majella met her first born son, now aged 36, when he was 27.

“It was very daunting, very emotional and very unreal. It was what I dreamt of for 27 years.”

Over the course of other meetings, Majella told her son about what happened to her.

“I wouldn’t say that we have a very good relationship. I think both of us are healing and I pray that it will come right eventually. He’s a great guy. I love him and respect him and am very proud of him. I just hope that some day, we will unite as mother and son.”

Last year, on foot of an RTÉ Radio 1 documentary about her story, Majella received an official state apology: “That helped me. For the first time, I was vindicated and my name was cleared of any wrongdoing.”

She would describe herself as a feminist.

“I think the alienation of women in this society is just ferocious. Women have got to stick together. Our voices have got to be heard. We are no longer going to be suppressed.

“I hope that from my book (ghost written by Aoife Kelleher) and documentary, women will come forward and reveal their pain and release it. If someone hears your story, it will resonate with them.”

A Guarded Life: My story of the Dark Side of An Garda Siochána is published by Hachette Ireland.

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