Seven members of a Dublin family, the picture of respectability, came together last week to defend their dead father's good name
Sunday Tribune, 24 September 2006 by Ann Marie Hourihane
IRELAND does not make families like the O'Beirnes any more. Nine siblings, all living now in middle age. The O'Beirnes are from another time. "We all got slapped when we were kids, " said Eamon O'Beirne. "Who is there here in this room who did not get slapped when they were kids? The police gave you a slap when they got you in a corner."
He remembered his father "out tilling turnips with a brother of mine at six in the morning, before he went to work". Now this collective past is another country to us all, and we buy a lot of books about it.
Like several Irish families before them, the O'Beirnes have assembled to deny the picture of the past painted by one solitary member. Just as Sinead O'Connor's family have denied impressions she has given about their collective childhood. Just as Limerick rallied to the defence of the original Angela, who was turned into the bestselling Angela's Ashes, and sold.
The O'Beirne family has been the subject of one of these books and now here they all are, springing from its pages, seven members of the O'Beirne family all lined up on the bench seating of a Dublin pub last week to fight a version of their past. The men were in jackets, the women had their blonde hair done, and collectively they were the picture of respectability . . . a nice family, a decent family.
The most striking thing about them was the strong resemblance that they . . . particularly the two O'Beirne sisters, Mary and Margaret . . . bear to their sister Kathleen. The same noses, the same handsome long faces, looking out at us all, not from the pages of a book but in the real world.
But, just in case there was any doubt, the O'Beirnes had brought along a copy of Kathleen's birth certificate. It shows that Kathleen Elizabeth was born on 18 October 1956 at St Kevin's hospital. This is proof, say the O'Beirnes, that Kathleen was not adopted as she has claimed. As Eamon O'Beirne put it: "I can only assume that she's lived other people's lives."
It was Kathleen that we were there to discuss.
Kathleen, who has written a book, Kathy's Story, which sells in the UK under the title Don't Ever Tell.
Kathleen O'Beirne wrote the book with the Dublin journalist Michael Sheridan.
It tells a harrowing tale of Kathleen having been abused by her late father, Oliver O'Beirne senior, raped by priests, incarcerated in one of the notorious Magdalene laundries. This story has sold 350,000 copies in the UK and Ireland. The only problem is that the assembled members of the O'Beirne family say that it is not true. A claim that Kathleen O'Beirne, her co-author Michael Sheridan, and their publisher, Mainstream, deny.
The O'Beirnes are particularly upset by what they say is a slander on the memory of their father. "The allegations are untrue, " said Oliver O'Beirne junior sadly. Far from abusing Kathleen, they say, their father bailed her out when she was charged with criminal offences and went to court with her. In a printed statement, the O'Beirne family said: "Our sister has a self-admitted psychiatric and criminal history, and her perception of reality has always been flawed."
Through the chaos of seven individually held memories, from a household which held 11 people 40 years ago, the O'Beirnes have tried to piece together the truth about the time Kathleen O'Beirne claims that she was incarcerated in nightmare institutions. In 1968, they remember Kathleen dressing her younger sister, Mary, to greet their mother on her return from hospital after delivering the new baby, Margaret. In 1969, they remember Brian and Kathy in hospital together, both having their tonsils out. In 1970, they say, Kathleen made her Confirmation from the family home, with her brother Eamon, so she was still living at home at this period and had not had a baby, as she has claimed.
And so on and on, right down to 1978 when her parents and her sisters visited her in Mountjoy prison. Mary was vague on what Kathleen's crime had been. "I assume it was theft, " she says. Mary O'Beirne is much clearer about the damage her sister's book has done. "We can't go on like this, " she says. "I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't bring my children to school." Perhaps the past is not so lightly visited, for entertainment purposes, as the rest of us would like to imagine.
KATHY O'BEIRNE, the eldest of nine children from Clondalkin, Dublin, released Kathy's Story . . . Don't Ever Tell' a biography of her life, in June 2005. Co-written with journalist Michael Sheridan and published by Mainstream Publications, O'Beirne shocked the nation with her story of neglect and abuse.
According to the book, her father, Oliver, regularly beat and abused her, on one occasion putting her hand in a pan of hot grease, another time catching her fingers in the kitchen door. The night before her Holy Communion, Kathy says she was raped by a local boy. At the age of eight, her father put her into a children's home, where she says she was raped by a priest. At the age of 10, she was put into a psychiatric hospital and given electric shock treatment. When she was 12, she was released from hospital and sent to a Magdalene laundry.
Here she was raped by a male visitor and, a month before her 14th birthday, gave birth to a daughter, Annie.
At 15, Kathy ran away from the laundry and, after she was caught stealing, was sent to Mountjoy prison.
"The three months I spent there were the happiest of my young life, " she says. After another stint in a Magdalene laundry, Kathy says she was put in a mental hospital for breaking windows in the convent. Here, she met a psychiatrist who had her released and found her a flat.
Her daughter died at the age of 10, and this, she says, "was the most painful time of my life. I've spent the past few years piecing together my past and gaining recognition for everything I suffered, " she says.
Although Kathy did not name any of the institutions she was in, for legal reasons, she identified High Park as the Magdalene laundry she spent most of her teenage years in, during a radio interview soon after the book's publication. While the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity continue to deny that Kathy had ever been in any of their homes, O'Beirne says that two clerics have paid her out-of-court settlements because of sexual abuse.
Although seven of her siblings have come out publicly against her, one brother, Joe, is standing by Kathy's story. Sheridan and Mainstream Publications also continue to insist on its veracity, saying they have more evidence than they have made public and that they may well bring the matter to court to resolve it.
"Mainstream took steps and were satisfied that the memoir was appropriate for publication, " they said in a statement last week. "This included working closely with Kathy and providing the opportunity for comment or correction to the Archdiocese of Dublin by submitting relevant material to it. After a correspondence of some six weeks, no material changes to the text were requested."
Mainstream also say that Kathy's siblings are bitter because she was awarded the family home some years ago. Recent attempts to deny Kathy's story are part of a malicious campaign by the church to hide the truth, they claim. Isabel Hayes
THE ALTERNATIVE VERSION
THE O'BEIRNE family say they are "deeply sorry" for all the people who have bought a copy of their sister's book, believing it to be fact. Because a "horrific miscarriage of justice" has been done. They are demanding that their family name, and in particular that of their father, be cleared.
To that end, they are demanding that all copies of Kathy's Story be taken off the shelves immediately.
"We can't understand how people would continue to believe this story, " says Florence Horsman-Hogan of the Let Our Voices Emerge (LOVE) organisation. "Kathy was extremely disturbed from a very young age and there are obvious flaws in her story.
Trust me, I would not be giving the O'Beirnes my full support if I wasn't entirely convinced that Kathy's story is a fabrication."
According to the O'Beirnes, Kathy's Story is wrong on almost every count, and they emphatically deny that their sister was ever abused by their father.
Their older sister was born in 1956, and is now 50 years old, not 45, which they say Kathy has been claiming.
She was never in a Magdalene laundry or a Magdalene home.
Instead, they say, she spent six weeks in St Anne's Children's Home in Kilmacud in 1967. She was not sent to a reformatory school at the age of eight, nor was she committed to a mental hospital at the age of 10.
In her book, Kathy recalls being sent to a Magdalene laundry at the age of 12 and giving birth two years later to a little girl, whom she called Annie.
But according to her family, Kathy was at home during these years. They say she attended their cousin Patsy's wedding in 1968, at the age of 12, and was still living at home then. Her sister Mary has memories of being dressed by Kathy in preparation for her mother's return from hospital following the birth of their sister, Margaret.
Her brother Brian says that he and Kathy were in hospital together getting their tonsils out around the same time Kathy says she was pregnant.
The O'Beirnes also say that Kathy made her Confirmation in 1970 at the age of 14. They reason that she simply could not have been locked up in a Magdalene laundry at the same time.
However, the O'Beirnes' proof is reliant only on their own memories and Kathy's birth certificate. They have no photos or other tangible proof that she was at home all these years. At the same time, they say rightly that Kathy has provided the public with no proof that she was in a Magdalene laundry or that she ever had a child. They back the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity's insistence that there is no record of Kathy ever spending time in any of their homes.
LOVE say they have been contacted by former inmates of Magdalene laundries who say Kathy's story contains several inaccuracies.
"The family have always supported her. But they cannot put up with this fabrication of events any longer, " says Horsman-Hogan. "They are not turning their back on Kathy, they're turning their back on what she's saying."