Ruth Dudley Edwards: Máiria Cahill’s story tells how talent, courage and tenacity can surmount terrible obstacles
The media in these two islands have been alive with her eloquent voice in print and on the airwaves giving this shocking account of how disgusting sexual abuse by a violent IRA man over a long period, rape, intimidation and betrayal turned an academically gifted teenager into a six-stone, terrified, mentally ill, drop out.
Until she took control.
The story is well-known, so I’m not repeating it here. Buy it. Apart from anything else it’s a terrific read, answers many troubling questions like why victims of abuse take so long to report it and why members of a tyrannical cult like Sinn Féin find it so difficult to leave,.
One of the reasons why her book is earning rave reviews is because it also tells how talent, courage and tenacity can surmount terrible obstacles. Máiria’s ambitions to be a journalist or a lawyer were shattered in the short term, but she has become a fine and successful writer, and her legal talent enabled her successfully to take on the IRA with unsparing truths, and wring apologies from the justice system for letting her down.
She also has a superb memory and takes copious notes after every important meeting. I appreciated greatly the dialogue that ended with telling Mary Lou McDonald she had “abdicated her responsibility as a human being and as a political leader”, and “to tell Gerry Adams from me that he knows he’s a liar, and I know he’s a liar“.
Another is that her character sketches are brilliant. Adams, Mary Lou McDonald, and Seamus, one of the late Pat Finucane’s brothers, are among many that will be feeling deeply uncomfortable with the descriptions of their dealings with her.
For instance, Adams “smiled in that inscrutable way he has, all kindness and goodwill, the smile never reaching the eyes”. “’I love you and we love you’” he would intone as he gave her a “Judas kiss”.
Sinn Féin leaders, who thought they could shut her up with lies and intimidation when she did the unthinkable and went public, are now mumbling apologies and hiding from journalists hoping this storm will blow over and leave them to garner votes from the gullible and put them in power on both sides of the border. Their social media warriors, whose endless insults included “traitor”, “filthy lying scumbucket”, and a “bunny boiler”, have been called off as counter-productive.
“I’m so glad you’re not my enemy”, I’ve said to her, as her extraordinary memory and forensic analysis of contentious events demolished one of my arguments. But I also revel in having her as a close friend, for among her virtues is her sense of the ridiculous. I think my favourite passage in the book is about Bobby Storey, organiser of the Northern Bank robbery, enforcer of Gerry Adams’s commands and a ferocious thug who terrorised the community.
After Máiria had waived her anonymity and gone public about the abuse and IRA cover up, she was in a supermarket with her beloved Granny Nora, whose stubbornness and quick-wittedness she inherited, when “we rounded the aisle and encountered Storey. He put down his shopping basket then stood slowly to his full 6 foot 5 inches height and stared menacingly at me, only stopping when my brilliantly fearless 4-foot-nothing grandmother shouted that if he continued, she would put her ‘toe up his hole’.”
It was typical of her that when she saw Derry republicans were holding a competition in Martin McGuinness’s memory, she entered one called “The Fisherman” which was a brutal attack on McGuinness’s record.
The last few lines were:
Some buried their Chieftain, others their villain.
All is not fair in love and war…
Another woman couldn't bury a body
When all that was left of her husband was a zip.
You asked for poetry to remember his legacy. What rhymes
with Patsy Gillespie?
Patsy Gillespie was the cook on an army base in Derry whom McGuinness considered a legitimate target. In October 1990, his family were taken hostage, he was chained into his van with a 1,000 lb bomb and forced to drive it into a military checkpoint.
The poem didn’t win the competition.