- 10 Nov 16
This is 2016 and very strange and deeply disquieting things have been happening in the US and here in Ireland. It might help if we stopped singing the praises of people guilty of butchering their families, Niall Stokes said in The Message, written in that pregnant pause between the opening of the polling booths and the calculation of the result in the US election. Clearly an afterword is required…
Some things are harder to compute than others. As the latest issue of Hot Press is broken up into packages and goes spinning through the layers to the printers, we are in that strange, short-lived vacuum: after most voters have had their say in the US presidential election, but before there is any clear indication of just who will be the next President of the United States of America.
The unthinkable might yet happen. Donald Trump could, in the manner of the leave campaign in the Brexit vote, sneak through on the inside, to secure a shock victory. The man is a deeply offensive, nasty, unpleasant, racist, sexist, and ultimately shallow, buffoon – perhaps the worst high-profile candidate ever to run for the highest office in America. The thought of what he might say and do and look like, if he were to win, makes the thought of contemplating the visage of Freddy Krueger seem like a wonderfully pleasant and desirable one.
And yet – unless the polls are wrong – this caricature of a human being has won the support of close to 50% of the US electorate. It is an astonishing and chastening thought.
One US friend explained it in blunt terms. “Some Americans simply can’t accept the idea that there might be a woman in the White House,” he said. “Men in particular find that too much to deal with. It is deeply misogynistic, of course, but they can’t get beyond the bullying, paternalistic view that a man – any man – is better than Hillary. It just might be enough to swing it in Trump’s favour.”
Well, by now – reading this – you almost certainly know. My gut instinct, with the hours ticking down, is that he will not be anointed. But I have to admit that stranger things have happened – and far closer to home too...
SUICIDE BY POISONING
In the West of Ireland last week, three bodies were discovered in a house near Irishtown in Co. Mayo. Kitty Fitzgerald (72) and Tom Fitzgerald (75) were dead when Gardai arrived at the scene. Their son Paul Fitzgerald, who is in his thirties, was alive but critically injured.
The Gardai are reported to have tasered Paul when he failed to “put his hands up.” He was taken to hospital locally and then removed to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, which specialises in brain injuries.
The parish priest in the area was quick to say that the couple were pillars of the local community and regular Mass-goers. “They were lovely people – both of them were involved in the church here,” he said. In fact he went further, saying that they’d be embarrassed to hear him say it, but they were both “saintly” people. The working assumption seemed to be that Paul must have done something terrible.
Since then, it has emerged that the Gardai had used their tasers far too quickly. And the local priest had done the verbal equivalent. As the evidence stacked up, and the forensics were examined, it became clear that Tom Fitzgerald had poisoned himself. Piecing the evidence together, a different version of events entirely began to crystallise.
The considered view now, according to Gardaí working on the case, is that Tom Fitzgerald murdered his unfortunate wife. The likelihood is that Paul came in on the scene and was felled as well and left for dead. As it transpires, he was not fatally injured (though there is no certainty that he will recover). Presumably believing that he had done his worst, Tom Fitzgerald then proceeded to commit suicide by poisoning.
It is impossible to imagine what might have inspired this bloody mayhem. Except that – to make the connection back to support for Donald Trump – people are capable of an astonishing level of nastiness, viciousness and brutality if the wrong circumstances or sequence of events triggers it. And there is no point in sugar-coating that particular pill, unpleasant as it may be to face up to it.
MALE BULLYING AND VIOLENCE
As recently as August 2016, a teacher by the name of Alan Hawe killed his wife and three children in Ballyjamesduff in Co. Cavan. It was a gruesome murder: the teacher – the Deputy Principal in a local school – had stabbed his wife and three children to death. The action had been premeditated. Hawe pinned a note to the door of the house, explaining why he had butchered his family, leaving instructions that the envelope should only be opened by relatives.
No one has revealed what was in that letter. Perhaps we will never know. In that instance too, however, gushing tributes were paid to the man who had just slaughtered four people. Locals were quoted saying that it was typical of the man that he left a note, explaining everything. And again he was described as a pillar of the community – which of course, in a way, he was.
It would be wrong to intrude on the personal grief of the families and individuals affected by events of this kind. If anyone deserves our sympathy now, it is Paul Fitzgerald, who if he does recover, will waken up to a dreadful, living nightmare. Indeed, all of those who were close to Alan Hawe and to Tom Fitzgerald will forever suffer agonies about what happened. They will wonder, hopelessly, if there is anything that might have been done. They will be haunted, for a long time, by the thought of what might not have been – but inescapably is.
Any half-decent person must feel deeply for those most immediately affected by desperate and tragic eruptions like these. Even the family of the Islamic State bomber, Terence ‘Khalid’ Kelly, who blew himself up near Mosul in Iraq last week, must be suffering grievously now, through no fault of their own.
It is important to be compassionate – or to try to be compassionate – even towards those who carry out atrocities. More often than not, there is a terrible human tragedy at work, when people drift to those perilous margins where murder seems in some horribly twisted way to be acceptable or even righteous.
But this much is worth saying too. Singing the praises of someone who has just committed an atrocity feels not just wrong but offensive. Alan Hawe butchered his family. The likelihood is that Tom Fitzgerald did too. Knowing the extent to which women and children have historically been the victims of male bullying and violence, and given that each of these cases offers a terrifying example of that far too familiar archetype writ large, it is deeply wrong for religious representatives and community leaders to pretend that nothing untoward has happened; and that those guilty of the murder of entire families were really wonderful people.
We are all flawed. We all make mistakes. We are all capable of doing wrong. But if there is a general principle that can be stated without question, it is that we have to try to chart our way beyond the kind of societies in which people – and men in particular – use violence as a way of trying to impose their will on the world – and in particular on those close to them.
I hope it doesn’t seem churlish also to ask where the so called God of Christianity stands in all of this. He apparently intervenes to enable footballers to score goals, judging by the number big babies, who bless themselves and look up all wide-eyed and mystical when the ball hits the onion sack. Meanwhile, he (for it is a ‘he’) stood idly by, while these terrible events unfolded in counties Cavan and Mayo. In fact, a slightly different version of the same God was Terence Kelly’s excuse for his last, murderous act.
The families who were butchered by these men were unable to dodge the bomb, the bullet or the blade…
SLOUCHING TOWARDS WASHINGTON
On Tuesday, in that twilight zone before the new knowing, I wrote: “Let’s hope, in contrast, that the US has – and that we are now welcoming, no matter with what reservations, the first female president of the United States, President Hillary Clinton. Because if Donald Trump claims power, one fears that there will be a lot more blood on the carpets – and on the streets.”
And so what now, as that rough beast, its hour come at last, is slouching towards Washington to be born?