At 4pm on Friday, January 14, I joined a crowd in the region of 500 people, composed mostly of women, who had assembled in Dublin 2 holding candles and flowers to collectively mourn the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore last week.
On one end of the vigil, where Dawson St meets Molesworth St, Dublin carried on as normal; traffic crawled as a bus reversed around a corner to accommodate a flashing fire truck, while a Luas “dinged” with impatience, unable to reach a stop just metres away.
Overlooking the event on the other end of the vigil was Leinster House, the meeting place of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, where our nation’s most powerful elected officials gather.
At the centre of this ordinary day, a crowd stood still; quiet and calm, exhausted and angry to speak the name of a woman who would never again be able to respond.
The vigil highlighted how Ireland teeters in the balance; will the future move towards change or will we slip back into our normal rhythm as the news cycle shifts?
The tragedy of Ashling’s death has shocked the entire nation but how do we ensure that her name is not forgotten? After all, she was murdered on a walkway named ‘Fiona’s Way’, called after Fiona Pender, who went missing over a quarter of a century ago and has never been recovered. This country doesn’t need any more martyrs, it needs progressive action.
Leinster House overlooked Friday’s vigil and our nation’s women are continuing to look right back. We await Minister for Justice Helen McEntee’s gender-based violence strategy, due in March, we await an Irish constitution that no longer assigns a woman’s place to the home, we await for consent to be included in our educational curriculum and, most importantly, for boys and men to be taught how to be allies to women under non-sexual circumstances.
When police officer Wayne Couzens murdered Sarah Everard last year in the UK, family members shared her mother’s heartbreaking impact statement with me; telling me to be safe. I appreciated the sentiment but must admit that I was also frustrated.
Telling a woman to “stay safe” is as helpful as advising someone with depression to “be happy”. For the person with depression, there is a wider illness to be diagnosed and treated. What can those of us who identify as women do when society is sick?
People remarked on how bright it still was at 4pm, the time that Ashling was killed. However, the fact that Ashling was killed in broad daylight, while horrific, should not be a detail used to underscore how “correctly” she behaved. To do so would suggest that any woman who dares to walk or run alone after dark is reckless or deserving of attack.
The fact that she was “just going for a run”, a phrase that has circulated around social media, is tragic but no more so than if she had been going about her business in any other capacity.
Just as there is no such thing as the correct hemline length, there is no such thing as a safe or unsafe time for women to be out in public. Women should not require society’s permission to simply exist and they certainly do not deserve society’s judgement or condemnation around the circumstances in which they are attacked and murdered.
Former chairperson of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, brought a sense of closure to Friday’s vigil with a soft rendition of ‘Only a Woman’s Heart’, that rippled gently through the crowd but was piercing in its message: “My heart is low, my heart is so low, as only a woman’s heart can be”.
Had this been the conclusion of a film, one might have called it cliché or saccharine but, singing words penned by an Irish woman, standing united with every person attending every vigil across the country, united with Ashling and with all victims of femicide and gender-based abuse, the moment felt fitting and powerful.
Women are outraged that a young woman was cruelly killed because Ashling could have been any of us. Through no fault of our own, no one who identifies as a woman is safe and we cannot settle for a society that accepts this fact.