Copyright © 2010 Cynthia Owen
The right of Cynthia Owen to be identified as the Author of
the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law,
this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted,
in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing
of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production,
in accordance with the terms of licences issued by
the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2010
Every effort has been made to fulfil requirements with regard
to reproducing copyright material. The author and publisher will be
glad to rectify any omissions at the earliest opportunity.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 6012 3
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - 4 White’s Villas
Chapter 2 - Don’t Wake Mammy
Chapter 3 - Meeting Mr Greeny
Chapter 4 - A New Dress
Chapter 5 - Bye-bye, Esther
Chapter 6 - ‘Please Stop, Daddy’
Chapter 7 - Christmas
Chapter 8 - Telling Mammy
Chapter 9 - Scarlet Ribbons
Chapter 10 - The Relatives
Chapter 11 - Daddy’s Friends
Chapter 12 - Mammy’s Friend
Chapter 13 - ‘You’re Having a Baby’
Chapter 14 - Noleen
Chapter 15 - Goodbye
Chapter 16 - The Fire
Chapter 17 - Nightmares and Dreams
LETTER TO MY LEGAL TEAM
This book is dedicated to my daughter, Noleen, to my sister Theresa and my brothers Martin and Michael, and for all victims of sexual abuse and violence. And to women who have become pregnant by their abusers. My wish for you is that this book brings you hope.
This is my story, told through my eyes. I am telling the story of what I saw, what happened to me and what my dead siblings, Theresa and Martin, told me happened to them too. I have not included other people’s account of events. It is their right to tell their own stories, this is mine. Although this is a work of fact, some of the names of people and places have been changed, as well as some descriptions of people and places.
‘Have you reached a decision?’
The coroner’s voice made my heart skip a beat, and silence fell as the foreman of the jury stood up.
‘Twelve agree that it is Cynthia Owen’s baby.’
I broke down completely. I felt eleven-years-old again. My baby had just died.
‘Twelve agree that it was 4 April 1973.’
The words danced in my head. I had finally proved I wasn’t mad, and I wasn’t a liar.
I was forty-five-years old, and I had a daughter who would be almost thirty-four-years old, had she lived.
‘Twelve agree the place of death was 4 White’s Villas, Dalkey.
‘Cause of death: haemorrhage due to stab wounds. Twelve agree. An open verdict.’
The room erupted. People started clapping and shouting, ‘Yes!’, at the top of their voices. I felt like a volt of electricity was coursing through my body.
I took the stand, barely able to support myself on my shaking legs, and the room fell silent again.
‘Mrs Owen, I believe you have given your baby a first name, is that correct?’
‘Yes,’ I whispered.
‘And what is that name?’
Her name hung in the thick silence for a moment, then I listened, awestruck, as the coroner said he was officially identifying the baby found in Lee’s Lane on Wednesday 4 April 1973 as my daughter, Noleen Murphy, stabbed to death in my family home.
I looked at the jury and mouthed, ‘Thank you,’ then dropped into my husband Simon’s lap and broke down into loud, unruly sobs.
When I finally staggered outside I looked up at the clear sky and smiled broadly. I had waited so long for this day to come, and I could scarcely believe it was real.
‘Rest in peace, my darling Noleen,’ I whispered up to heaven. ‘Mummy loves you.’
I would like to be able to tell you that my battle to be formally identified as Noleen’s mother and to have the details of her short life publicly recorded was the worst struggle I faced after the trauma of losing her, but sadly that is not the case.
I faced many more nightmares, each one testing me to the limit and threatening to push me over the edge. If it hadn’t been for my wonderful husband, Simon, I am certain I would not have survived.
Thanks to his unconditional love and support, I am alive and well, and able to tell the rest of my story.
4 White’s Villas
I’m eight-years-old and in bed waiting for Daddy to come in from the pub, and I’m trembling.
Mammy forced me upstairs to bed hours ago, but I can’t sleep. I’m in my vest and knickers, huddled under dirty coats and smelly blankets, and I’m terrified about what will happen tonight.
Daddy always comes in when it’s very dark, but that is the only thing I can be sure of. When I hear his leather shoes crunching up the short path to our council house, my heart starts to thump in my chest.
Sometimes I say a prayer, pressing my hands together tight like the nuns at school taught me: ‘Please, God, please can it be a good night tonight? I’ve been a very good girl, so I have.’
Daddy usually goes straight to the pub after work and drinks and smokes all night with his friends. The pubs are near our house in Dalkey, and sometimes he can take in three or four in one evening, depending on his mood.
Mammy always stays in our house at 4 White’s Villas. Every night she rocks in her chair by the coal fire, drinking glass after glass of sherry and lighting one cigarette from another.
When Daddy gets home, sometimes they shout and scream if they have both had lots to drink, but sometimes he doesn’t even speak to her.
I’m listening hard, but I’m so nervous I start breathing really quickly, and I’m gasping noisily for breath. It feels like I’m being strangled, but it’s just the fear choking me and making it hard for the air to fill my lungs.
It sounds quiet downstairs, and that is normally a good sign. Daddy is ignoring Mammy, and she’s not speaking either. That’s very good. I hate it when I hear their voices get louder, because then the fights and arguments start.
It scares me, because when Daddy is cross it usually means bad things for me. Despite the good signs, I still can’t relax. I listen out for sounds that tell me he is on his way upstairs. I never know what he’s going to do, and every time I hear the bedroom door open I start to shake.
Daddy’s in the room now. I hear him use the toilet bucket at the end of the bed. The smell is terrible. It makes my eyes sting even when I’m hiding under the covers, and my stomach starts to churn so much it hurts.
There’s no lid on the bucket, and we never have anything to put in it to make it smell better. We don’t even have toilet paper.
I’ve buried myself deep under my covers, but I can’t escape the stench. It seems to follow me, clinging to my skin and sticking in my throat. I can’t get away from it.
I can hear Daddy stripping off his trousers. He always sleeps in just a shirt, or sometimes nothing at all.
My throat goes very dry now, and I’m trying to pretend I’m fast asleep, even though I’m shaking so much the covers must be moving up and down, telling him I am wide awake.
Maybe Daddy will leave me alone tonight?
He wasn’t staggering about like he does some nights, and he didn’t shout at Mammy. Maybe he will fall into bed and start snoring loudly, giving me the sign that tonight I can go to sleep knowing he’s too drunk to do those horrible things to me, that just for tonight, he will leave me alone.
I always prayed hard, but it didn’t seem to make any difference whether Daddy was in a good or bad mood. It didn’t matter if he was laughing and joking or ranting and raving when he came in, I never knew what would happen next. Sometimes he got into bed and fell straight into the deep sleep I prayed for, but mostly he didn’t.
It started when I was seven years old.
‘Cynthia, you’re to sleep in the double bed, d’you hear me?’ Mammy ordered.
Normally, I slept in the single bed in the same room, but I didn’t argue with Mammy. She didn’t like it if I argued, and so I always tried hard not to. If I made her cross she hit me round the head or called me horrible names, so I always did as I was told.
When Daddy got into bed he started to tuck himself up right behind me. He was very close, and I didn’t like it. I could feel his bare legs against mine and they felt horrible.
This wasn’t what I had expected at all - and now what was happening?
Daddy was moving in a strange, shuffling way behind me. I felt frightened of him, petrified whenever I heard his footsteps on the stairs at night. When Daddy started doing other things too, much worse things, I absolutely dreaded going to bed and would lie there every night shaking with nerves and feeling sick with fear.
I never knew what he would do, and even if he did nothing I expected the worst and lay there feeling terrified, especially when he would come in drunk and raging.
‘You’re a fuckin’ whore,’ Daddy would shout. ‘You’re nothing but a stupid bitch.’
I’d squirm under the covers as I heard her scream back at him. She wasn’t frightened of him and always gave him the fight he seemed to be looking for.
‘You bastard! Don’t call me a whore! I bet you’re the one who’s been sleeping around. Don’t you come near me …’
She would totally lose control of her temper.
‘Where’s the money? Have you been gambling again, you stupid bastard?’
Mammy looked fiery, with long red hair and blazing green eyes. I’m sure she drank more than Daddy, and she certainly matched him insult for insult.
They never had ordinary conversations and seemed to really hate each other. They tried to avoid each other as much as possible, but whenever they were in the same room they seemed to be fighting and arguing.
‘Fuck off, woman!’ Daddy would shout as he slapped Mammy across the face or punched her body. ‘Leave me alone, you stupid cow.’
Daddy was quite a small man, and he and Mammy looked like an even match for each other in their fights. But she always came off worse. Neither got really badly hurt, they just got madder and madder with each other.
It was like watching a wrestling match that had burst out of the telly and landed in our living room, and it just went on and on as they traded insults and blows.
At nightime I covered my ears when their voices rose through the old lino on the bedroom floor and bounced off the wood-panelled walls around me.
I hated listening to it, but the house was so small that however hard I pressed my hands over my ears, I could never seem to block the noises out.