About three hundred people thronged a large function room in the Clanree Hotel, Letterkenny, to hear acclaimed journalist Mary Raftery launch the book ‘Breaking the Silence’*, 4th April 2008.
The main author, Martin Ridge, had been one of the Garda officers responsible for the investigation and successful prosecution of the priest-abuser of young men in the Donegal diocese of Raphoe, Eugene Greene. Greene had been jailed for 12 years in April 2000. ‘Breaking the Silence’ details the story of the investigation and raises serious questions about what was known to clergy running the diocese of Raphoe during Greene’s career there.
The atmosphere in the Clanree Hotel for the book launch was warm and friendly from the outset, and not a note of dissent was expressed all night.
Mary extolled the book for its humanity, which reflected its main author. She gave us a brilliant short summary of why it fitted so well into forthcoming events – which were expected then to include not only the Dublin archdiocesan inquiry report, but the report of the commission of investigation set up as a result of her own ‘States of Fear’ TV documentaries on the Irish industrial school system.
She said the book was probably unique because gardai did not often write books, and she was not aware of any similar account of a detailed and successful investigation of that kind. She also said that it should cause Donegal people to be very angry about the long term failure of the church authorities in Raphoe to grapple with serial abusers, and to demand an explanation for this. She was sure ‘Breaking the Silence’ would be an important milestone in Donegal’s history.
Martin Ridge spoke finally, with understandable emotion – but the deepest emotion he expressed was not anger but love – for children, for the survivors, for his community, and for the church. He expressed a strong sense of the church as community rather than institution – so no one could have supposed that this was a church-bashing event. His dominant theme was the need for healing – and it was clear that this referred also to the damage caused to his church.
A long queue then formed, for signed copies – while Martin worked his way steadily towards writer’s cramp. Many people left with multiple copies, and I had the impression that the TV would be taking a rest in many Donegal households over the following days.
The Derry VOTF group was there in strong support and got a very strong recommendation from Martin, as did Brid Wilson’s survivor support group in west Donegal.
The sterile silence was lovingly broken that night in Letterkenny, and Donegal was much the better for it.
*Breaking the Silence, Martin Ridge and Gerard Cunningham, Gill and Macmillan, 2008