Tuesday 21 November 2017

Review: Crummey v Ireland by Frank Crummey

(Londubh Books, €15.99)

We can't really refer to the 'good old days' any more, can we? Now that we know what was actually going on, in an Ireland that was "closed, secretive and violent".

Frank Crummey, born 70 years ago into an effectively single-parent family (his dad left when he was three) on a working-class estate in Kimmage, Dublin, knew from the earliest days what life, for many, was about. When he was eight a woman, escaping her violent husband, jumped from an upstairs window and was rescued by Frank's redoubtable mum.

It was the suitably dramatic beginning of a stellar career on behalf of the battered, and abused, that saw him take on the State, the Catholic Church, the wife batterers, the child batterers and (nastiest of all) the "pro-lifers".

In his memoir Frank shows how it is possible for one passionate human being, even an ordinary person from an ordinary background, to challenge injustice, repression and hypocrisy.

His entire adult life was dedicated to it.

In the sixties and seventies he was part of the Reform group and challenged church and State on the battering and abuse of children in our schools. Later he got involved with the women's movement and the blanket ban on all forms of contraception, and of course its natural corollary, the battering and ill-treatment of women worn down by endless childbirth.

All of this was done with barely the bones of a formal education. A CBS boy with a trade certificate (and the rock-solid confidence instilled in him by his mum), Crummey milled right in whenever he saw injustice, learning on the way how to get a violent husband barred, how to get a woman to a refuge, how to get contraceptives past a nosey garda ("Yes officer, I swear, those 40,000 french letters are for my own personal use". "Ah go way").

Things were -- often gloriously -- different in those days. One recalcitrant husband was made behave nicely by Frank's co-worker twisting a poker in the fire. What's that for? To stick up your arse if you don't comply.

The endless stream of victims, and even more so the endless indifference of most of those in authority, got to him. He was sacked by the ISPCC because of his involvement with family planning, which would have been funny if it wasn't so damn tragic (he was personally supplying two board members with contraceptives), and, with no job and five children to feed, he did, briefly, break down.

It was when, a year later, he got a job as a 'legal executive' that he finally got some stability and, as a crusader, he came into his own.

In 1967 Crummey appeared on the Late Late, shouting as the credits rolled: "As I sit here tonight, the Christian Brothers are abusing our children." He freely admits Gay Byrne, and many others, thought he was a crank. The tragedy is that it took another 40 years to get the truth out, and bring in the most basic reforms -- give married couples and women the right to control their own fertility. Give women and children protection from being battered, and abused.

Like all social reforms they had to be wrung with blood, sweat and tears from the powers that be.

Frank Crummey's book is a damn good blueprint for showing the next generation how they could, if they wanted, set to.

Rosita Sweetman is a writer and journalist. Her books include On Our Knees, a look at Ireland in the 1970s, and On Our Backs, a look at sexual attitudes in Ireland in the 1980s.

Irish Independent

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