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'I recognised the man who sexually abused me when I was six years old' - Christy Dignam tells how he is still haunted by the sexual abuse he suffered as a child

Christy Dignam tells Barry Egan how his happy childhood turned dark when he was molested, the effect that had on the Aslan singer's life, and what happened when he spotted his abuser again six months ago, during his battle with cancer

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Courage: Christy Dignam. Photo by Gareth Chaney

Courage: Christy Dignam. Photo by Gareth Chaney

Courage: Christy Dignam. Photo by Gareth Chaney

Christy Dignam has chemotherapy treatment every Wednesday at 10am for his cancer. The Aslan singer can be sitting in Beaumont Hospital with a drip in his arm for five hours at a time with nothing else to do but look back on his life.

Sometimes he thinks about all the young migrant children who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to escape to a better life. Other times, Christy thinks about what he could have done with his life.

"You think of all the things you've done and all the turns you took and what would have happened had you taken this turn or that turn. Sh*t like that. All I did was sing a few songs," one of Ireland's greatest rock singers tells the Sunday Independent at his house.

"What a f**king w***er. What a waste of f**king life. With all the good you could have done, what did you do? You sang a few f**king songs."

Like the death notices for Keith Richards and Shane MacGowan, Christy Dignam's obituary is probably in a file somewhere awaiting publication but the Dublin legend somehow keeps beating the odds - and cancer and heroin addiction - to stay alive.

"There'll be only me, Keith Richards, Shane McGowan and the cockroaches left after the nuclear war that Trump brings about," he laughs. Black comedy aside, Christy wants to live as long as he can. "I am the same as everybody else," he says.

When he was sick in Blanchardstown Hospital in 2013, he flat-lined. When he came out of it, they were "pumping adrenaline and everything" into him to save his life.

When he looked up, the nurse was holding his hand. Christy said to her, "I'm not going to die, am I?"

She didn't answer him.

"She just looked away. I thought, 'Holy f**k'. I was expecting her to say, 'You'll be grand, relax'. But she didn't."

He'll never forget the terror he felt. "Nothing I felt before was in comparison to it. It was abject terror of dying. I just wanted to live a little bit longer. And that would be the same for anybody, because anybody who has had the problems I've had, you are going to want to live. Not many people want to f**king die."

The nurse said to Christy afterwards that had he not been in a cardiac unit when he flat-lined, he would never have survived. "If I'd been at home, they would have thought I'd died in my sleep."

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When Christy was first diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer, the doctor called him and his wife Kathryn in and said: "You probably have about six months left. So if there is anything you want to do, I'd do it as soon as you get out of hospital because you don't have long to live."

At the time, Christy was looking back over his life, thinking of the early years when he was a happy young kid…

"There was a corn field in Finglas," he recalls. "There was birds' nests in the summer. I remember it… it was a sunny day and it p***ed raining. All our clothes got soaking. We had our clothes hanging on a tree. We all started running through the corn, which was soaking wet. I will never forget the rain drops on the corn. That day was probably the happiest moment in my life.

"It was beautiful. I was around five years of age. And then, when I started thinking on to when I was six, this f**king darkness came over me and I couldn't understand it at the time. That's when the abuse happened. I was six. My whole life turned then."

A few months ago, Christy recognised his abuser among a group of people. He felt sick in his stomach. It put him in a dark place where the demons of his past live. The man who had sexually molested him as a young child in Finglas was still alive.

Christy had blocked that time in his childhood out of his mind as much as possible. But some years ago, he had found himself walking past the man's home and noticed the hall door. Everything came back to him in an instant.

The following week, Christy was at home in Finglas when for some reason, he walked past the house again. This time the man was sitting on the wall with the hall door open.

Christy asked him: "Do you remember what you did to me when I was six, when I was a kid?"

Christy remembers the man's face going white at the question.

"He was married with kids and he ran over and pulled the door shut," Christy says. "So his wife wouldn't hear what I was saying."

The man then ran inside. The following week, there was a For Sale sign on the house and Christy never saw him again, until a few months ago.

In chemo, in his dark moments, Christy's mind travels back to his six-year-old self in that room in Finglas.

"Of course, I think back to that. Because that is what shaped my life. I remember thinking when I was getting chemo, 'For one orgasm? For that bloke who done that to me, that was just an orgasm to him.'

"And just the way that orgasm has rippled out and the amount of lives it touched eventually, because of what it did to my life and the way that it affected me and the way I then affected other people. And that was just for one f**king orgasm. I remember thinking when I was having the chemo, 'Wow. That's f**king weird.' You don't want to be in my head. It's not a very pleasant place."

Christy says he can remember it turning like it was "yesterday".

"I remember what happened. He brought me into his gaff. He done what he done. When I came out, all my mates were asking me, 'Where were you? We were looking for you.' I told them I was out in my back garden. I was lying to them."

It was the first time Christy Dignam ever told a lie.

"From that moment on, my life was different," he says. "From then on, I used to have that f**king gaping hole in me. The first time I got rid of that as an adult was when I took heroin for the first time."

All the inner pain and torment vanished when Christy used heroin. "It just disappeared."

He remembers waking up after using heroin and feeling "peace" and thinking, "'This is how normal people wake up and feel. I feel normal.' The hole was gone for the first time in my life. That's how I ended up being strung out on heroin."

How did the abuser get Christy into the house?

"This guy lived near us. He sent me up to the van for a bottle of lemonade. I had gone to the van for him loads of times. The van was a shop. We had vans in Finglas like that. He would give you something for going up. Two pence. You could buy sweets out of it. So, when I came back, his hall door was ajar.

"You know, as a kid you would never walk into somebody's house. I knocked at the door. He called me in. 'Come in.'

"So, when I walked in, the house was in darkness. That's one thing that really struck me. He had all the curtains closed. He got me into a chair and he took the laces out of my shoes. He stripped me off and he tied me to the chair.

"And then whatever. And when I was going, he handed me a shilling. He said, 'Don't say anything to anyone.' When my mates asked me where I was, I thought I had done something wrong, particularly as I had taken the shilling. This is where it gets dangerous. This is where it can lead into addiction. Because I kind of felt chosen, I felt special that he was choosing me and he wasn't choosing one of the other kids from the road.

"So, then when I was an adult thinking about that - and thinking, 'Why was I not disgusted and appalled?' That's what freaked me out, because I wasn't disgusted. I thought, 'he thinks I'm great'. That's what f**ked me up later as an adult, because I didn't feel horrified by the whole thing."

One day, only a while ago, someone said to Christy, "Did you ever get him charged?" Christy said, "no".

"So, you're after letting that f**ker go on and do it to other kids?" the person said.

"I remember the responsibility of that being f**ked at me. That was not my responsibility. But that f**ked me up. So it is constantly there, even though I have kind of dealt with the abuse and put it away in its little cubby-hole, and then someone says something like that and the whole thing is f**king back. The power of it, you know."

He had to do a lot of therapy, do a lot of talking about it, "to put it where it belongs".

I ask him how he sees what happened to him now, as a 60-year-old man.

"Basically what happened to me was, I was given a sex life as a six-year-old child. I didn't have the emotional ability to deal with a sex life. It was a kind of warped sex life because it was an adult and a child, and male to male.

"So I had to really look at the whole thing and be honest about it, and be honest about how I dealt with it then and how I am dealing with it now.

"Talking about it is good. It loses its power every time you talk about it."

If you've been affected by childhood abuse, contact Connect Counselling, a free telephone counselling and support service for any adult who has experienced abuse, trauma or neglect in childhood. The service is also open to partners and relatives Contact 1800 477 477 or https://connectcounselling.ie


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