Saturday 19 October 2019

'I was an adult before I was even a child' - Finné documentary series returns with powerful testimony of abuse survivor Sophia Murphy

The award-winning series features the personal testimonies of people who have triumphed over adversity

Sophia Murphy tells her story in Finné, TG4, Wednesday, October 2, 9.30pm
Sophia Murphy tells her story in Finné, TG4, Wednesday, October 2, 9.30pm
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

In July 2018, Sophia Murphy’s father John Murphy was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the relentless sexual abuse of Sophia from the age of three until she was 15. He also abused Sophia's two younger sisters.

Following his conviction, the brave Galway woman waived her anonymity so that her father could be named and to encourage other survivors of abuse to come forward.  Now she is sharing her harrowing yet powerful story, in her own words, in the second season of the award-winning documentary series Finné (Witness) on TG4. 

Speaking directly to camera, pain is writ large across Sophia’s face as she recalls her first memory of the abuse.  It happened on a bus outside the then family home in Galway when she was just three and a half or four years old. Her testimony is horrifying.

“There were lads standing outside the bus and I was a bit nervous of them seeing what dad was doing.  All I kept thinking was they’re going to see him,” she says in the documentary. “I knew it was wrong, because I was more worried that they’d see him.  I wasn’t even thinking about what he was doing to me, so in my head, it’s obvious that that wasn’t the first time.  That was my first memory. 

"I was an adult before I was even a child.”

Sophia’s story, however, is one of triumph and courage over trauma and adversity.  Series producer Paddy Hayes, who also directed Sophia’s episode, tells Independent.ie, “It’s a real grim subject matter but Sophia herself is like a Joan of Arc figure - you’d follow her into battle.”

He compares her to Nelson Mandela in that she has endured unspeakable horrors but holds no anger towards the person who inflicted such suffering.  She speaks about how anger gives the perpetrator ownership, and how by processing it, and losing that anger, you find your own power and own your own story.

The first season of Finné was awarded the Human Rights award at the prestigious Justice Media Awards 2019.  It kicked off last year with a truly shocking episode about the wrongful conviction of two 19-year-old boys, Martin Conmey and Dick Donnelly, from Ratoath, for the murder of local girl Una Lynskey, also 19, in 1971.

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Lifelong friends Martin Conmey and Dick Donnelly, who were framed for the murder of Una Lynskey in 1971, say they have suffered decades of torture. Photo: David Conachy

Confessions were beaten out of them and a third boy and friend, Marty Kerrigan, by the murder squad tasked with solving the case.  Marty was subsequently abducted and murdered.  Sean and James Lynskey, brothers of Una, and their cousin, John Gaughan, were sentenced to three years for his manslaughter. 

Dick’s conviction for the murder was overturned on appeal but Martin served three years.  It would be 40 years before Martin could clear his name.  In his review for the Irish Independent, David Diebold described it as “An utterly harrowing story, the kind that leaves you with half-moon nail marks in your palms”.

(You can read the review here: Finné - new TG4 series about wrongful conviction boils the blood)

The upcoming second series, presented by RTE courts correspondent Orla O'Donnell, affords six people the opportunity to own their own stories.  Told predominantly via intimate hour-long interviews with the subjects (via an EyeDirect device), each of their deeply personal stories is hugely affecting.

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Amy Dunne, Finne, TG4

Sophia Murphy’s is one of two charting the experiences of women. Amy Dunne, or ‘Miss D’, recalls her fight through the courts to be allowed to travel to the UK for an abortion in 2007 when she became pregnant as a teenager and discovered that there was a fatal foetal abnormality.

In the wake of seismic changes in Irish society in recent years from the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to #MeToo, people perhaps feel freer to speak openly about such experiences.  Paddy describes it as a ‘paradigm shift’ in society.

“I don’t think we could have done this kind of programme four or five years ago," he says.  “I think society has changed to a great degree.  We have jettisoned a lot of shame.  We are able to tell truth to power a bit better.  And I think we are just more in tune with our emotions,” he says.

The new series also sees former garda Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire looking back at his investigation into the Fr. Greene sexual abuse case in Donegal, one of the worst such cases this country has ever seen.  Another episode charts the story of former post office manager Tony O’Reilly who stole $1.75m from An Post and gambled €10m through one Paddy Power betting account before being sent to prison. 

“A lot of programmes go broad and wide into a subject matter whereas this is narrow and deep into one person’s story and that colours it in a very different way,” says Paddy.

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Tony O'Reilly on Finné (Witness), TG4

“With Tony O’Reilly’s story, you’ll come away from it and have an opinion about gambling in Ireland but you will also get a white knuckle ride into the terror and horror of gambling addiction and how you can resort to stealing over a million quid to fuel that addiction.  When you hear it first hand it’s flipping scary because you think, if I was in that situation would I have behaved the same?”

Also this series, racing jockey Paddy Merrigan chronicles how he struggled with his mental health throughout his rise to fame and fall from grace. And Francie McGuigan and Liam Shannon, two of the ‘hooded men’ recount their experience of being subjected to mental and physical maltreatment when interned in 1970s Belfast.

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Francie McGuigan and Liam Shannon. Finne, TG4

It takes courage to share such personal stories with the nation on camera and filmmakers need to be mindful of their duty of care throughout the process. “It’s not for everyone, of course,” says Paddy.  “There is a time when it’s beneficial to tell your story, but there’s a time when it isn’t, so we try to be sensitive to that.”

However, those who have shared their stories previously felt the process was a positive experience. “With the first episode with Martin Conmey, it was quite an experience to sit down with Martin and his wife to watch the programme, and see how cathartic it was for them that they found a voice,” says Paddy.

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Sophia Murphy, presenter Orla O'Donnell, and Amy Dunne. Finne, TG4

“I often think of the African American poet, Maya Angelou, and the quote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” She was a survivor of sexual abuse herself.  I think that [quote] applies to a lot of these stories too.”

He continues, “I’m an old hack, a cynical, jaded, jaundiced TV hack, but this has really kind of opened my eyes to the power of telly in terms of enabling people and telling someone’s story for them.  It can be quite uplifting and empowering and cathartic for them.”

Finné returns on Wednesday 2nd October at 9.30pm for 6 weeks on TG4.

Read more: Finné - new TG4 series about wrongful conviction boils the blood

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