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Shaneda Daly on her abusive father: ‘Grooming is scary – I was his princess and this was our secret’

From when she was four, Shaneda Daly was sexually abused by her father Harry almost every day. Here she shares her story in the hope of encouraging fellow victims to seek help

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Shaneda Daly in Shannon, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward

Shaneda Daly in Shannon, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward

Shaneda Daly in Shannon, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward

It was not easy for Shaneda Daly to write a book about her life. There were stops and starts. She needed long breaks.

However, from the moment she began working with ghost-writer Linda Watson-Brown, she was certain of one thing.

“I said I didn’t want to do a sad book, because I’m not a sad person,” she says. “I wanted to do a positive book. I only wanted to do it if she could talk about how my life turns into speaking out and trying to help other people.”

On our Zoom call, Shaneda is expressive and candid and speaks lightly about dark things. She has a dry sense of humour. She’s worried about her daughter who has Covid. “I have six kids,” she says. “Life is never boring.”

Despite her desire to write a positive book, her story is undeniably harrowing.

Shaneda was sexually abused by her father Harry Daly almost every day from the age of four to the age of 16, often when her mother and siblings were in the same house. Her book, Sins of the Father, is an unflinching look at the ritual violence that became part of her daily routine.

The book brings us back to the very beginning.

Her parents, Harry and Rose Daly married young and lived in Ballymun. Shaneda was the first child of four. Harry worked as a prison officer for most of his life – first in Dublin, then in Limerick. The family moved to Clare.

In the book, Shaneda describes her mother as besotted with her father, despite him once beating her "so badly, he thought he’d killed her”.

Theirs was a family concerned with outside appearances above all. They had the best clothes, but there was no food in the house. Shaneda remembers her life as “split” – some happy times, “but the other side was full of beatings, of hunger, of control.”

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“It was the old fashioned thing, of whatever happens in this house stays in this house,” she recalls, of her father beating her severely in the hallway. Later, a neighbour said she’d heard her crying. “I said, ‘Oh, I slipped on the stairs.’

"Even though I was never told not to tell, I’d just lie. I was afraid of my father being taken to prison.”

Shaneda’s father once asked her if she remembered the first time he sexually abused her. She thought it was when she was four; he casually reminded her of an earlier incident in the bath when she was three.

Shaneda remembers them watching TV together when she was four. He made her spoon with him on the couch and began touching her. It continued almost any time they were alone.

She remembers asking a visiting aunt to sleep on her bed because “I knew he wouldn’t touch me in my bed if she was there”.

The sexual abuse became normal for Shaneda, along with the beatings. The night her mother was in hospital giving birth to her sister, her father took Shaneda into his bed for the first time. She was eight. She still adored him then. The moments when he was ‘Nice Dad’ kept her going.

“I was convinced that I was special, that he loves me so much. I was his princess and this was our secret,” she says. “The grooming thing is so scary. They own your mind, body and soul.”

When she got older, she begged him to stop, but he forced her to watch pornography and said he wanted to teach her how to enjoy sex. “When I was 16 and 17, he was never away from me. It just became such a f**king chore, a nightmare of never having a minute’s peace from him.”

Shaneda moved out of home when she was 17 to escape the abuse. “I used to have nightmares all the time about being this married woman and my dad still calling to the house to have sex with me. It was just constantly in my head that this was never going to end.”

She drank heavily to cope. Then she discovered she was pregnant with her father’s child.

She says she did not see it “as a pregnancy. I just thought of this alien thing with like 50 heads, because I knew what incest was.” A woman in Limerick helped her with a termination. “The monster had gone,” she says in her book.

It was around this time that Shaneda first told gardaí about the abuse and her mother was informed. Her father said it was true and moved out of the house to seek therapy. Her mother continued to see him. After a year, he moved back. Life went on as if nothing had happened.

Shaneda started her own family.

“I kept quiet from 18 to 26. Then he assaulted me again. That was my worst nightmare coming true. My three kids were downstairs when it happened – and that was the moment that I always thought as a teenager, this is going to continue as an adult.”

In 2010, Shaneda decided to bring charges against her father. After making her statement, she told gardaí: “He’ll come here and admit everything. They were like, ‘Why do you think that?’ I said, ‘He’s so arrogant and cocky. He will come here and say it all.’ I know him better than anyone else on this earth.”

Harry Daly pleaded guilty to 227 sample charges of rape, indecent assault and sexual assault against Shaneda between February 1982 and November 1992, when she was aged between six and 17 years old. Shaneda waved her anonymity for the trial. “I knew I wanted him named.”

In 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with five years suspended.

When he was brought in handcuffs to the main gates of Limerick Prison, where he worked for many years, he said to the officers: “Bet you never thought you’d see me on this side.”

He was released in 2018.

In writing her book, Shaneda wanted it to be clear that “I didn’t have two minutes’ peace in that house from him. If I was in the bathroom, he opened the door from the outside, if I was talking with my friends at the door, he’d come up behind me. I just never had peace in the house.

“I remember my mom saying to me, ‘I don’t understand. You were always with him.’ I said, ‘Jesus Christ, can you not work it out? Why do you think I was always with him?’”

Rose Daly continued to visit her husband in prison and resumed living with him when he was released. In 2015, Rose told The Mail on Sunday that she “will never put him out”. She believed he had taken responsibility and Shaneda needed to move on.

“I stopped trying to work her out because I’m never going to work her out,” Shaneda says.

At times, it sounds as if she found it harder to forgive her mother than her father.

“When he went to prison, I became indifferent to him. That was the most amazing feeling. The thing about my mother started because, whatever about walking away from me, she had a brilliant relationship with my eldest three – and she walked away from them, and from my sister and her two kids.”

Shaneda has four grandchildren herself. “I adore the grandkids. How could she just walk away from them?”

In her book, Shaneda addresses the toll the abuse and the trial took on her mental health. She suffered severe depression after her father went to prison. There was no help available to her, no counselling. Some family members no longer spoke to her.

“I felt like my mom and my dad were winning. That they still had each other and I had nothing. It just got so dark.”

She lost custody of two of her children. “I think the fact that two of my kids don’t live with me is the hardest thing for me to say to people.”

Her father however “got all this therapy and the Building Better Lives programme that they do. It gives them a more positive way of thinking and moving forward and accepting what they’ve done. They get so much help in prison.”

She kept going for her children.

“I don’t think I would be alive unless I had them. And I love life now. I remember getting up and looking at the clock when I came down the stairs and going, ‘Oh God, I’ve to stay awake for 12 hours.’ The pain just going through me of having to be alive.”

Now, she contacts other people in similar cases to hers. “I will reach out to them and say, ‘I’m here.’ Give them a comforting word.”

Shaneda is apprehensive about her book coming out, but feels that her speaking out helps other people to open up. “People stop me in Limerick or they come up to me talking outside McDonald’s and they start pouring their hearts out.”

Throughout her ordeal, Shaneda has “had the most amazing experience with the guards” but is aware that isn’t common.

In the last decade, she has worked hard for change, in the media, at conferences and at meetings with public and garda representatives.

In her book she sets out the changes she’d like to see in mandatory sentencing, training for gardaí and judiciary, and in funding for support services. She also established a Facebook support group, Survivors Side by Side.

In a meeting with then Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, she told him, “There needs to be a change in the courts. We need to be treated as people, not as witnesses to the state.”

It seems to haunt her that she did not know how to write her Victim Impact Statement. “It was just so daunting. It didn’t explain enough. It didn’t explain the devastation.”

She is infuriated by the use of character references for the accused in cases like hers.

“I remember sitting in court when they were saying my dad had been a prison officer for 27 years. How was that a positive thing for him, when half the time he was a prison officer he was also a paedophile?”

Piecing her life together to write Sins of the Father has been ultimately therapeutic.

“I’ve learned so much about myself since doing the book,” she says. “The last year, everyone has said how much I’ve changed. I realised that I’m very much a people pleaser. If somebody’s upset me, I used to take the pain away myself and not say anything – but since I did the book, I’ll tell them, ‘You really hurt me when you said that’. I’m expressing myself.”

Her father and mother now live in an apartment complex in the northwest. Shaneda is friends with a Facebook mothers’ group there. “I don’t believe for one second he’s changed, not one bit.”

The last time she saw him was at a restorative justice meeting in prison. Having had a hold on her for so long, she “needed to know that that was totally gone”.

She listened to him talk and then said: “You know what, now I get up and I speak about people like you – and I help other people get over people like you. People will always know about people like you, because of me.”

And then she left.

‘Sins of the Father’ by Shaneda Daly with Linda Watson-Brown is published by John Blake, €18, on February 17

If you have been affected by any of the issues here, you can contact Survivors Side by Side, a support group set up by Shaneda Daly on Facebook. The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland run a 24-hour helpline on 1800 77 88 88. Or contact the Samaritans Ireland on freephone 116 123; samaritans.org


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