Wednesday 22 November 2017

The day we all turned on the Hare Krishnas

In 1987, a tale of drugged ice cream and abduction grabbed our attention

Judge's ire: Hare Krishnas in Dublin in 1973
Judge's ire: Hare Krishnas in Dublin in 1973

Damian Corless

Precisely 30 years ago, in September 1987, Middle Ireland ganged up viciously on a tiny band of people devoted to peace, love and understanding - the Hare Krishnas.

A shocking torrent of spite was unleashed when Dubliner Tony Murphy went on RTÉ's Liveline with a mind-boggling tale of abduction, island captivity and indoctrination at the hands of the Krishnas. What really caught the public's imagination, though, was the drugged ice cream.

The 25-year-old had been on the missing persons list for a week when he turned up at his local Rathfarnham garda station to report his kidnapping. His story began at the Hare Krishna restaurant on Dublin's Crow Street. A fine free veggie meal was finished off with ice cream. Drugged ice cream, he learned to his cost. He blanked out. He came too in a different room where he was offered more food. Surprisingly, given how his last snack disagreed with him, he ate it.

Next thing he knew he was on an island on Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh. When he begged to leave, he was told Krishna said no. A chance to escape arrived when he was taken to Enniskillen Hospital with a minor neck tweak. But he didn't breathe a word of his captivity because he thought the doctors and nurses were "in cahoots" with his captors. But he did escape, and in a manner worthy of 007. He climbed out a window, shinned down a pillar, navigated a leaky boat, stole a car and fled back over the border.

His distraught parents called in their parish priest, who arranged for Murphy to repeat the whole thing on Liveline. In the face of a barrage of abusive calls, a Krishna spokesman denounced it as a pack of lies, insisting Murphy had gone to the island voluntarily. The saga occupied a second show, then a third. The terms 'cult' and 'brainwashing' were much bandied about, as the Krishnas took a mauling from listeners.

A decade before immigration took off, Ireland was conspicuously white, church-going and suspicious of difference. It was also caught in a bitter civil war between traditionalists and modernisers, fought out through divorce and abortion referenda, contraception campaigns, Late Late Show debates and Liveline vox pops. After a decade on the backfoot, Catholic Ireland was fighting back on all fronts, and the Hare Krishnas found themselves in the firing line.

Sadly, they'd been there before. In 1973, five members had stood trial in Dublin District Court after their jaunty street singing upset some passers-by. The judge thundered at the tangerine-clad defendants: "Why are you dressed in those ridiculous garments? I could sentence you for contempt for wearing a scarf like that. I can warn you, you were lucky not to have been assaulted by the crowd. Any decent Irishman would object to this carry on. My only regret is that I can't have you locked up." Case dismissed.

That level of hostility clearly hadn't abated in 14 years. On the second Liveline, Murphy's parish priest took to the air. He said he knew nothing about the ways of the Hare Krishnas, but it seemed obvious that Murphy was telling the truth.

What happened next recalled the Monty Python sketch where a man claiming to have written the plays of Shakespeare is reminded that the works in question were penned 300 years before his birth. He concedes: "That is where my claim falls down. I was hoping you wouldn't bring that up."

Soviet embassy

Tony Murphy's whereabouts on the day he claimed he'd gone 'missing' were no longer a mystery. He'd been on the telly. RTÉ had filmed him demonstrating outside the Soviet embassy in support of imprisoned Russian Krishnas. In fact, he was holding up the main protest banner. This bombshell provoked a third Liveline where, instead of accepting he'd led everyone a merry dance, diehard callers argued Murphy's amnesia actually proved the ice cream had been drugged.

Bowing to Hare Krishna demands, the gardaí launched an investigation, taking a 33-page statement. Murphy was in a deep hole, but planning to lodge kidnapping charges. The police told him to stop digging. He wouldn't. When it came to court, the judge dismissed his "smear" as "outrageous" and imposed a three-year suspended sentence for wasting garda time. As the judge delivered his verdict, a Hare Krishna spokesman gave his. He stated grimly: "The involvement of the Catholic clergy in this case merits further investigation."

It was an in-between time. Ireland had primitive mobile phones, satellite TV, personal computers and, in U2, the newly crowned biggest band in the world.

But at the close of that September week 30 years ago, it was abundantly clear that although they'd lost this particular battle, those who wanted to drag Ireland back to the 1950s were still very much alive in the war.

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