Frances Black, the singer and Independent senator, has opened up about the shame and stigma she felt after falling pregnant as a teenager and her parents said she could no longer use the front door of the family home.
After making an emotionally charged journey back to the places that mean the most to her, Ms Black recalls in the latest episode of RTÉ’s Keys to My Life, how the pregnancy in her teenage years tore her family apart.
“I knew Daddy was devastated. It brought huge shame on the family,” she says. “He couldn’t bear to even look at his beautiful daughter and think ‘she is pregnant’. He really, really struggled with it. And I carried a lot of shame around it.”
She secured a job in a creche to save money for when the baby was born, but was told she was no longer welcome in the front door in case the neighbours saw her. When she came home at the end of each working day, she says: “I’d have to go around the back so the neighbours wouldn’t see me.
“I remember feeling that strength of, ‘I will do this and it will be OK, no matter what’.”
Despite her difficulties, she viewed herself as one of the lucky cases in 1980s Ireland, having been allowed to keep her son, Eoghan.
“I remember there was another young girl who got pregnant around the same time and she just disappeared. She was in one of the Magdalene Laundries and when she came back there was no baby. I remember thinking, ‘I am so blessed’.”
The pregnancy led to a hasty marriage that was over in five years. Black then became a single mother of two young children, after the birth of her daughter Aoife. She was facing homelessness, but was saved when her friend offered her a spare bed in her home in Dublin “for very little rent... it really saved my life”.
After returning to the property for the first time in 30 years, Black recalled how it was also the place where her addiction began taking hold, once she’d put the children to bed each night.
“It was loneliness, I suppose, and then it just escalated. Once I started drinking I couldn’t stop until I passed out to numb out the loneliness, to numb out whatever that was going on. The insecurities, the low self-esteem, the ‘not being good enough’. Everything. The children were young at the time but it must have been very difficult for them.”
Eventually she stumbled across a newspaper article which detailed the story of a woman with the same toxic drinking patterns. She realised she needed help.
“I will never forget going in to the counsellor and the realisation about the impact that my drinking was having on the kids. I said, ‘I will never touch a drink again’. That was 1988 and I haven’t had a drink since.”
As part of the RTÉ programme, Black also revisited the house on Rathlin Island, Co Antrim, where she spent idyllic childhood summers that brought temporary relief from bullying in school and the poverty of life in inner-city Dublin.
The 62-year-old also revisits the South Circular Road Victorian house bought by her parents for just £13,000 in the late 1980s. It led to an inheritance which funded her education in addiction studies, and put the singer on the path to Leinster House.
“That would have been, I believe, the proudest moment ever for my parents. When I got elected into Seanad Éireann I felt so close to the both of them. I get emotional now even thinking about it.
“Here I was, walking into Leinster House and all the ushers were there and I was convinced they were going to say: ‘Excuse me, what are you doing here?’ I just thought, ‘I am from Charlemont Street, how did this happen?’”
Meeting Brian, her husband of 27 years, was one of the most significant turning points in her life.
“From the moment we met, life just got better and better,” she says.
‘The Keys to My Life’ with Frances Black, RTÉ One, tonight at 8.30pm