Eden Heaslip was just 18 when he took his own life a month ago. Even in a breathless news cycle full of tragedy and heartache, it would be hard to read about the death of this Cavan teenager and not be touched. Or horrified.
The pictures accompanying the story showed a handsome, smiley young man. You wouldn’t think he had a care in the world. In truth, his life was falling apart.
His father Raymond told a local radio station that his son was beaten physically, tortured mentally.
He got it in school and the bullies followed him into his home through social media.
Raymond told Northern Sound FM: “They never left him alone. And that’s what ended poor Eden’s life.”
Bullies bully because they can. The justifications for their thuggery are often just convenient excuses for glaring personal inadequacies.
But the core reason in this case is particularly disturbing and upsetting.
Eden was endlessly taunted for the one single thing that made him different: his bullies regarded him a ‘black Protestant bastard’.
Imagine, in the Ireland of 2021 we are still raring little bigots. You’d wonder where they might have picked it up.
Apples generally don’t fall far from trees. So maybe at home, or on the streets. Perhaps they sniffed it in the ether, because there is a lot of bone-headed, four green fields nationalism about. Maybe just an isolated case then. Just as, I suppose, the sectarian abuse endured by the parents of murdered Protestant Cameron Blair in Cork last year, telling them ‘to f**k off back to England’?
Cork, of course, has never owned up to the nature of its sectarian legacy from the War of Independence, be it the Bandon Valley murders, the execution of Mary Lindsay, disappearances, house burnings and intimidation.
The evidence is all there, even if some historians prefer to nitpick rather than acknowledge the bigger picture. Cork’s Catholic Bishop Cohalan, Eamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Erskine Childers had no problem calling it out in 1922.
At the same time in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, Protestant townspeople endured a sustained hate campaign to drive them from their homes, an ugly situation replicated elsewhere.
It didn’t end with independence. In 1935, Protestant bank clerks in Dunmanway, Co Cork, were given a ‘first and final warning’ to clear out. In 1938, Fianna Fáil TD Martin Corry told the Dáil he was in favour of stockpiling poison gas which an obliging wind might blow over the border. He didn’t as much as lose the party whip.
After Bloody Sunday, in 1972, a Southern Star editorial advised that if Protestants ‘were not prepared to live in an Ireland governed by Irishmen, let them get out’. Intimidation of Protestants was reported at that time in Kinsale, Bandon, Ballydehob, Schull, Skibbereen, Rosscarbery, Ballinadee and Clonakilty.
Bigotry has a long memory and it travels light. It turned up in Cavan a month ago. Shameful.