Chapter 1 – Why this book?
I wrote this book because I slowly realised over the last few years that no one else was going to write it and it had to be written. I had written an article on male suicide for Magill magazine in 2001. The article asked why it was mainly men, mainly young men, who were taking their own lives in modern Ireland? The article was considered in some politically correct circles as “an attack on women”. It wasn’t an attack on women, but it was an assault on feminism. It is as dangerous to criticise the country’s new state religion, as it was to question the country’s old religion in the days of John Charles McQuaid.
The article was entitled “The Flight Of The Earls” and it later inspired a play. The central character was a young man in crisis who drove off the pier at Rathmullan, Donegal. The play premiered in Donegal in 2005 and toured the west of Ireland in late 2007.
The Earls had left Ireland and gone into permanent exile from Rathmullan in 1607. It is a pivotal moment in Irish history and is the real start of our experience of colonialism. It is the start of Irish people being “mere Irish”. I was taken by the analogy between the young man and the Earls. The Earls in 1607 were forced into exile by a hostile power. Were young Irishmen today being forced into a deadly exile by an alien belief system: feminism?
In my research I would meet men who sat on that pier and idled the engine considering the options. They asked themselves the question “Continue living in pain or let the blackness of the water end the agony? These men go on the record in this book for the first time. One of them shared with me the letters he wrote to his three kids before he headed for the pier. Only the fact that he didn’t want to leave them sleeping in the house alone prevented him from diving into the blackness of the Lough that night. I met with unmarried fathers who considered that living without contact or a role in these children’s lives was no life at all and that death was more acceptable. I met those who told me of such men who were not around to tell their story to me in person because they had acted on what was inside them at that moment of agony and hopelessness. I met with parents crippled with the never ending “Why”? Why did their son, their beautiful child, walk to the shed and meticulously hang himself, leaving nothing to chance?
I met with the well-meaning professionals who seek a method of reducing suicide, but seemed to me incapable or unwilling to ask the tough questions. I have no issue with asking tough questions on any subject. You don’t know me dear reader, but if you stay with this book you’ll get an idea of your author over the next few hundred pages.
That is because this book is also about my journey and struggle in the past ten years or so to highlight this issue, locally and nationally. This book is not an academic work, although some reference to academic research will be made. Anything that is mentioned can be sourced through my website www.philmacgiollabhain.com
This is the first book on suicide in Ireland to come out of the men’s movement in Ireland. My perspective is stated honestly and upfront. For ten years I have been active in the men’s movement in Ireland. I have worked for the charity Amen which deals with male victims of domestic abuse. I have made several forays into the media, print journalism, TV debates and written a one man play dealing with the situation in which men find themselves here in modern Ireland when they no longer live with their children.
It is fitting that it is the suicide issue that should be the topic of this book, for it was this issue that forced me to confront previous strongly held beliefs. I had been thoroughly trained in feminist thought for twenty years before I started to question the dogmas that I had held to be true. I had read for a degree in Politics and Sociology at York University and whenever sex or gender was mentioned, it was clear that the dominant vibrant ideas were those of feminism. From York I had gone onto University College Wales to study Social Work. There, if anything, the all pervasiveness of feminist ideas was even more unquestionable. All males had to recant. The women had an air of moral superiority merely on the basis of being female. Looking back on it now it seems so preposterous.
I qualified as a social worker in 1990 and went straight into a local authority position in my native Glasgow. I quickly realised a couple of important facts about the professional position for which I was trained. Firstly, it wasn’t a profession and secondly, I wasn’t trained. In the absence of any scientific validity for what I was doing, ideology had filled the vacuum. The main thing I brought to the job was that I was thirty-two years of age and had had many varied life experiences since leaving school.
During my time at Swansea there was something of a flutter in the social work training world. A college in the North of England had stated on its prospectus that they would positively discriminate in favour of candidates who were over thirty and would look kindly on their applications. This, apparently, had been over-ruled by the governing body in London as “ageist”. My course in Swansea had a healthy amount of people over thirty, some nearer to fifty. What they brought to the course and what they would bring to their future clients would be life experience. Something, of course, you can’t learn on any course no matter how well it is written or taught.
Many of my new colleagues were twenty-year-old females who had gone straight from school to college to social work office. Like me, they weren’t trained either, but they had the average life experience of any early twenty-something which isn’t much. What they did have was the middle distance stare of the zealot. They were convinced that they were bringing enlightenment and social justice to the poor area of Glasgow that they were “serving”. Once more, with hindsight, it all seems so totally ridiculous.
I qualified as a social work practice teacher and took a social work student in 1995. He was a fine lad and if I ever had a social worker at my door for any reason then I couldn’t expect to come across a finer human being than this man. Being his practice teacher led me to go back into the collegiate world and touch base with his academic supervisors.
Nothing had changed in the world of Social Work education other than the name on the piece of paper. The qualification had been given a make over. The Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) was now the “Diploma in Social Work” (DipSW). People pronounced the new acronym the “Dipswuh”. It sounded like a disease you could get from drinking water in Africa. Whatever the name it was still the same stuff, feminist propaganda masquerading as an applied discipline. They borrowed terms from medicine and law, but in the end it wasn’t training, it was an immersion in an ideology. Students were assessed for their “values” which was code for their politics, particularly around areas of gender and relationships. That generation of social workers are now in positions of power in health boards in Ireland. It is hardly surprising, then, that the response from health boards, now the Health Service Executive (HSE), has been slow. It is not that they do not care about the deaths of so many young men. It is that this suicide contagion among young men doesn’t fit their worldview. Quite simply if what they believe about the world is true then this should not be happening.
Since I wrote the Magill article in 2001, I have attempted at local and national level to highlight this killer of our young men and to ask the real questions that officialdom seem hell-bent on ignoring. This book is, in part, the story of that struggle and my journey to ask people their experiences of this serial killer. I think that struggle, personal to me though it is, shines a light on the reluctance of official Ireland to really tackle the serial killer that stalks our young men. This is not a series of interviews with experts musing with clinical detachment. We leave this issue to them at our young men’s peril. I have sought out people who have been touched by suicide and by men who have looked over the edge and, thankfully, came back from it. Here in these pages they share what took them to the edge and what brought them back.
If you have this book in your hands then you can be part of the solution. Corralling this serial killer isn’t a job for experts, they have signally failed, it is a job for you and me and it is a job for all of us. In reading this book you are now part of that national conversation. Is this the kind of society that we want?
Are the lives of these men really unwanted?