Demons On The Loose

Hot Press - - The Message -

Some things are harder to com­pute than oth­ers. As the lat­est is­sue of Hot Press is bro­ken up into pack­ages and goes spin­ning through the lay­ers to the prin­ters, we are in that strange, short-lived vac­uum: after most vot­ers have had their say in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but be­fore there is any clear in­di­ca­tion of just who will be the next Pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica.

It might sound like the ti­tle of a heavy metal al­bum. But this is 2016 and very strange and deeply dis­qui­et­ing things have been hap­pen­ing both in the US and here in Ire­land. It might help if we stopped singing the praises of peo­ple guilty of butcher­ing their fam­i­lies...

The un­think­able might yet hap­pen. Don­ald Trump could, in the man­ner of the leave cam­paign in the Brexit vote, sneak through on the in­side, to se­cure a shock vic­tory. The man is a deeply of­fen­sive, nasty, un­pleas­ant, racist, sex­ist, and ul­ti­mately shal­low, buf­foon – per­haps the worst high-pro­file can­di­date ever to run for the high­est of­fice in Amer­ica. The thought of what he might say and do and look like, if he were to win, makes the thought of con­tem­plat­ing the vis­age of Freddy Kruger seem like a pleas­ant and de­sir­able one.

And yet – un­less the polls are wrong – this car­i­ca­ture of a hu­man be­ing has won the sup­port of close to 50% of the US elec­torate. It is an as­ton­ish­ing and chas­ten­ing thought.

One US friend ex­plained it in blunt terms. “Some Amer­i­cans sim­ply can’t ac­cept the idea that there might be a woman in the White House,” he said. “Men in par­tic­u­lar find that too much to deal with. It is deeply misog­y­nis­tic, of course, but they can’t get be­yond the bul­ly­ing, pa­ter­nal­is­tic view that a man – any man – is bet­ter than Hil­lary. It just might be enough to swing it in Trump’s favour.”

Well, by now – read­ing this – you almost cer­tainly know. My gut in­stinct, with the hours tick­ing down, is that he will not be anointed. But I have to ad­mit that stranger things have hap­pened – and far closer to home too...

In the West of Ire­land last week, three bod­ies were dis­cov­ered in a house near Ir­ish­town in Co. Mayo. Kitty Fitzger­ald (72) and Tom Fitzger­ald (75) were dead when Gar­dai arrived at the scene.

Their son Paul Fitzger­ald, who is in his thir­ties, was alive but crit­i­cally in­jured.

The Gar­dai are re­ported to have tasered Paul when he failed to “put his hands up.” He was taken to hospi­tal lo­cally and then re­moved to Beau­mont Hospi­tal in Dublin, which spe­cialises in brain in­juries.

The par­ish priest in the area was quick to say that the cou­ple were pil­lars of the lo­cal com­mu­nity and reg­u­lar Mass-go­ers. “They were lovely peo­ple – both of them were in­volved in the church here,” he said. In fact he went fur­ther, say­ing that they’d be em­bar­rassed to hear him say it, but they were both “saintly” peo­ple. The work­ing as­sump­tion seemed to be that Paul must have done some­thing ter­ri­ble.

Since then, it has emerged that the Gar­dai had used their tasers far too quickly. And the lo­cal priest had done the ver­bal equiv­a­lent. As the ev­i­dence stacked up, and the foren­sics were ex­am­ined, it be­came clear that Tom Fitzger­ald had poi­soned him­self. Piec­ing the ev­i­dence to­gether, a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of events en­tirely be­gan to crys­tallise.

The con­sid­ered view now, ac­cord­ing to Gar­daí work­ing on the case, is that Tom Fitzger­ald mur­dered his un­for­tu­nate wife. The like­li­hood is that Paul came in on the scene and was felled as well and left for dead. As it tran­spires, he was not fa­tally in­jured (though there is no cer­tainty that he will re­cover). Pre­sum­ably be­liev­ing that he had done his worst, Tom Fitzger­ald then pro­ceeded to com­mit sui­cide by poi­son­ing.

It is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine what might have in­spired this bloody may­hem. Ex­cept that – to make the con­nec­tion back to sup­port for Don­ald Trump – peo­ple are ca­pa­ble of an as­ton­ish­ing level of nas­ti­ness, vi­cious­ness and bru­tal­ity if the wrong cir­cum­stances or se­quence of events trig­gers it. And there is no point in sugar-coat­ing that par­tic­u­lar pill, un­pleas­ant as it may be to face up to it.

As re­cently as Au­gust 2016, a teacher by the name of Alan Hawe killed his wife and three chil­dren in Bal­ly­james­duff in Co. Ca­van. It was a grue­some mur­der: the teacher – the Deputy Prin­ci­pal in a lo­cal school

– had stabbed his wife and three chil­dren to death. The ac­tion had been pre­med­i­tated. Hawe pinned a note to the door of the house, ex­plain­ing why he had butchered his fam­ily, leaving in­struc­tions that the en­ve­lope should only be opened by rel­a­tives.

No one has re­vealed what was in that let­ter. Per­haps we will never know. In that in­stance too, how­ever, gush­ing trib­utes were paid to the man who had just slaugh­tered four peo­ple. Lo­cals were quoted say­ing that it was typ­i­cal of the man that he left a note, ex­plain­ing ev­ery­thing. And again he was de­scribed as a pil­lar of the com­mu­nity – which of course, in a way, he was.

It would be wrong to in­trude on the per­sonal grief of the fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als af­fected by events of this kind. If any­one de­serves our sym­pa­thy now, it is Paul Fitzger­ald, who if he does re­cover, will waken up to a dread­ful liv­ing night­mare. In­deed, all of those who were close to Alan Hawe and to Tom Fitzger­ald will for­ever suf­fer ag­o­nies about what hap­pened. They will won­der, hope­lessly, if there is any­thing that might have been done. They will be haunted, for a long time, by the thought of what might not have been but in­escapably is.

Any half-de­cent per­son will feel deeply for those most im­me­di­ately af­fected by des­per­ate and tragic events like th­ese. Even the fam­ily of the Isis bomber, Ter­ence ‘Khalid’ Kelly, who blew him­self up near Mo­sul in Iraq last week, must be suf­fer­ing griev­ously now, through no fault of their own.

It is im­por­tant to be com­pas­sion­ate, even to­wards those who carry out atroc­i­ties. More of­ten than not, there is a ter­ri­ble hu­man tragedy at work, when peo­ple drift to those per­ilous mar­gins where mur­der seems in some hor­ri­bly twisted way to be ac­cept­able or even right­eous.

But this much is worth say­ing too. Singing the praises of some­one who has just com­mit­ted an atroc­ity feels not just wrong but of­fen­sive.

Alan Hawe butchered his fam­ily. The like­li­hood is that Tom Fitzger­ald did too. Know­ing the ex­tent to which women and chil­dren have his­tor­i­cally been the vic­tims of male bul­ly­ing and vi­o­lence, and given that each of th­ese cases of­fer a ter­ri­fy­ing ex­am­ple of that far too fa­mil­iar archetype writ large, it is deeply wrong for re­li­gious rep­re­sen­ta­tives and com­mu­nity lead­ers to pre­tend that noth­ing un­to­ward has hap­pened; and that those guilty of the mur­der of en­tire fam­i­lies were re­ally won­der­ful peo­ple.

We are all flawed. We all make mis­takes. We are all ca­pa­ble of do­ing wrong. But if there is a gen­eral prin­ci­ple that can be stated with­out ques­tion, it is that we have to try to chart our way be­yond the kind of so­ci­eties in which peo­ple – and men in par­tic­u­lar – use vi­o­lence as a way of try­ing to im­pose their will on the world – and in par­tic­u­lar on those close to them.

I hope it doesn’t seem churl­ish also to ask where the so called God of Chris­tian­ity stands in all of this. He ap­par­ently in­ter­venes to en­able foot­ballers to score goals, judg­ing by the num­ber who bless them­selves and look up all wide-eyed and mys­ti­cal when the ball hits the onion sack. Mean­while, he (for it is a ‘he’) stood idly by, while th­ese ter­ri­ble events un­folded in coun­ties Ca­van and Mayo. In fact, a slightly dif­fer­ent ver­sion of the same God was Ter­ence Kelly’s ex­cuse for his last, mur­der­ous act.

The fam­i­lies who were butchered by th­ese men were un­able to dodge the the bomb, the bul­let or the blade. Let’s hope, in con­trast, that the US has – and that we are now wel­com­ing, no mat­ter with what reser­va­tions, the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the United States, Pres­i­dent Hil­lary Clin­ton. Be­cause if Don­ald Trump claims power, one fears that there will be a lot more blood on the car­pets – and on the streets.

Some things are in­deed hard to com­pute

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