It was first Holy Communion Day on Saturday. Bouncy castles popped up in every other garden, people came on the radio complaining about the amount of money thrown around, that the only people not affected by the recession were eight-year-old children who would pocket hundreds of euro. Fifty would be standard in a card from a family member or close friend. Then there is the outfit and new clothes for the rest of the family, caterers or a hotel, drink..etc etc etc…

Little girls first Holy Communion outfits (dress, shoes, bag, veil, tiara, umbrella) can run into hundreds. Some schools have insisted on school uniform to stop the competition and keep the focus on the ceremony, which is a good idea. But it is also good for a child to have a day that is about them. They are special, maybe spoilt, but they have a clear signal from their family and community that they are cherished, and that is hugely important for a child.

The joviality of the weekend was blown away by the story emerging of child abuse in the area. Snippets of ghastly information filtered through over a couple of days. Anyone in authority was tight lipped and kept a stony cold silence, terrified to invade privacy or make false accusations.

You always hear that there is abuse in every community, behind closed doors. When discussing this with friends we would say ‘surely not?’ and ‘which kids are vulnerable?’ And it was always these two.

How I wish I had made a determined effort to reach out to them, called around to their house, reported my suspicions. There were little red flags; grubby clothes (that’s not a crime especially if you are a struggling parent, we are all guilty of a dirty uniform day), never accepting invitations for play dates or birthday parties (that is a parents prerogative), living in a remote area and often seen wandering on the road unsupervised from a young age.

When details emerge you know deep down that this was probably not an isolated incident; it was a 7 year sentence. There is a huge wave of grief, especially among mothers with children their age, we should have done more, we are all complicit.

The facts are the children are not in school, the official line from the school is ‘they are in good health and good hands’, the rest is hear say.

But the story rings true and it is a very hollow sound.

If you suspect child abuse click this link for advice. Better to be safe than sorry. Visit this site for guidelines.
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