'We have to begin to believe the women' — Don Hennessy on The Ray D'Arcy Show

A couple of weeks ago, Don Hennessy joined Ray D'Arcy in the RTÉ Radio 1 studio to discuss Steps To Freedom — Escaping intimate control, our newest release.

During the interview, Ray asked Don about his career as a relationship counsellor in Cork, and Don had the possibility to explain why and how he specialised on domestic violence. He told that in 1989 the "Cork domestic violence project" was formed: 'We ran a group for five or six years with these men, abusers, and we ran a group at the same time with the women living with these abusers', Don said. 'For the first three years, we thought we were doing great, and then we began to realise that something wasn't adding up, that maybe what we were doing wasn't helpful at all. In some cases, we thought it was being dangerous because what we discovered was that the women being abused were expecting us to change their partners for them, and we realised we couldn't do that. All that was happening was that the men were learning new tricks from each other in the group on how to control their partners.'

They continued to work with these abusers, recording them and trying to figure out what was going on in the background. 'We spent three or four years trying to establish a language to describe what these men were doing. We had some experience working with paedophiles. People who worked with paedophiles on a regular basis came out with a description of how these men operated, and it took us a while to realise that our guys were doing exactly the same thing: targeting, setting up and grooming, exactly the same process. The only thing is that the guys who are doing it to adult women are actually better than the paedophiles in doing it because they can do it in a way that's acceptable in the community.'

Another important topic Ray and Don talked about is the difficulty for women to be believed in court. 'There's a new domestic violence bill coming down the tracks', Ray said, 'and one of the things that it's specified in is coercive control, which is what you talk about here and it means that somebody could present without any bruises or any history of violence but could say that their partner is controlling them—very difficult to prove.' Don confirmed that it's impossible to prove, unfortunately, and added: 'What we have to do is to begin to believe the women, because women in these situations are normally truthful and men in these situations tell lies repeatedly. When they go to court the men's lies are accepted, men are lying in a specific type of way and the women's truth is ignored'.

'For the last fifty years', Don said, 'the services have only met the women. Nobody has sat down with these guys to try and figure them out, and that's what needs to happen: we need to define the problem as a male problem and men need to talk about it.'

He also told how, after publishing his first book—How He Gets Into Her Head—, he got not only positive and grateful reactions but also angry reactions. 'When I went to publish my second book I found it difficult to publish it, so I had to go and sit down with Seán in Liberties Press to get somebody who would do it, and he agreed to do it'. We are indeed very proud of giving you the opportunity to read Steps to Freedom: get your copy at this link.

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Making the home a suitable place to work

Among the many joys of being a writer, an important one is the ability to work from home. Over half of Irish businesses now provide a cloud service, allowing employees to work remotely. The freedom involved with not having to commute to work or find a place to get lunch leaves more time to be creative and produce great art. However, home can be a dangerous place, where productivity is low. To get the most out of your home workspace, you need to keep it clean and organised. Read on to find out why cleaning is so important and how to keep your home to an office standard.

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The Importance of Cleanliness

A dirty environment inside your home could have significant effects on the quality and rate of your work. Of course, unclean workspaces will mean a higher possibility of germs spreading, causing you to take more time off. However, it is not just visible dirt which is a problem.

Sick building syndrome is a medical condition caused by dirty air. The pollutants in your home can make it hard to breathe, inhibiting oxygen flow to the brain, which you need to be productive and creative. Check the ventilation system in your home to improve air quality. Although impossible to remove completely, you can also avoid skin problems by reducing mould. Take time to deal with these less visible health risks.

The Decluttering Process

There is fierce debate around whether a cluttered desk improves creativity or not. However, it is known that a lack of organisation can slow work rate. Find a space that can be dedicated to work and remove any irrelevant items. This way, you will quickly be able to find that important document to finish off your story.

Your space should be somewhere you feel comfortable, so for each person, the level of decluttering will be different. If a completely sterilised environment makes you uneasy, then don’t worry! You can keep some level of mess. However, if you find yourself uncomfortable in your home office due to clutter, then remove it. Remember, the more items you have, the more dust there will be and the less healthy and alert you will feel.

Creative types are known to be a bit messier than others, but consider whether this is affecting your productivity. If you are spending the vast majority of your time inside your home, then you need to ensure you are breathing the cleanest air. This means improving ventilation and getting rid of mould. Decluttering can help to keep dust levels down while providing an environment conducive to productivity and focus.

Information Is Power: Learn Early Detection Of Skin Cancer

As book lovers, we are very passionate about information and the value that it can add to every area of life. Health is no exception. We published many health books that can help you to prevent disease, adopt healthy habits, and live longer. Having brought to you At Five In The Afternoon, Michael Murphy's memoir about experiencing cancer, we are sensitive to the matter, and we think that raising awareness is vital.

Each year, there are 11,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed in Ireland and, unfortunately, mortality from melanoma is increasing. In many cases, when it is caught early it can be surgically removed before the cancer spreads. Because information is power, we want to arm you with the early signs of skin cancer that you can look for in yourself and others.

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A Wound That Won’t Heal

If you have an area of skin that looks like a wound but won’t heal for weeks, get your skin checked. This could be an early sign of Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), which is one of the most common types of skin cancer. In addition to a non-healing wound, another early warning sign of BCC is a sore that heals, but then quickly re-opens.

Asymmetry and Irregular Borders

Take a look at the moles and beauty-marks on your body. An early sign of skin cancer is asymmetry of a mark on your skin. Does one half of the mole look the same as the other, or different?

Look at the borders, checking for irregularities. Asymmetry and irregular borders are both early signs of melanoma. This type of skin cancer is rare, but spreads quickly, so it is essential to check for these signs often.

Rough, Scaly Red Patch

Squamous Cell Carcinoma may first appear as a raw, red patch on the skin that has a scaly texture. This patch may bleed, itch, or feel painful but not necessarily. Sometimes they cause no discomfort, so it is critical to do a visual check of the whole body to identify them. Any constant abrasion of this type should be examined by a professional.

If you spot one of these signs, don’t hesitate before getting your skin checked by a dermatologist. They will give their professional opinion about the area that you’re concerned with and may recommend further testing or surgical removal of the affected skin. We’re excited that you have taken the time to learn about these early signs. Bookstores and libraries are also excellent resources for more information.

The home is the most dangerous place on Earth — Don Hennessy on Newstalk

Our newest release Steps to Freedom — Escaping intimate control is out next Friday, and a couple of weeks ago Don Hennessy had a chat with Seán Moncrieff on Newstalk about the main topic of the book: domestic violence.

Seán explained that 'the term "domestic violence" can often describe something beyond domestic violence: it can describe a highly dysfunctional relationship where one partner effectively controls the behaviour of the other. Both women and men can find themselves in such relationships, and the numbers in Ireland are thought to be in the hundreds of thousands.'

As Don put it during the interview, 'the home is the most dangerous place on Earth and there are lots of different forms of violence going on within the home, and lots of psychological and emotional abuse as well.' Domestic violence is not just about physical violence, but also about all those kinds of violence based on the desire to control the other person in the relationship.

What are the signs that indicate we are dealing with an abusive relationship? Don pointed out that 'the primary thing that happens is that the target person takes the blame for what's going on. Instead of looking at his behaviour, she examines her own actions and she begins to tell herself "if I don't say that, if I change my approach to that then he won't be upset and then I'll have a reasonably good relationship." She tries to improve herself rather than condemn him.' 

It is very difficult for the victims to realise what's actually going on, to realise that they're victims. Seán read a message of a listener that proves this perfectly: 'My friend is in an abusive relationship. We have all tried to warn her, help her, but she refuses to believe anything is wrong. She's in love. We're all worried she'll end up dead.' Don, who's been a relationship counsellor for several years, told: 'the person who's being controlled may never know. I've met women in their eighties controlled all their lives that defined the relationship as difficult or up and down, but when I say "no, you've never been in charge of your own life", it becomes a shock to them to realise that any decision that was ever made in the relationship, if it was a big decision, was made by him.'

The whole interview can be found on Newstalk's archive. If you want to know more about domestic violence, abusive relationships and how to find a way out of it, get your copy of Steps to Freedom.

Those We Have Lost

In earlier days, the winter solstice was viewed as the turning of the year, with the noticeable lengthening of the day in early January signalling rebirth – a sign that the world was continuing to live and thrive, rather than descending into perpetual darkness. It is also, fittingly perhaps, a time of year when many elderly people give up the ghost – to use an old-fashioned expression. This winter, the extended Liberties Press family has lost three members, each of them someone who has made a mark on the country, and the world – and each of them, in their different ways, a fine writer to boot.

John Montague was the finest poet Ireland produced in the twentieth century. He was a mentor to Seamus Heaney: as is the way of things, the pupil received all the praise and attention, while the teacher was somewhat neglected. He saw the country with an exceptionally clear eye – as only someone who left it can – and wrote perceptively and movingly of it. He never wrote a pompous line, and we will be reading his work in a hundred years’ time, when many of his contemporaries have been largely forgotten.

I had a drink with him in Dublin a couple of days before his death. Although he had recently had a minor medical procedure, he was hale and hearty, and in his usual acerbic frame of mind. He was about to receive a lifetime-achievement award. I asked him if he had a few words prepared. Four-letter ones, he replied. He refrained from this course of action, but on accepting the beautiful glass award, he complained that it didn’t look possible to drink out of it.

Several years ago, I was driving John and Elizabeth to a reading. He commented on the boscy road down which we were traveling, and noted that this was a fine word, which one seldom had opportunity to use. Whenever I see it, I think of him. John had not been in great health, and went on to remark that it would be no harm if he died while travelling the country, reading from his work. He would be happy to go out with his boots on, as he put it. We forget that the poet is a campaigner too.

On another occasion, we were having lunch, when a faraway look came over him. He had been pondering the fact that the skills that one generation prized most highly – ploughing a straight furrow, in his case – were not only quickly forgotten by the next, but often became obsolete in short order. His memoir The Pear Is Ripe is one of the most entertaining literary memoirs you will read. Let’s be honest, many of them are pretentious, self-aggrandising nonsense. There’s nothing worse. He was astute – and kind – enough to dedicate his selected short stories, A Ball of Fire, to ‘Tim O’Keeffe, an exemplar to all gallant publishers’. (Tim – no relation – was the publisher of, among others, the great Dylan Thomas – a posting which kept him on his toes, by all accounts. I am reminded of a film director who made a short with Peter O’Toole – playing Queen Elizabeth, wielding a blunderbuss. O’Toole arrived on the train for the day’s filming drunk as a lord. The director was caught in the horns of a dilemma: if the great man got any drunker, he would, like any lover, be unable to perform; on the other hand, if he sobered up, the day would become a misery for everyone involved. The solution was to keep O’Toole ‘topped up’ with just enough alcohol to retain his merry state – without pushing him over the edge. The approach clearly worked: the resulting film was a fine, bewildering romp. O’Toole looked great in his enormous, flouncy dress.)

John once read with the very finest modern poet of them all, William Carlos Williams, in an American university. Williams, who was elderly, had had a stroke, and was difficult to understand. He threw his arm around John, and exclaimed, in a garbled but heartfelt way: 'Poet! Poet!'

Leland Bardwell was another member of the literary community who will be sorely missed. She recounted how, at school, there was a dull grumbling whenever the latest prize-winner in English was announced: Leland again. She certainly suffered for her art: a Dutch-Irish woman (she rejected the tag ‘Anglo-Irish’) from a prosperous background, she lived for years in what we would now describe as social housing. Leland was a heavy smoker throughout her life; indeed, smoking featured in many of her books, as a release, and an act of rebellion. It does not seem to have shortened her life. (My father-in-law, still going strong well into his eighties, and a heavy smoker, went for a checkup to his GP recently. When he asked whether he should give up smoking, the doctor told him he was in excellent health and should probably just keep doing whatever he was doing: he was clearly on the right track.)

Like The Pear Is Ripe, with which it has a few things in common, her memoir, A Restless Life, with its photograph of a shy but confident little girl, resplendent in a fine hat, on the front, is a superb piece of work. Leland wrote in a clear, unflinching manner, but took great pains, during the editorial process, to excise any material that might have caused offence or upset to those about whom she was writing. The lead-up to the launch was fairly torrid – Leland was not the easiest of people to work with – and I remember the friend of hers who launched the book exclaiming loudly, from the pulpit as it were, that publishers were only interested in sex. Nonetheless, the evening was a triumph, and Leland seemed to enjoy herself greatly. I am honoured to have published her autobiographical novel, Girl on a Bicycle, a small masterpiece, as well. I received a call just a few weeks ago from a man looking to acquire the rights to turn that book into a film: all those years on, hopes of the grand triumph spring eternal!

Last but not least, as they say, is Professor Risteárd Mulcahy. Risteárd was advocating robust personal health well before it was fashionable to do so. He clearly revered the memory of his father, General Richard Mulcahy, the head of the Free State forces. Years after the turmoil of the civil war, Mulcahy was Minister for Education. During a visit to Scandinavia, he was being shown around a school, including the school psychologist’s office. On being asked how many educational psychologists there were in Ireland, Mulcahy replied: ‘Do you know, I don’t think we have any.’ Richard Mulcahy helped build Ireland as an independent nation, and Risteárd certainly inherited this public-service ethos. We had long conversations about what he regarded as the corruption of the commercial world – the business of publishing and bookselling, in my case – and about the direction in which the country was traveling – a direction of which he did not entirely approve. After a visit to the Beacon Hospital, he remarked that if this was the future of health care, we may as well give up doing anything else, as there would be no money left!

I published a string of his books: Improving with Age, My Father the General, Memoirs of a Medical Maverick, Is the Health Service for Healing? and his last book, a provocative pamphlet-style publication entitled On the Survival of Humanity. Above all, he was an independent thinker who would not be cowed. He had a fine library, and kept a reading diary, with notes on every book he read. I admired his decision not to receive treatment for the cancer with which he was diagnosed – on the basis, presumably, that at that stage the cure would inevitably be worse than the disease itself. His funeral demonstrated the great love with which he was surrounded throughout his life, by his large extended family and many friends – among whose number I am honoured to count myself.

Death is a strange animal. One day you’re having a chat with a good friend; the next, he’s gone, never to return. While I am sorry that I will never see any of these three people again, and I realise that those closest to them are heartbroken, I find it difficult to mourn their passing. For one, each of them had had a good run of life (‘a good innings’, as my English grandmother used to say), and could not really complain on that score. For another, their lives, and the conversations we shared, are completely fresh in my memory. It’s just that, the next time I think to contact them, to discuss a new project, perhaps, they won’t be there to take the call.