A great sadness hangs over the country

For the past week, the entire country has woken up with a pain in the pit of its stomach, a gut-wrenching physiological reminder of the great sadness that has engulfed us all in this tragic start to a new year.

Not a moment went by in the past week without the majority of us being deservedly distracted by the overwhelming sympathy we felt, not just for the family of Ashling Murphy, but also for the first class children in her care.

The grief we feel is so universal because every community is held together by people like Ashling — those who contribute, who perform, who educate, who use their physical and mental energy for the betterment of those who live around them.

Every village and town and home is impacted by the Ashlings we know. She was one of many bedrocks of the communities that make up the type of country we live in.

When someone like that is taken from us, it sends a seismic shock throughout us all. It resonates more deeply and makes the fragility of life all the more apparent.

The events of the past week have started a national and international conversation that has needed to be had for decades, but perhaps only now will it have the momentum to be continued.

There should never have been any tolerance for the disrespect and indignity and insult and assaults that has passed for banter in this era. The incremental growth of seriousness which emanates from ‘just a few words of banter,’ is something that has to be tackled if we are to take anything away from this episode, apart from immense sadness.

There is a role for schools and families to play in this. To educate children in how to respect and be respected; to create a new way of acting, of calling out what is unjust and inappropriate.

An ideal society is one that has at its heart the presence of a strong sense of empathy. As long as there is disregard for dignity, for safety, for inclusiveness, the ideals of society can never be achieved.

In the past few days, many schools have restarted this conversation in their SPHE classes — it was always on the curriculum, but perhaps never before has there been such a jolt for its need.

First reports suggest that like many adults, children are beginning to learn that there has to be a new way of thinking, a new way of behaving.

In the past week as well, a large section of the population have increased their awareness of the way that girls and women have to navigate life. The pre-planning, the in-built fears; the catastrophic thoughts they have when being potentially confronted by men and boys.

This increased awareness may be a legacy of the life of Ashling Murphy, but it will never be any substitute for the loss her family and friends feel, and to them, we continue to send our deepest support and sympathies as they go through these dark days.


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