'I honestly still love dad': Cork woman Amy Barrett speaks about life after abusive father's conviction

One of the two daughters of a Cork man sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday for sexually abusing them over a number of years has told RTÉ Radio One's Today with Sean O'Rourke programme that she still loves her father.

Retired soldier Jerry O'Keefe was yesterday sent to prison for the rape and sexual assault of his daughters Amy Barrett and Melissa O'Keefe.

In July, he pleaded guilty to nine sample charges out of 78 original counts before his trial was due to begin. Both daughters waived their anonymity so 69-year-old O’Keefe from Oakhill, Youghal, Co Cork can be identified in the media.

Amy Barrett spoke to Sean O'Rourke this morning of the abuse she suffered in the 1980s and revealed how it was not clear to her that what was happening was wrong.

She said: "Does any seven-year-old know? The stuff that was happening to me, I didn't understand. The physical pain of it, I remember that. I didn't understand why dad was doing this to me, I thought maybe this was just what dads do.

"You do what your parents tell you when you're young, so I didn't question it."

Melissa O'Keefe (left) and Amy Barrett

She then continued to say that she doesn't remember how often it happened but she knew the signs, she knew when the abuse was coming.

She said: "There was a routine to it, a familiar pattern. Dad is almost like a split personality, before the abuse he would be really nice to me, almost like buttering me up.

"But I knew it was coming then when it would start off with me sitting on his lap."

Yesterday, Melissa and Amy told 3News that they did not know that their father was abusing the other, and O'Rourke asked them when they realised they were both suffering the abuse.

Amy said: "I think it was probably well into my teens when I found out Melissa was abused by my dad as well. I didn't actually go into the details of the abuse with my sister then, it's very hard to talk to somebody about the abuse."

Melissa O'Keefe (left) and Amy Barrett during their 3News interview yesterday.

She then spoke about how she had to continue on with her life, going to school and doing others normal things while the abuse was going on.

She said: "That's very difficult because you're trying to live as normal as you can and trying to pretend that you have a normal family. The strain was incredible, but I did always feel different, I knew I was different when I went to school and I couldn't interact with other kids properly.

"I've always been quiet, I've always been nervous."

Amy said she did very few activities outside of school and she found it very hard to concentrate on her studies at the time and even after the abuse had stopped.

She said: "I do remember struggling even through my Leaving Cert. It was really difficult to concentrate on school work."

The abuse stopped, she thinks, around the age of 11 or 12, when they moved house and she doesn't remember it happening again.

She spoke of not being able to tell anybody, saying that you did what you were told by him, he was such a controlling person.

She said: "You just wouldn't cross him, you did what you were told. There was no way of telling anybody and the first time I told was the Rape Crisis Centre when I spoke about the details of the abuse.

"I would have told my friends in my later teenage years, but I wouldn't have gone into the details."

It was in 1999 that Amy went to the Rape Crisis Centre to speak about the abuse and she described having been in a dark hole out of which they had pulled her.

She said: "It was so difficult, they were my dark days, they were the days when I just wanted to give up and they helped me out of a dark hole. They pulled me out of it, they gave me the skills then to deal with it and with life after that."

"I've gone through the anger and the running away, the denials and I am where I am today which is the hurting."

She then revealed the last time she spoke to her father.

Amy said: "I spoke to him around 2014 just after I made the statement (to Gardaí), because I wanted to let dad know what I had done and I wanted to see if he would just do the right thing by us now because we all needed to face up to this.

"It is one of the weirdest conversations I've ever had. Dad would be sitting their drinking tea and talking and I asked him had he remembered abusing me and he said 'I do', and then when I start talking about the details of the abuse, he would flip the lid and just start shouting and roaring at me and saying 'I didn't do that to you, you were too young'.

"And he did that pattern all through the court case."

Amy Barrett talking outside court yesterday as her sister Melissa O'Keefe looks on. Pic: Collins.

She explained how her father would have said sorry to her a few times for his actions.

She said: "He rang me on the day I was getting married and said sorry, and I would always say 'for what?' and he would say 'you know what'. He could never actually bring himself to say 'I'm sorry for what I did to you'.

"It was my brother who gave me away that day and I didn't think twice about it, I'd broke the connection with him years ago.

"I still love my dad, but that doesn't mean I want any kind of relationship with him either."

She then went on to explain how she could still feel love for her father.

She said: "I've struggled with it for years, this has been a secret for years, the shame, and it's been all on me. But like I said in my victim impact statement, I hand them all back to dad now.

"I have great faith and trust in God, and God gave me the strength and he gave me the courage to get through every single day and I know myself, the only way I can have peace is just to let it go.

"I still honestly love dad and I can't do anything about it, it's just the way I feel."

As for her own life, Amy said that she wants to put it behind her and get on with as good a life as she could possibly have.

She said: "I have a lot of determination in me, I was determined to get on in life, I knew I wanted my own family, my own kids, my own husband.

"I wanted to have a good life, I didn't want to have anything like I had myself."

She then explained why they both waived their anonymity.

She said: "For me and Melissa, we took it stage by stage, not expecting too much and take it as it comes. When it got to the point where we had the choice to waive our rights and I knew I wanted to do this for my own personal reasons - the shame, the secrecy around abuse, to get it out there.

"And then to help other people obviously, because I know there are too many victims out there, there is too much silence around abuse."

Referring to the headline of the story on the front page of today's Irish Examiner "Never too late to speak out", she said she had asked the same question of Mary Crilly of the Sexual Violence Centre in Cork, whom she called her 'angel'.

Amy said: "She just said 'no you're not'."

She said that people don't talk enough about the abuse people endure, saying: "People don't talk enough about abuse. I didn't know then that there was anybody going through it."

You can listen to the full interview below.

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