Kim Haughton’s new installations highlights the horror and endurance of abuse victims

Kim Haughton’s powerful installation uses sound and pictures to explore the stories of abuse victims, writes Richard Fitzpatrick

Kim Haughton’s new installations highlights the horror and endurance of abuse victims

THERE is a picture in Kim Haughton’s In Plain Sight exhibition of Dave Dineen standing outside the house he grew up in Ballyphehane, Cork. The house is falling into disrepair. One of its windows is boarded up. Its pathway is overrun with moss. It looks bleak.

When Dineen was growing up, however, the house was always in good nick — the curtains were clean, the walls were painted. In the photograph, Dineen is wearing a Superman T-shirt. He must have a light heart, you’d think. There is no indication of the unspeakable horrors he endured in the house behind him.

His mother used to beat him violently. At bath-time, she shoved his head under the water. As a kid, he used to “gorge” on the Beano comic book and the antics of Plug and the Bash Street Kids so when he was summoned one day by his mother to come down the stairs he stuffed his pants with a coat and cushion, hoping to shield his backside. His mother burst out laughing when she saw his get-up. It didn’t stop her, though, from giving him a thrashing.

Night-time brought other terrors. He shared a bed with his older brother, Mick, who first started sexually abusing him when he was only seven years of age. At 12 years of age, Dave was put into an adult mental institution in Cork and later a Catholic residential home where, in his own words, “one of Ireland’s worst paedophiles resided”. He later dealt with the demons that tormented him by taking drugs and drug dealing.

Dunderrow National School in Kinsale, Co Cork, where Louise O'Keefe was abused by principal Leo Hickey

Dave ended up driving his brother to Rosslare and putting him on a boat and telling him never to come back — that if he came back to Cork he’d be dead..

A few years later, he was contacted by social services in London to say that his brother had six kids. “So he went over to London to try and find the brother,” says Haughton. “After a few months, he found him by chance begging on the street outside the Tube station in Camden. His wife was begging beside him.

“He went looking for a sharp object in his pocket to stab the brother, especially because he wasn’t looking after his children and stuff. When he went over to the brother, wanting to harm him, he instead embraced him, and forgave him. It was a spur of the moment [decision]. This freed him up to walk away from it.”

The snap decision set Dineen off on an extraordinary road. He ended up caring for his brother’s six children — he is also the father of three children and a grandfather — and he set up the Lámh Healing Foundation in Leap, West Cork, which provides counselling for survivors of clerical and institutional sex abuse.

In Plain Sight chronicles other stories like Dineen’s. The installation, which started in 2011, includes sound recordings of their stories and accompanying pictures, which are deceptively bland and benign.

There are beach coves, country lanes and the ruined castle at Fethard-on-Sea, Co Wexford, where Fr Sean Fortune abused many of his victims in its belfry at the top. There is no hint they are crime scenes. In 2011, Haughton was reporting on the Cloyne Report into clerical abuse outside St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough St, Dublin, for a French news magazine when she got chatting — and later went for a cup of coffee — with a protestor, John Deegan, who was dressed in a priest’s collar with the devil’s horns on his head. He was from Co Donegal.

Kim Haughton spent several years recoring the stories of abuse victims

This set her on her way to Donegal where she met with Detective Garda Martin Ridge who spent the last five years of his career investigating three paedophiles in the Gaeltacht region of the county.

“I remember sitting with Martin Ridge — and this was before I went around the Donegal landscape to take any of the photographs — and he came out with a couple of sentences where he listed off all these places. Just a totally off-the-cuff thing — he started talking about it happening on the beaches, on the boreens, on the islands, everywhere. Something just triggered in my mind. I was looking out of his house at this beautiful landscape and was trying to square that off with trauma and difficult things happening in these beautiful places. That’s where the idea started of exploring these altered landscapes.”

Haughton says all the stories are different in the installation, but they are unified by two emotions. All her subjects spoke about “fear”, the constant fear they endured growing up, and also of the sense of a “lost childhood”. She says her biggest challenge was to get them to trust her, to open up and agree to an audio recording of their stories.

One subject was taken aback when he went with Houghton to visit the parochial house in Fethard-on-Sea that Fr Sean Fortune lived and used to sexually abuse him. The house had been re-purposed as a crèche. “He found that really hard to deal with,” she says. “He wasn’t expecting this; especially that it was being used for children. I saw the impact it had. I felt a sense of responsibility because I brought him to the place.”

Marie Collins was abused by a priest when she was in Our Ladys Children's Hospital, Crumlin

Haughton also went with Fiona Doyle, who is from Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, to re-visit a graveyard for the first time in 30 years. Doyle wanted to find the tree where her father had raped her.

“We went together and found the graveyard that her and her father would go to visit. It was her father’s parents’ grave.

“There she was able to re-trace her steps down to a cluster of yew trees. I had to walk a little bit behind to let her have her own space.

Haughton could only work on one subject’s story at a time, or maybe meet a couple of people within the pocket of a week, and then she’d leave the project for a couple of months because it was a grim headspace to occupy.

“It was difficult, but they are living with this all the time,” she says. “The power of the human spirit to overcome all these odds, to be a normal functioning person in society after this traumatic thing. These people are amazing.”

Kim Haughton’s In Plain Sight is on as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival at the Atrium, Cork City Hall,Anglesea Street, until June 26.

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