'Nobody knows the torture I went through': Majella Moynihan's guarded life

In 1984, Majella Moynihan was charged with breaching An Garda Síochána’s disciplinary rules, for having premarital sex with another guard, and for having a child. 
'Nobody knows the torture I went through': Majella Moynihan's guarded life

Majella Moynihan was charged with two counts of misconduct under garda discipline regulations: that she had sex with an unmarried male garda, and had given birth to a baby. Picture: RTÉ Documentary On One.

“I’m the first person in the world to be charged with giving birth,” says Majella Moynihan. 

“There are no words to describe what An Garda Síochána did to me. There are no words. I can speak and speak and speak, but nobody knows the torture I went through.” 

At Store Street Garda Station, that night in October 1984, Recruit Bangharda — as female gardaí were called then — Moynihan was called to an office on the second floor, where a chief superintendent cautioned her.

Alone with a vulnerable young woman who had just lost her baby, he then peppered her with an aggressive series of deeply personal questions. Was the father of the child the first man with whom she had had sex? When had they had sex? Where? Had they used condoms?

Nine days later she was charged with two counts of misconduct under garda discipline regulations: that she had sex with an unmarried male garda, and had given birth to a baby. She was further accused of “conduct likely to bring discredit on the force (by) giving birth outside wedlock”.

The father of her child, a recruit garda she had known since before their time together in the Garda Training College in Templemore, had deserted her.

“He just ran. Even if he had just supported his child, things might have been different. I had nothing. I had no solid ground at all.” 

Majella Moynihan.
Majella Moynihan.

Rumours circulated that she would be dismissed, until, she says, Archbishop Kevin McNamara interceded, telling then-Garda Commissioner Larry Wren that firing her would tell other pregnant unmarried female guards that they would be better off having abortions. “If you sack Majella, you’ll open the gates for England.” (Wren’s family disputes this.) Moynihan was taken to Letterkenny Garda Station, where she was interrogated in front of a sworn disciplinary inquiry. The questioning was brutal, and humiliating. The father of her child was given a fine.

“He was fined £90. And I was torn apart by misogynist bastards within An Garda Síochána.” She believes that had she come from a supportive family background, things might have been different, but when she was 18-months-old, her mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver, and she was taken from her home in Banteer, Co Cork, and placed in St Joseph’s Industrial School in Mallow.

Her first 11 years were happy, until the school’s kind-hearted head, Sister Claire Caples, retired.

“Then it was really, really lonely, and the beatings were horrific. I’m a strong person, but I was broken in there.” 

She feels that her desire from an early age to join the gardaí came from a child’s wish for justice, and a longing to help vulnerable people. She says her experience never lived up to the dream, and she was subjected to bullying and harassment, including two serious sexual assaults.

Majella Moynihan during a recent interview on The Late Late Show.
Majella Moynihan during a recent interview on The Late Late Show.

A police culture of misogyny and prejudice, and the loss of her baby to an adoption she felt pressured into, left her heartbroken, relying heavily on alcohol, and, for a time, hospitalised in St John of God’s psychiatric hospital.

“Mentally, I was gone. I couldn’t see beyond the pain. I remember screaming out. Screaming. Please somebody help me. It was like ten claw-hammers pounding in my head. I couldn’t stop it, and it was all self-hatred.” Years of counselling have since helped her reclaim her life.

In 1994, Majella met the man she would marry, another garda, and they would have a son together, and although their marriage broke up in recent years, she says he is a kind man, and a model father. Their son is the centre of her world.

“Stephen just brings joy to my heart. He’s a compassionate, gentle, kind, loving young fella. He has great empathy, and great understanding.”

 Majella Moynihan left An Garda Síochána in 1998. “It was the best decision I ever made”.

A few years ago, Majella went to a one-woman show about adoption in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght. During an after-show audience discussion, she stood up and spoke.

“It was the first time I had ever told my story, and it was like a light switched on.” 

A Guarded Life by Majella Moynihan with Aoife Kelleher
A Guarded Life by Majella Moynihan with Aoife Kelleher

A meeting with film-maker Aoife Kelleher followed, and together they made an RTÉ documentary, which aired last June. It resulted in Majella receiving an apology from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, and then-Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Now she has written a book with Aoife Kelleher.

“I always did say that I had a book in me, but I didn’t think I’d ever have the courage to do it. For me the book is freedom.” 

In recent years she has been reunited with her son, David. “He’s 36 now. He’s a lovely guy, but he has his demons.” Majella is hopeful that in time they can have a normal relationship.

“I still feel so guilty for giving him up. I felt abandoned all my life, and there’s a part of me that can’t forgive myself for signing that dotted line.

“What galls me is that they had such power over me. I wish I hadn’t allowed them take my son.”

  • A Guarded Life: My Story of the Dark Side of An Garda Síochána by Majella Moynihan, with Aoife Kelleher is published by Hachette Ireland.

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