Determined to live happily ever after

Emma O’Riordan was raped by her father and bravely waived her right to anonymity to name him. She speaks ahead of her wedding today to Niamh Nolan.

TODAY Emma O’Riordan will walk down the aisle on the arm of her mother Helen and her stepfather Michael. The 25-year-old from Cork hopes the bridal march will mark a return to “normality” just eight weeks after seeing her own father jailed for 10 years for raping her.

Emma O’Riordan’s story touched the nation when she waived her right to anonymity outside the Central Criminal Court in May and named her 45-year-old father Patrick O’Riordan as a rapist.

The Englishman hadn’t seen his daughter for 19 years when, following a brief correspondence, he flew to Cork to meet her.

Later that night he attacked and raped her in his B&B.

Speaking before her wedding day, Emma describes the guilt and anxiety she has felt in the three years since her ordeal. But her overriding message, evident in her excitement about married life, is that it is possible to recover from rape.

“It is,” she says. “But you need a certain strength and the right ingredients. I had my family and Garrett, but it can be harder for a person who has no support and is left to deal with it on their own.”

Emma met her 24-year-old fiancé, Garrett Dorgan, a few years before the rape and the couple were friends before they dated. Overcoming the trauma was eased by his support, she says.

“I’m delighted there’s still light at the end of the tunnel, Garrett’s been brilliant.

“I’m very lucky I was able to meet someone I could trust and who loves me for who I am and takes me as I am,” she adds.

Emma’s nightmare began when O’Riordan sent her a card and a letter for her 22nd birthday in June 2001.

He hadn’t seen her since 1982, when she moved, aged three years, back to Ireland with her mother.

Emma’s parents divorced in 1985 and her mother remarried shortly afterwards. She decided to write back.

“I initially wanted to write for a few months, I had no intention of meeting up.

“He rang and said, ‘I’ll come visit you’ and then rang from Cork Airport. I was thrown in at the deep end, I had no inclination of what was going to happen,” she adds.

She went for a meal and a few drinks with her estranged father, before returning to his B&B.

He insisted she stay the night in the bed, while he would sleep on the floor but he came out of the bathroom and raped her.

“I was sick, I couldn’t take it in,” she said. “Initially I did blame myself, you question the night and things that happened, ‘did I do something, did I say something’, but it doesn’t make a difference, there’s no excuse for it,” she says.

O’Riordan, formerly of Shirland Road, London, initially denied any sex attack happened and then told gardaí it was consensual. He has never apologised to his daughter, but after changing his plea to guilty, he turned to Emma and her mother in court and said, “happy now, are ye?”.

“I was shaking, but I was delighted he changed his plea,” she said.

Despite pleading guilty to two counts of rape, O’Riordan was given bail and stayed near Emma’s home in Cork before a complaint to gardaí prompted a relocation. In May 2003, shortly before her father was due to be sentenced, Garrett proposed to Emma in Killarney.

“I was thrilled,” she said. “In a way he’s taken this on board too, because it will always be with me.”

However, O’Riordan failed to appear in court when the day arrived. He’d returned to England and it took almost 10 months before he was extradited back. He was finally jailed for 10 years for the rape on May 5.

“All this time as I was trying to plan the wedding it was hanging over us,” Emma said.

“You never fully recover from it, it’s always going to stay with you, but it’s going to get easier.”

She believes she has benefited from counselling in the Sexual Violence Centre in Cork, but admits she has changed.

“I’m very wary of who’s around me when I go out or when I go to get a taxi. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

She admits she was “shocked” by the media interest in her case, but says the response she got told her she had touched some people. Following a radio interview, another victim came forward to say she too had been raped by her father and only now felt she could talk about it.

“At the time I didn’t care about the consequences, I wanted people to know him and hoped it would prevent it happening to anyone else.”

Today Emma will change her name from O’Riordan to Dorgan.

It’s her special day and she has waited for it for many months. The newlyweds will spend two weeks honeymooning in California.

“We plan to relax and just enjoy it. I want to chill out and enjoy being married, to move into our new house and enjoy a bit of normality,” she laughs.

Dressed in a simple, white dress created by designer Ernest Perryman, this afternoon Emma will be joined by family and friends to begin a new, happier chapter of her life.

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