Blog#88 – An Cailín Dána

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Dear Readers,

I hope this finds you well. Those of you who follow my fortnightly blog closely will have noticed that I didn’t send one out last week. I had been away for the weekend with himself, walking barefoot on a sandy beach, shrieking playfully every time the cold waters of the Indian ocean washed over my feet. I say cold because it’s all relative. The last time I’d walked by those shores the temperature was in the high 30 Celsius. Being winter here down under, the temperatures are currently in the high teens which I know for some of you is still warm!! Anyway, whatever about the weather, I found myself in a state of utter relaxation that followed me all the way home and lasted for a few days. I had an idea for a blog, but it remained just that because by Thursday morning I was catapulted into a puddle of my own tears at the tragic news of Sinéad’s death. For the first time in my blogging career, I have been lost for words. There will be no recording of this edition to watch or listen to as I’ll only start bawling again. At least with writing, I can pause and cry or scream or whatever. I don’t want to put you through that.


So many thoughts and feelings have been bombarding me since the news. I have been triggered, big time. I remember last year when I read about her son’s suicide, I felt sick. I wondered how she could ever come back from that. I mean how do you? As a mother, it would be hard not to blame yourself under ordinary circumstances. But given Sinéad’s history, I would imagine it was even harder for her. What with the shitty start she had in life, I believe it must have shaped how she felt about herself for most of her life.

No amount of fame, accolades, wealth, adoring fans, or success will make a difference to any of us in the long run if we don’t find a way to love ourselves.

Sinéad struggled over the years to overcome the obstacles that blocked her path to self-love. I remember seeing an advertisement that she ran in the Irish Times 30 years ago asking for people to treat her with respect, advising them that she was learning to love herself. It must be an incredibly hard thing to do when you are treated as though you are public property and constantly being celebrated and vilified, all at the same time. She was so young and vulnerable then.

An Ireland that was cruel to children

In the past few days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Sinéad’s life. Yesterday I was weeding in the garden with a heavy heart. With every weed I pulled another image of her was released in my memory. It is weird. I know. And it’s being further compounded each time I look at a news site or social media. It feels like the whole world is mourning this talented, tortured soul who has awakened something in me that had been dormant for so long. I remember her anger clearly during the 80s and 90s. And I’m sorry to say that I didn’t like how it made me feel at the time. I blocked her out. I rolled my eyes and wondered if she would ever just get a grip. I thought she was an attention-seeker. I know that’s harsh. But it needs to be understood in the context of what was going on for me at the time. You might be reading this and thinking, bloody hell Gill, why do you have to make this about you?

Sinéad and I were only months apart in age. We grew up in an Ireland that was, for us both, cruel to children. We both fled Ireland when we were teenagers. Sinéad was braver than me though. She wasn’t afraid to shout about the injustices and atrocities. Sinéad’s mother was dead, and she had nothing to lose. Mine, on the other hand, was and still is, alive. So, I spent decades hoping that I would win my mother’s love and approval. But being the cailín dána (bad/bold girl) as I became known, it was never going to come in the way that I hoped. The water under the bridge never flowed too far, instead it gathered in a murky pond downstream and festered there throughout my twenties, thirties, and forties. I never felt wanted, loved, or that I belonged during all those years. And sure, why would anyone want to love a bad/bold girl like me, eh?

Original sin

The featured image of this blog is a photo of me as a two-year-old at my aunt’s wedding. How bloody cute was I! Yet I was already, according to my mother, a cailín dána.  I didn’t behave in the way that was expected and I got walloped. That was 1960s Ireland for you. We were living in a church-state that showered its people with dogma on a daily basis, dogma such as ‘Ye are born sinners and must repent’ and ‘He who spares the rod hates his son’. Let that sink in for a moment. What kind of crap is this: Children are born sinners. They must be beaten. Now I’m sure some of my readers will challenge me on these teachings and point out that they are misinterpretations of what was actually written in the Bible. And I won’t disagree with you. The problem is, the Bible WAS interpreted in this way by some priests, and they shouted these obscenities at us on a regular basis. I was scared to death of priests and nuns growing up. They always seemed so intolerant and judgmental. I wasn’t alone. I know that the parish priest wielded much power over us. I remember when I was accused of stealing money from the teacher’s desk at the age of seven, the priest told my parents to punish me, that it was the work of the devil. I had not taken the money.

Stealing a way of control

It was only when I hit my 50s and started to face the demons of my past that I was able to admit to myself and my counsellor that I had been a thief and was able to pinpoint its beginnings to after the traumatic ordeal of being falsely accused of stealing. The pain of not being believed and the trauma of not being able to trust those who cared for me sent me into a spiral of stealing. I guess my thinking was if they weren’t going to believe me either way, then I may as well steal. Even when I received heavy-handed punishment, I still went out and did it again. I later found out from my counsellor that stealing is a way of control for children who feel they have control over nothing else. I finally stopped when I found alcohol, ironically. And to think that for decades I harboured crushing feelings of shame for having been a thief. I hated myself to the core. The sad thing is that while it might have given me a sense of control over something, it created a catastrophic chasm between me, my family and some of my teachers. I became the cailín dána they told me I was ever before I became her. I know that Sinéad too found comfort in stealing and suffered the harsh consequences of it. I have no doubt that she was also forced to believe that she was a bad girl. The difference between Sinéad and me is that she channelled her boldness into being creative and she wasn’t afraid to be her authentic self. I, on the hand, locked my boldness away like a deadly creature that threatened my chances of being accepted and approved of by my mother.

Bold, not bad

My earliest understanding of what it meant to be bold was that it was something bad and deserving of punishment. I have memories of being made to stand in the corner of the classroom by the teacher who made an example of me as a cailín dána. Forever, the word dána has reeked of badness for me. It was only yesterday that I decided to delve into it and find out where it came from. To my huge surprise, I found that it derives from the old Irish word danae meaning courageous and daring. Being a bold child has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning! Now I feel proud to be a cailín dána and, with the wisdom of age on my side, I am no longer fearful to be me. I just wish that Sinéad had been able to come to terms with her past for all its pain, knowing that she was deserving of love, just like the rest of us. She has inspired me to never be afraid to speak my truth, ever again. RIP beautiful cailín dána.

Thank you, my readers, for being here with me today. I wish you self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and self-love to help you connect with the joy that is to be found in the simple act of being alive. May you love and be loved now and always. Love, Gill

Gill Kenny - the Writer & Blogger

About the author – Gill Kenny

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Through my blog, I aim to provide you with a place where you can feel valued by inviting you to share your journey too.  I will regularly have guest writers who wish to share their views or experiences on each topic. I am open to ideas and happy to cover any topics that interest you, so please feel free to share yours with me.

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Love, Gill x