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Rita& Anita


The “Once is Too Much” art exhibition, which fearlessly confronts the issue of violence against women, has been making waves around Ireland and abroad since it was produced several years ago.  I caught up with it in Derry, where I also had the pleasure of seeing Rita Fagan, of the Family Resource Centre (the organization which produced show), give a presentation about addressing violence against women at the community level.  Back in Dublin, I discovered that the Family Resource Centre and its off-shoot project, the Inchicore Outreach Centre, were just around the corner from where I lived.  I spent several eye-opening hours with Rita Fagan and Anita Kopenhofer talking about their program’s innovative approach to “domestic” violence.



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Interview with Rita Fagan & Anita Kopenhofer of the St. Michael's Estate Family Resource Centre and the Inchicore Outreach Centre, September 28, 1999

 

RF: My name is Rita Fagan.  I’m a working class woman from Dublin.

AK: My name is Anita Kopenhofer, and I’m working here as an outreach worker in the Inchicore outreach centre.

RF: I’m the project director of Family Resource Centre.  It’s based in St. Michael’s estate, and it’s a community development project run by women.  Not only for women but run by women.

The Family Resource Centre began in 1986, and it was set up as a response to the needs of the local people on their estate.  There was no facilities when they built the particular flats that the centre is based in.  There was nothing there at all.  Women were concerned with their children sniffing glue and having no spaces to play.  So a group of women got together and they tried to get the building to begin a small project.  And over 14 years now, it has developed into quite a large project.  It employs 16 people.  It runs services like local education for women.  By that I mean that women come into the centre and they decide what they want to learn.  A lot of them may have left school very early.  A lot of them are living on social welfare, living behind doors that they don’t come out of.  So what we did  for women there was to provide them with a space that they could actually begin developing themselves.

We also provide for their children an afterschool program, where children who have fallen behind in the school system can be helped with their homework and can play, because sometimes in the family space there isn’t any space to actually do that.  We also offer  a crèche to women to support them while they’re going back into education, be it in the local college, be it in our centre, or going back out to work.  We would work with men, particularly around the arts, that’s where the men kind of come into the project.  We’d work with the tenants’ association.  The conditions of the flats are really bad.  And we try to work towards making those changes at a political level, at a local level, regional level, all those kinds of ways.

We’d also be very involved as a centre in developing the first model in the whole country to address the issue of violence against women at a community level.  And I think that’s where Anita might want to say a little bit about the particular space.

AK: I think when the model was being devised at the time, there was a need for a space outside of the Family Resource Centre.  Because women were coming into the centre and disclosing in the centre and it wasn’t confidential.  There wasn’t  space because all the rooms were being used.  And also women outside of St. Michael’s estate, some women didn’t want to come into St. Michael’s.  It wasn’t an ideal location.  So as part of the model then it was identified that there was a need for a safe confidential space in the area, in the community, but outside of St. Michael’s estate.

RF: It brought up issues for us as well because we needed to have funding, and we didn’t have funding.  And the other question was: can local women provide a service to local women?  Will local women want to come in to somebody they know?  In one sense it works for some women that they might know Anita.  But what’s been lucky for us is we were able to get Kate, who’s an outsider. So that if they don’t want to see Anita they’ll see Kate.  It’s a very confidential service.

It’s a service that begins where you first accept that the women is in that particular position. That you accept that she might want support. She may just want to talk about it.  She might only want to disclose it only once it her life.  Or she may want to go all the way through the court system.  And we can provide that.

But to get here, to get this space it took a lot of work.  It took training all the key workers in the area, like the priests, the nuns, the teachers, the social workers, the police, all of those we brought together and trained over a number of years.  We were coming to the issue of violence against women from the one analysis: that it’s about power and control. We also worked with a woman called sister Jo, who was actually a founding member of the Family Resource Centre, and she set up a counseling service.  So as well as having the outreach centre there’s a counseling service in this area.  We also then put a lot of work into trying to get it into submissions into the national committee on violence against women, prior to that particular committee being set up.  We also put it into the health board a submission on women’s health.  We would see it not only as an issue of health, because it’s not, it’s an issue of gender.  But because of that the health board came back to us and  they asked us to pilot it.  So it’s that groundwork that got us here.

But it’s also the fact that Mary Bailey died, in this community, who was one of our volunteers, you know like, so a lot of our work has led from her and other women who came to us in the centre during their educational programs, who disclosed to us, who showed us their wounds.  You couldn’t do the political work, and our work is political, because it’s not about just cooking and sewing or any of those kinds of things... It has to be political.  Like if you say that the personal is political, beginning by getting a person out of her door, into the centre, where she’s at least developing herself, where she’s getting support to be able to come to the stage where she’ll disclose that this is happening to her, where the community will stand by her -- that’s all very political to me.

It’s also very dangerous. Because a lot of the anti-violence work has been done through refuges or through things outside of a community, where what we’re trying to do is something very different; we’re trying to do it in a community.  So that means you meet the abuser as you walk down the street.  It’s not like you’re in a refuge and you’re seven miles away.  You meet the abuser.  As the workers we meet the abuser as well.  So there is a lot of fear.  But also we’ve learned a lot of lessons haven’t we?

AK: Yeah.

MT: Have you been targeted by the abusers, since you may be seen as being representatives of the women who are trying to get away from a bad situation?

RF: Well I have.  I have been knocked to the ground.  And I always say, as big and political as I think I am, I was afraid of my life and I couldn’t do any more.  It’s that same fear.  He knew where I lived, he watched me as I left work every night.  He called me all the names that he was calling her.  On that particular one I couldn’t do anything.

But recently I’ve got punched in the face where I’ve now taken it to the step of charging the man.  But that’s where the danger is -- it’s because you’re an advocate.  You’re there.  The fact of the matter is because you’re involved in that issue there is that possibility.  This time we as a community are going another step forward -- for other communities in Ireland -- so we’ll see how the court system works on this one.  But we’re ducking him as well, like we know where he is and we’re avoiding him, you know?

MT: Have you had any of those experiences, Anita?

AK: Physically no, but we’ve had certain phone calls to the centre.  And as Rita said we’re walking down the street and we might have been in court the previous day with a woman -- and her partner or husband is walking along the street beside us.  You might be in the post office and he’s standing behind you, just there staring at you, you know.  I mean we’re relatively OK at the moment, but I see it as an issue in the future.  As the centre is being put out there and there’s more awareness of where it is and the cards are being given out more and more, it’s something that we will have to review--

RF: The issue of safety.

MT: So at this point, now you’re at the point of evaluating that, would you still recommend the community based model to other places?

RF: The community based model is a very important one.  Because where do women live? Only within communities.  So we’re in a community, and there’s women in this community who need support.  So yes, I think that’s the first and foremost piece of work you can do with any women.

But secondly when you get into that work, you have to have all the knowledge, and you also have to listen to the lessons that have already gone ahead of you.  Now we do a lot of that work.  We go to a lot of communities and talk about the lessons.  We tell them that they shouldn’t -- like we slept on floors, we changed people’s locks, we taxied and we became community welfare officers, we became the police, we became everything. We’ve been everything in this particular model.  And we took lessons from it and said right, in that sense it has to be an integrated approach.  That means when you’re in the community, it’s not just the voluntary sector being involved in this.  You have to include the statutory sector, they have to be involved in it.  But it’s a way forward, and I think it’s an important way forward.

AK: But even the structure of the service -- myself and Kate have devised our own way of working.  We both worked on the helpline in Women’s Aid for years, we worked within the organization.  And we realized that when we were there and women were ringing up and we were giving numbers out to them, we were telling them where places were. But it was only when we got here and set up the service that we began to look at that and realize that sometimes giving out a number is not enough.  Because when we went to look for places like the Legal Aid office, we couldn’t find them.  Imagine being in that situation -- it’s sometimes hard enough even to get the bus fare--

RF: Also having that fear--

AK: The whole fear and trying to find the place.  So we decided that rather than giving out numbers, when we meet a woman in here, we offer the service of going to these places with her.  So if she wants our support in going to Legal Aid then we’ll do that.  And then we look at the list that Legal Aid gives of solicitors.  And at this point we would never recommend a solicitor, but at this point we’ve learned what solicitors we wouldn’t touch at all!  So we’ve gone to solicitors with women, and if they want our support going to the courts -- that’s if they decide to go that way -- we’ve gone to the court with them, and the whole way through.  And then for those women who’ve dropped their orders, we still support them.  They know they can come back here.  And for some women they feel very empowered by that.  So it’s a unique service really--

RF: It is unique, yeah.  But there’s a lot of prejudice out there, and it’s prejudice that you have to address.  Even down to the police.  They’ll say, “We’ve called to that door and we’ve called to that door and we’ve called to that door, and she’s not taking a barring order, and she’s letting him back in.”  That prejudice has to be challenged and that person has to be given an understanding that it might take 3 weeks for one person and it makes take ten years for another to leave.  It depends on where the woman is at in herself.

We try to build a woman up as well.  If she wants to come into a program we work with her in the program around building who she is, getting a value of herself because a lot of the time, women in these situations, he has beaten her down, not just physically beaten her but in her head, in her mind, who she is, and there’s a sense that you have to build a little bit of that back up before she can get the perspective on her life.  And then fear also does away with any perspective -- because if you’re so frightened of somebody then it’s very hard to see how you get out of that situation.  So between us around the corner, what we do there, and between women being linked in here, we try and build a woman up.  Here is like a nurturing service.  They listen and they don’t blame, and I think that’s very important.

And then we also get questions of, “Well why there isn’t a male service?”  What we try to do in that context is maybe channel the men to the likes of the counseling service where there is a male worker.  Or give them the numbers of services like Men Overcoming Violence.  There’s a men’s refuge in the country now.  A girl was telling me from England that they set up a men’s refuge with 16 beds in England, and not one of those beds was taken up.  It’s quite interesting.  Whereas all the women’s refuges in Ireland are full.  And women are being placed in Bed and Breakfasts. Outside their communities.  I think that’s very dangerous.  Because these particular B and Bs are named with the health board and you could easily find someone there.  I think that’s a very dangerous position for women.

MT: Do you know what the statistics are for women in Ireland experiencing violence?  Or for the number of women who’ve used your service?

AK: Women’s Aid has statistics.  When we opened in May, the centre wasn’t actually open to the public.  It was September actually when we got visiting groups and let them know about our service.  So from September to now, it’s been about 100 women have been here.  We got phone calls the other day from some women that we supported from the very beginning.  Maybe they were just checking to see if we were still here, that things were going fine.  And just to check in with us. So a lot of the women that we supported then have come back, even just to say hello.

And the service is about quality, not about quantity.  We’re not interested in numbers.  We take a lot of time, going every step of the way with some women, linking them with other groups and people.

MT: I’d like to get into some of your own backgrounds.  How did you both get into this work, with the Family Resource Centre and community work in general?

RF: Well I suppose that means you have to go back into the story of a life!  I don't come from the flats where I work -- I come from flats about ten minutes down the road.  Similar issues, same problems.  And so I’m working class, I would’ve grown up as a working class woman, and in my life want to be recognized as that person because it’s very important to me, that culture.  The thing is that my mother was very involved in community work, free community work, and still is.  She’s 78 now and she’s still very involved in it. So I suppose that rubbed off.

We did an art exhibition, “Unspoken Truths,” and I did a piece about my own journey. When I was 13 and a half I left school -- I hated school -- and went across to the factory across the road.  At that time I didn’t know that it was going to be the work for the rest of my life.  My parents were in the roy trade, which they thought was great because you had a skill with your hands.  You’re away for life cause you have a skill.  So I worked in that factory and in another factory for about 14 years, and in the meantime I used to work in Simon for the homeless.  I spent 11 years working with the homeless as a volunteer at night and full-time.

And then there was this day at the factory that the bosses wanted to turn all the machines to the wall.  When I was on my breaks I used to read books all the time.  I used to get books out of the library and would always be reading.  I used to be sitting up with the women, but the conversations weren’t very life giving.  But the books were.  So I used to get books out of the library and I’d find ways to put them over the machine or under a coat.  Or with my own books I’d tear the pages out so that I could read them.  So all along I was doing other things.  I was developing.  It was just that we never had any money for education.  So one day they turned all the machines to face the wall. And I just couldn’t cope with that. So I said to the women, “Well will bring the union in?”  So we brought the union in.  And the union man came in and said to us, “Give me a psychological  reason why the wall affects you.”

So I just thought, I can’t stay here, I can’t do this  anymore.  So I left the factory.  And I went to Simon and I lived with the homeless for a year.  And then, I had got a bad back problem, I got injured in the work with Simon.  And my father got cancer of the stomach.  So there was a period where I way lying on the floor in one room and my father was lying in the other room, dying of cancer.  When he died it became: do I go back to a factory or what do I do?

So I wrote away to everybody, to nuns, to all kinds of places, and I asked them for somebody to pay my books, somebody to pay my bus fare.  And I got accepted to the course in Maynooth College, which is for community and youth work. Now I’d left school at 13 and a half, and I hadn’t a single piece of any exam or anything, but it didn’t mean that I didn’t have ability, that I didn’t have brains; it just meant that I just didn’t like that system.

It was quite big for me to come from the flats because nobody else from the flats went to college. But I would’ve had all the practice, I would’ve had all the politics, I would’ve been involved in politics all the time.  I did the course for two years and during that period I was sent on a placement and I landed in Inchicore.  So I came into what would’ve been like a flat [the beginnings of the Family Resource Centre].  There was no paid workers there.  Sister Jo was running it with some volunteers.

And then I went on my second placement to Belfast to the Women’s Education Project.  And I learned a different way of working with women in Belfast.  That was the time Mairead Farrell was killed, so it was a really interesting time to be in the North.  Because I would also have Republican leanings.  So it was a really interesting time to be there.  And What was happening in the North around local education was very different than what was happening in the South.  Because the responses in the South, a lot of it was a charity responses.  Or that women’s groups were coming together because women needed to get out of the home.  But in the North they were looking at, “Well, women have brains, they don't always have to do the same traditional things.  You can look at them in the context of being able to move into other positions to work.”  It was really challenging.

I came back down to Maynooth, and it was the end of the course, and the nun came looking for me.  She had no money but she said would I come back in and do some on a scheme.  I did it with a very small amount of money.  But  I liked the idea of working within the flats.  And after that it was a matter of creating a wage, year after year.  I was able to develop the centre, I was able to develop it with the women.  And I think it’s grown into a very good space now.

So if you ask me how I got involved in work with women I guess I was led into the work, either  through my placements, or through being placed within Michael’s estate.  Yes I’m a feminist, I’m a  socialist, I’m all those kinds of things.  So my politics is global politics.  And what is great about my work is that it’s something that I live and it’s something that I love.  I’m able to get paid for something that I live and I’m able to love and develop -- like I’m able to take issues and put them in there and people will run with them or they won’t run with them.  And so then that led us into, well if you work with women, you work with... Learning who they are first and then accepting them.

So a lot of the work that I would do is about  addressing poverty.  I’m not saying that violence against women comes from poverty, because it doesn’t, it’s one that cuts across class, it cuts across culture.  But people who are living in poverty, their options aren’t the same as people who are living at the other levels, do you know, like, in terms of getting out.  Often women living in poverty, their only choice is the choice to survive.  So when people say, “Are you involved with equality?” women at this level, their first thing isn’t about equality.  It doesn’t mean they’re not for equality.  It means that the first thing is to struggle, to put a dinner on the table, to ensure that their children have a quality of life.  They’re survivors and they need to be recognized, the women in that context.  And then maybe equality will come along after that.  It’s not that we don’t see equality as an issue --we do because you have to work towards equality -- but the levels that we’re working from are very different.  So I suppose that then brings you into the issue of violence against women, and then Mary’s death definitely had an influence on us.

MT: Anita, can you talk a bit about how you got here and got into this work?  And maybe the changes you’ve been through since you started working here.

RF: I think that’s really important.  Because Anita’s not here because she decided that that’s what she was going to do -- she’s here through a whole development.

AK: I had no choice!  No, I’m only messing.  I still have to think about all the events that led me to be here.  One day I’ll sit down and actually--

RF: Write them.

AK: Yeah.  Because all of a sudden I’m here and although so much has happened, at some stage, I know how I got here, but at some stage I have to analyze it all and put it into perspective. Like it’s a totally different area than what I set out to do.

MT: Really?

AK: I would’ve never seen myself working with the community. I worked in offices for years and I hated it.  I hated sitting there every summer.  I’d look out the window and wish I was somewhere else.  I hated the whole system of being controlled and being told what to do.  I hated all that.  And that’s when I decided with a friend -- we’d always had a dream to go abroad and work abroad.  So one year we said, “Yeah we’re going to do it this year.”  And I was in a good job.  It was my sister got me into the place.  And I remember at the time all I heard was my mom and dad saying, “Oh you’re leaving a good job!  Where are you going to go?” But  we decided that we were going and that was it.

We went to Jersey. We had such a great time, we had a ball the two of us.  After two weeks, I got a job. And then she got a job.  So we ended up staying there for 2-3 years. And at that time I ended up, I met my partner and ended up living in England and had a baby and lived there for a year.  I didn’t like living over there, maybe because I hadn’t seen my family in so many years.  And I felt like none of his relations knew anything about children. I had this baby and I hadn’t a clue.  I was really on my own.  And I couldn’t stick it.  After a year I decided I’m gonna come home.  I came home and lived with my family.

It was a year after that I got a place in Inchicore, around Tyrone Place, just opposite Michael’s estate.  So I was there and I met a few people, local women, and we started going out and socializing.  And then, Mary, she actually came home from England as well.  She had her children in England, she had two little girls, so we kinda had a lot in common, do you know?  And we bonded, we became great friends.  So for the following time, we socialized a lot -- well when I say we socialized a lot, we didn’t go out very often, we didn’t have the money! -- but we spent a lot of time in each others’ houses.  And we spent a lot of time at night on the phone.  We were always in touch.  So it was great.

Mary’s life was very hard, you know.  And all the issues that I was aware more of when I went into the centre, Mary would’ve already been aware of them, and she would’ve experienced some of them. So she had a great awareness.  And from that she got great strength because she was a very strong person.  She had a great personality, and she was very funny. So when times were bad we’d laugh about things. She’d always come up with some remark or ad lib or -- she was just an amazing woman.

So anyway one year then, it was Mary, she said she’d heard of the Family Resource Centre and she wanted to join.  And she asked me would I go along with her.  So we made a new year’s resolution that we were going to join.  I was a little bit put off because I’d heard was that it was sewing and cooking, and I really didn’t want any of that.  I wanted something out of the home. Like when I had the baby I inherited a home kind of, and that was a big shock as well.  It still is!

But anyway I didn’t really want to go back into that but Mary did, and the whole point  of it was there was a crèche.  She had two little girls.  And one of them had just started play school.  So that was the attraction for her. So we joined anyway.  And there was no sewing machines when we went in, and there was no cooking or anything else.  And it was great.  It was totally different to what I expected.  And being around other women -- it was so relaxed.  It was just great. We really enjoyed when we started there. I think when we looked back on it, it was really our first insight into formal education.  It was so relaxed the way it was but yet that’s what it was: we were gong back into education.  We looked at all issues, like poverty and whatever .  And I’m still not sure if that was a good idea!  Like at the time, I don’t think we realized that we were living in poverty, and then we were made to realize that we were in poverty and why we were in poverty you know like,  so anyway...

During that time there the Family Resource Centre had joined up with the local VEC and had designed a course for women who wanted to go back into education -- and Mary and myself put our name down to do that.  That was in the September then, both of us got onto that course.  Women from different areas took part in it.  It was open to all women’s groups in the local areas.

I had done my inter cert. But Mary, she had left school a lot earlier than me because she hated school, she hated the nuns. And there was an opportunity, if anyone was interested, to do your leaving cert at night.  So one night a week we could meet up in the centre and do that.  So myself and Mary, I think we were the only two from the Family Resource Centre, we decided that we wanted to do that, and there was this other lad, Niall I think was his name, and he did it with us, it was the three of us.  And it was actually a nun who was teaching us, doing it with us.  And even though it was all very formal and that, we had the best of laughs doing it.

Mary was a very funny person, very witty, and she could never understand the poetry, Shakespeare, and why people had to go around speaking like that.  Sometimes she would imitate it.  And we’d be just kicking each other under the table trying to keep in the laugh. It was very funny but at the same time it was great because it was something we did every week, something we wanted to do.  And for the first time then we were doing work at home, we were doing essays, and Mary loved all that.

I’ll have to tell you about the actual day of the leaving cert.  Whereas now women can do it at their local schools and other places of their choice, at the time the only place we could do it was down on the South Circular Road, the old Guides Hall.  On the morning we went down it was lashing rain and we were soaked.  And we were standing outside this place waiting for it to open.  And we were nervous.  So when eventually they came along it was late, and they delayed us.  And when we went into the place there was no heating on.  So we were all soaked and we were shaking with the cold.  And Mary -- God, I felt so sorry for her that day.  There was a problem with her name being on the list for a start.  So her papers weren’t there and ready for her.  Then eventually when that was sorted out there was no paper for her to write on.  Oh it was awful you know.  We were both nervous enough but for that to happen to her was really terrible. But anyway we got through it, we went off to lunch, and we came back, we finished, and got our results. And we passed. And we both got that same results, which was great even though she had a harder time. But anyway that was the leaving cert and from that we went on and did the course in the Tech--

RF: Mary never got the finish the course--

AK: No... That’s a very hard time from September because the course was going on and that, but there was other issues taking place as well, and some of them were very personal things that were happening at that time, for me in particular.  Mary, she never got to finish the course, and at that time there was another friend of ours, and she used to come down.  She was more of a friend to Mary cause Mary knew her from years previous.  She’d come down and you’d notice bruises and different things that was wrong with her that obviously her partner had inflicted.  She always kinda made excuses and said she’d walked into a  door or whatever, but towards the end, she started to tell us what was happening.  And I remember one day we sat in Mary’s room and we plotted and we planned what she could actually do in revenge.  Now, she never did anything, well never anything major. That was the kind of support that  we could give her then. Because although we had sessions on violence against women in the Family Resource Centre, that was it, we didn’t really know what she could do. At first we would’ve asked her, “Why are you staying in the situation?  Why don’t you get out?”  But it went on from than then to just listening to her.  Because we knew that at the time she wasn’t ready, and she wasn’t gong anywhere else, so we got past all that and just listened to what she had to say.

And coming up to that Christmas, it was a bad time kind of for everybody.  Mary, when she came back here, she was on social welfare, supplemental welfare, which meant that it was less money than the normal social welfare payment.  She didn’t have any family to help her out.  So she never had an awful lot. And at that Christmas, the only way really that she could buy the children’s Christmas presents was to pay for them each week.  And she picked two scooters for the little girls and every week she paid something off on them.

Mary lived for Emma and Victoria, that was their names, she lived for the two little girls.  And Pat, her husband, he used to travel back and forth occasionally.  When he left really she was in more financial debt than we he was there because he’d use up her phone bill. So she was always left in debt when he went.  But anyway, that year he wanted the kids to go over to him for Christmas.  And it took Mary ages to think about this because she was never away from them.  Anytime he saw them he’d come over or she’d being them over. So this was the first time and it was a big thing for her.  And eventually she decided that she’d let them go.  She had no money to pay their fares over and back and, so at the time what she decided was if she paid their fare over, then he’d pay their fare back.  So she got the money together and she paid their fare over. So it was a very hard time.  And then Christmas day itself was very hard because the kids weren’t there.

You know when you go back and you’re thinking of the events... There’s so much that you’re kinda going into it and reliving what actually happened.  Like Christmas day for instance, like we would’ve spent that night in my family’s home. And the while thing about my dad -- he always had the camera out Christmas day, he always took photographs.  And that day he didn’t.  And like afterwards, thinking about it, he was saying himself, “Why didn’t I take the photographs?  I always take the photographs?”  But anyway we spent the night in my house, with all my family, and it was great.  It was a great night.  And Mary played cards.  And she was crap at playing cards.  And we’d laugh about that.

So anyway two days after Christmas... My sister, who would’ve been Mary’s friend as well, she had arranged to take Mary down to the grave of her mother.  Mary always brought down a holly wreath at Christmas and for birthdays.  She would’ve went down to her mother’s grave in Meath. So Angela made arrangements on the Saturday to bring her down to the grave.  On the Friday before that, another friend of Mary’s came down to see her.  And Mary, she didn’t have a lot of money that Christmas, and this friend of hers gave her some money, cause he hadn’t seen her over the Christmas, and he wanted her to go out and have a drink.  So Mary rang around to see who was going out for a drink. And she rang me, and I didn’t have a baby-sitter on the Friday.  And we had arranged to go out on the Sunday anyway, so I left it.  Her other friend, meanwhile had called down and Mary asked her to go out and have a drink. So they ended up in one of the local pubs that night, the two of them.  Mary actually rang me from the pub that night to ask me to come down.  But for some reason I wasn’t that pushed anyway and I never went down.

And then at some point in the night the friend’s husband arrived on the scene.  Mary and him would’ve had a relationship in a sense that she would’ve always tried to keep him happy, for her friend’s sake.  Because she knew if she ignored him or... He wasn’t that nice of a person.  Like he’d put his wife down in front of Mary -- or in front anybody really.  So Mary, when she was in his company she did her best to keep him happy.  So that night anyway when they left the pub... I can’t remember the sequence...

RF: Paddy--

AK: Paddy was there, Mary’s brother, he arrived on the scene as well. And they all left and were walking up the road together.  Paddy was walking up with the other woman and Mary was walking up with the woman’s husband.  When they got to the garden a row started.  I think it was to do with -- like unless Mary was able to tell me, you just don’t know really, you know.  But a row started, and I think it was around his [the friend’s  husband’s] jealousy.  I don’t know what went on,  but I think the fact that she was walking up with Paddy I think was an issue.  Maybe something happened that night.  She was a lovely person -- she was lovely looking and she was a lovely woman.  And as we know you don’t need a reason.  It’s there, and if he was going to start an argument he was going to anyway. So he started an argument.

He tried to drag his wife -- they were in the garden at this point and he tried to drag her out by the hair.  So Mary tried to stop him.  And she got in between them and she tried to get her friend away from him.  So with that he raised his hand and I think it was actually in that kind of way [demonstrates] he pushed her and she fell to the ground.  Now there are different stories but as far as I’m concerned I don’t think she ever regained consciousness, I don’t know...

She was left lying in the garden for a while and the problem was, Mary’s husband had been over previous to that -- he’d built up her phone bill so that she was actually I think cut off at the time.  So they hadn’t got access to a phone quick enough.  So they had to run around, try and find a phone, ring the ambulance, and they were a while then waiting on the ambulance.  And all the time Mary was in the garden...

I only learned about it the next day -- well I heard there were attempts made to get me that night. I don't know what happened but they never got me anyway.  So it was the next day I learned. And the next day then, you know when people were making their statements to the police, I think everybody was just in shock, so no one actually said what kind of a man that they were dealing with.  Nobody actually said that he was a violent man and that he had done this before.  The previous year I remember we walked up the road and a row broke out, the same scenario where he pushed Mary against the railings.  And I remember getting to Mary and saying, “Mary leave him because he’ll hurt you.”  Because if that railings hadn’t have been there she would’ve went.  So he had done this before and all the time he was abusing his wife and abusing other people.

Her brother I think  at the time, he made excuses rather than blame. And that’s the kind of person he is. He’s not a vindictive person.  He just didn’t blame anyone. And after that happened, when people began to get angry, and they realized that this man is dangerous, it was kinda too late then.  The police weren’t interested.  They’d given their statements.  When Mary’s husband came over, I remember him telling me that it wasn’t going to go any further because the police had said that the way he hit her, he used the palm of her hand.  He didn’t punch her, he kinda pushed her. The police had said that if Mary hadn’t have died, they probably wouldn’t have heard anymore about it.

I think we were too upset at the time to do anything about it, to take it on board. Now, it would be totally different, if it happened to another woman now--

RF: But we buried her.

AK: Yeah... Do you want to say a little bit about it?

RF: I remember the morning after.  I remember being sent for.  And I thought it was about Gwen -- a friend of mine only ten days previous had been killed off her bike. So I can remember cycling up and I got up to the estate and I got up to the landing, Jo’s landing, and Jo was saying, “It’s Mary.”  And then just the shock of it, the deep shock of it.  And then I went over to Anita.  And I can remember Anita and Angela sitting on the couch in front of the fire and there was only cinders in the fire.  I can remember the two of yous, just devastated.

So then it came to the Family Resource Centre doing this because Mary’s family didn’t have any money.  Her mother and father was dead.  The children were in England.  And we thought the children will only remember her by going on the boat with her over and they’ll think that she left them, so for us it was very important to see could we bring the father with the children.  But he wouldn’t allow the children to come back, he wouldn’t allow the children to come.  So we had to look at ways of organizing her funeral because everybody around the place was just falling apart.  So we were part of picking her coffin.  We organized the mass in the church, which was beautiful, and we went down the country to where her mother was buried.  The coffin was brought down there.

But in the meantime we couldn’t believe that he [the man responsible for her death] turned up at the church! He turned up on the night that she went to the church, and he came in after everybody started walking out.   So it was even an issue that he was here and he was sorry and he was going around acting like a victim.  He wasn’t a victim. He was a man who was out of control.  And on that night -- because his wife had been one woman in our group so she needed support as well... So myself and Jo went over to the house where she was, and he was there, too, and it was like walking on glass, going into the house, just to check out how she was feeling.  Because she would’ve been feeling the guilt of being with her, the guilt of her husband, and all those kinds of things.  Now it was very difficult because Anita kinda closed down on her at that time, and yet she was as much a victim of that night as well.

So we went to the church. We wet down to where the body was being buried.  And all of us stood back because there was kind of a little path and then the grave was over there.  And where did he go and where did you think he shoulda been?  But up right beside the grave!  Now at this stage Paddy, Mary’s brother came to me -- he was trying to get his shotgun to shoot him!  I don't know, it was just an awful awful time.

Then we had to figure out -- we  were all in deep shock -- that for ourselves we had to get counseling, for ourselves and for the community.  And we had to find a way for the women on the course -- because the course was new -- would finish the course without this impacting on everybody.  So we bought a plant, and we brought the plant into the room.  And we decided the plant would grow until the end of the course, and that would be Mary’s influence there.

And then Anita went on, you got involved with Women’s Aid on the helpline because you wanted to do something about it.  But it was a very very very hard time for Anita.

AK: I just remember, when I talked previously, when we were talking in Mary’s house about plotting and planning about what his wife could do... I thought, when this happened, to me this was a way out for her.  It was the end, the worst thing he could do, he had killed her friend.  And I thought, “Now here is a way out.”  I didn’t understand the analysis at the time.  I just thought this is a way out for her.  And I expected her to take it, you know?  I was shocked that she didn’t.  And that was kinda when I withdrew from her. Because all the time we had plotted, we were led to believe that she hated him, you know, what she wouldn’t do if she got the chance.  But it didn’t happen.  And I remember one time she said to me, “I’ve stood by him all these years, and I have to stand by him now.”  And I couldn’t understand that.  So then I thought, “I need more information around this.  I need to find out why, why is she sticking by him.” Like the analysis, I needed to know more.

So I did go back to the course and I have to say that if it wasn’t for the support of Rita and the crèche -- I remember one day they came over and they literally took the baby and brought me down cause I wouldn’t have went, I really wouldn’t.  And it was a really hard thing to do, to go back in and finish that course.

But I used the time and then I thought... Everything had changed.  And work placements were coming up.  And I thought what can I do now?  So at the time I remember thinking, “Well if I go into the refuge I might learn a bit from the women in there.”  So I did.  I spent my placement listening to the women in the refuge, listening to their stories, and just being around them. And it was an eye opener.  But it wasn’t enough.  Because I wasn’t getting the answers.  I learned to know that some of these women went back and they stayed with the man, but I still didn’t know why, you know?  I felt a bit useless kinda, too, although the women there were great.  They wanted to talk, but I felt I hadn’t done enough for them.  So at the time there was training coming up for the Women’s Aid national helpline [freephone 1-800-341-900].  So I thought if I did that, at least I’d feel I’d be learning more, plus I’d be able to give information out to women like her [Mary’s friend].  So I did that, that was in ‘92, I went on the helpline, and I’m still on the helpline.

And I’m still ... Although I have an analysis now, and I know the obstacles now, why women don’t leave, and I now say, “Why does he do this?”  But I still don’t know why Mary died.  I still don't know why this man was allowed away with what he done.  After Mary died there was incidents in the pub where another woman in the Family Resource Centre had to put herself between him again -- to save his sister in law from being beaten.  Another time his daughter was the victim -- at this stage she was on the floor and he was beating her. He still continued to beat women and he’s still getting away with it.

Now the other thing is, I’ve learned in the last year, is his wife has now got away from him.  Which is great.  I mean I never thought it would happen because it didn’t happen then, when I wanted it to happen.  That was really positive to hear, that she’d got away from him, and that she’s now in a relationship with somebody else.  And I hope she’s happy.

RF: Her life was very hard because of poverty.  She lost a daughter, 2 years before losing Mary, who was only 15.  She got into a car, and the car crashed. And he blamed her as well for that.  And then she lost Mary, who was her friend and who -- Mary had nothing now but Mary’d give her potatoes and things like that.  Mary had nothing but she always supported her.  And then something like two years after that they lost a son to drugs.  He was found dead. So her life was a very very hard life.  And she is gone on to someone else. And that is important.  And that’s the lessons we’ve learned.  Like there’s some cases where you’d expect that they would’ve got away and they’re still there.

When we were making our exhibition, “Once is Too Much,” we did a lot of interviews with women who had gone through it.  And one of the things that stuck with me on one particular women was she said all those times that he humiliated her, all those times, she still loved him.  And then one day he humiliated her in front of her daughter, and she just stopped loving him, she stopped loving him.  And because she stopped loving him she was now in a position to leave him. And that’s the way it is.

AK: Maybe she did love him even though she hated his behavior.  She, like a lot of women, think that they can change their behavior.  And I think that’s probably one of the reasons she stayed with him so long.

RF: I just think that was a real interesting piece that Anita was just saying -- that she still doesn’t understand.  And I’d have to say myself I still don’t understand either, how you can stay.  And it really brings you to the stage that you wonder: what level must that woman be at if she’s still in there, you know, what level in herself, how does she feel in herself if she’s still in there being kicked around?  I mean I’ve had big women, I’m talking 20 stone women, with small men, come in to me and tell me about being kicked around the floor as a blanket.  You know women that could lift him fucking up -- excuse my language -- and fling him over a balcony if that’s what needed to be done.  But I don’t understand it, that level of control.

My da, he was a good man, but he had to have his dinner on the table at one o’clock and he had to have his tea at six.  I remember my ma used to have to come home from work in order to fix his dinner.  Working in this work, I look back and think, my ma was controlled, we were all controlled by particular ways.  He never ever hit her.  I can’t say our lives were bad, but I can remember the control.  So it’s the whole thing of gender, it’s around who’s taught to be the head of the household, who’s the value placed on, all those things that we place the value on cause we were brought up in those kinds of ways. Like we took the fear on if she didn’t have the dinner on the table.  Cause he had to be back in work for half past one.  Never mind that she was cycling in on a bike after being out scrubbing floors in a slaughter yard. You know?  She still had to have that dinner on the table.

It’s the whole thing we have to change, and that’s why the community model is so important.  You have to get into the schools -- and you don’t go into the schools around violence against women, you go into the school around equality, and gender, the whole issues of what we teach our children, the issues of how we resolve conflict, the issues of poverty.  Those things have to go into the schools.  It has to be part of it.  We have to go into the churches, from the pulpits as we have done in this community.  We have placed art on the altar.  Anita has stood up in the pulpit and talked about violence against women in this community.  We have used a drama group in the church for people in the wider community around the issue.  We have found ways in this community to put it out there. You can use art, you can use education, you can use particular moments, like Mary’s moment.  We’ve made a video.  We’ve told her story.  We provide a number of services.  We’ve lobbied the government.  We’ve played roles, like I play a role on the regional task force now.  So we’re in there playing a role around the community.  I’m teaching in Maynooth.  I’m teaching in Cork around particular issues.

So I think there’s  a huge amount of work to be done, but I think ten years on we have certainly made ripples in Ireland.  And I’d like to think that that work has also gone further afield.  We’ve been part of programs in Finland and different places around looking at the issue.  Our model has been used In Portugal.  So we’re placing the model out there.  Different places are looking to us because they’ve built the interagency model but within that there’s still the community place that has to be involved.

We’re also doing work with the Travellers which is a very important group because not only do they experience violence from the settled community as part of racism, but within their own community when they experience violence they have to be very careful about how their community will be seen.  And yet when it comes to culture, it’s not on to beat a woman.  It just isn’t on to kill a woman.  So you have to look at that culture and say OK what do you lose and what do you protect?  But they have to do it themselves.  And they are at Pavee Point.  They’re developing a model within the Travelling community.  That’s a lot got to do with our influence as a project and the work that we’ve done, running conferences and seminars and working alongside Women’s Aid.

MT: How would you make the link between Mary’s death and the establishment of this outreach centre?  Is that what inspired you to open it?

RF: No, Mary’s death encouraged us to continue the work that we had already begun.  I mean Mary’s death, because she was a volunteer at the centre, because she was a participant of the course, it was very shocking to us.  Because here we were involved in an issue that we really hadn’t a clue about, and here’s one of our own women getting killed.  And that it brought it home. So this would’ve been on the cards whether Mary was alive or dead.  Because a woman might’ve come in and disclosed but that’s all she might ever want to do.  So how would you protect her from going into a women’s group and telling that,   and then never coming back to that group because she’s told her story? So the link had to be made for us as to how can you take it outside.

In one if the cases we worked with, before we had this outreach centre open, we were trying to get a woman away from her partner.  And it was complicated because her sister in law was coming into the centre, and her mother in law was coming in at night to a prayer group run by older women in the community.  And when he did the awful things to the woman, who didn’t have any family in this country, who took him in?  The sister in law. Who called us whores and prostitutes and everything under the sun? The mother. So dealing with it in a community, there’s so many different issues.

So Mary pushed us to continue with it, but I suppose there would’ve been other women who would’ve also pushed us as well.  Like some women who wanted to come to courses, one woman used to get urinated on just to come across.  Or women might end up with a black eye but they always came across to the course.  Because if our little centre is taking away his power, his challenge is going to be placed back to us. So if he has the power in the home, and he may not have a lot of power in society but he has the power in the home, and then all of a sudden she’s developed into taking power for herself, it’s going to cause conflict.  And that conflict’s either going to be where she gets a black eye or the centre gets burned down. We were burned out 6 times.  I’m not saying it’s all got to do with that, but we were burned out 6 times.  And robbed.  And we got in, scrubbed the walls down, and we’d start again, and we’d start again, and start again.

It hasn’t been an easy struggle.  It’s a difficult struggle.  But we believe in all the work we do -- this is only one piece.  We’ve produced two major art exhibitions that have traveled the country that there’s books on. We’ve led in the arts.  We’ve led in terms of politics.  We’ve done a huge amount around our own work.  We’re quite proud of it. But we don’t know where it’ll be in two more years because the flats are coming down.  But we’ve made an impact.  And there’s women working around this community who came out of their doors and come into the Family Resource Centre.  You know, like I was coming down here today, and I said, “God yous are all driving and I’m still on a bike!” And they said, “We’re only driving because of what yous do up there. You gave us the confidence.”  I think that’s very powerful.  So I’m still on the bike.  They’re all driving.

AK: Yeah but she uses everybody else as a chauffeur!

MT: One more thing I wanted to ask you was you told me before that there were some things leading up to Mary’s death that almost seemed like foreshadowing, in retrospect.

AK: Coming up to Christmas, Mary was invited to a party.  It was an army kind of do. And one of the men who she would’ve been friends with -- who I think fancied her -- he invited her to this do.  And at the same time another associate of ours was going and she always looked well and she knew it.  Mary never had any money so she never really had any nice clothes.  Any money she had she’d put it towards the kids.

So it came towards the do and myself and Mary said we’d have a look around town.  I wanted to buy a Christmas tree.  So we went to town, and I bought the Christmas tree, and we were going by this shop, and we saw this black dress.  It was absolutely gorgeous. Mary was so dark and so small.  I said the black dress would be gorgeous on her. So we  went in and both of us liked it but because she was going to the do, she tried it on anyway. And it was gorgeous.  And we spent I don’t know how long in the dressing room trying this black dress on.  Security was actually roaming around at the time -- they were worried about us.  But anyway when we looked we saw a black coat that went with the dress.  I could just see her in the black dress and coat

It wouldn’t have been expensive now but at the time it was -- and because she never bought herself anything she decided in the end that not only would she buy the dress she’d buy the coat.  So she bought the dress and coat to wear to the do that night.  She went and she looked absolutely gorgeous.  There’s another long story as well.  She outshone everybody at that do with the dress and coat.  So when she died we decided that we’d put the dress and coat on her in that coffin.

MT: You talked about the impact on your life in terms of it encouraging you to go into this work.  But how did her death affect you otherwise?

AK: Well when Mary died... when she was alive I had Laura and Paul.  Then after Mary died I went back into the relationship that I was in before she died -- we had split up. So when she died-- not only did it impact on what I do now, but my whole personal life as well because I would’ve never have seen myself back in that relationship. But it happened then.  And I had two  more children. And the next one I had, when she was born I was trying to think of a name for her. And Mary, she hated her named, hated Mary.  So I thought, “No I can’t call her Mary.” It just didn’t seem right since she hated her own name.  So I chose the name Haley.  But I wanted to fit Mary in there somewhere.  But then I thought Haley Mary didn’t exactly go together!  She would’ve been the laughing stock.  So what I did was I took Ann.  Ann was her grandmother’s name.  I’d call her Haley Ann Mary, which I did.  Haley, when she grows up, she’ll know all about Mary and that. But at the moment she’s six and she doesn’t really know.  She’ll never know her...

And Mary was my son’s godmother. That’s really sad because when I was growing up, I never knew my godparents.  And I always thought that if I had children, I would want them to know their godparents, that I would pick somebody out that was going to be there for them, who would support them and be around for them. So Mary was the person: she was my best friend, and I knew she’d been there for him.  When she died I was thinking, I wanted her especially as a godmother -- and then she was killed like that... He’ll never know his godmother either.

MT: Rita, I know you have to run, but I wanted to ask you this question about role models.  Heroines.  Have there been women along the way that have inspired you to work for change?

RF: I just think an opportunity like this is actually good, because when you’re active all the time you don’t really take the time to think: who are the other people in your life who have influenced you?  So I thought that was a really good one.  I’d have to say my mother first and foremost would be a very important influence for me. We were always poor. But she always struggled. She would get on her bike and cycle to get us food.  My dad worked as a hoffman presser in the clothing trade.  And he didn’t earn a huge amount. There was never enough by the end of the week .  But she always worked all her life. But in that context she was always involved in the community and still is.   And her courage in some contexts, it’s just amazing.  Like not that long ago somebody robbed the pub down the road and they robbed the cash register.  She followed them up onto the top balcony and she said, “Leave that there!”  And without thinking about it at all they ran off down the balcony and she saved the cash register of the pub!  I remember one time her pulling a young fellow off of a bike because he was jeering her.  She never ratted anybody but she always dealt with families around. So she first and foremost would have to be an influence.

But in terms of other influences, there’s three that I would name.  One would have to be Emma Goldman because I just think she was a woman before her time.  I know some other women didn’t like her but she was very consistent.  She got involved at the time when they were calling everybody reds in America.  It was all about making change and justice.  She was a woman who promoted free love. She was having sex outside of marriage, and you know like at that time in America it wasn’t acceptable. She also said if: “I can’t dance I can’t be part of your revolution.”   There has to be celebration in the revolution. And she got involved in the Spanish civil war.  She went back to Russia.  She consistently, right through her life, lived every moment of her beliefs.

So she’s the wider context of socialism.  And then I move from her to -- the second person you’d have to say would be Bernadette Devlin, Bernadette McAliskey as she’s known.  Her life again -- where she lived, the times there, how she got involved in politics, and then the pain in her life.  Because by being involved in it, she also got shot in the face, and her daughter ended up in a mental hospital.  But she’s still very consistent.  She’s very much a community person and she stands by what she believes.  In Ireland she would have to be somebody who would be very much a leading woman.

And then the third person would be Stacia Crickley.  She has had influence on the ground, in terms of community work, in terms of analysis, again in terms of consistency.  She has had a role in promoting Travellers’ issues and played a role around racism.  At the moment her life is in pain.

If you looked through all those lives, they’ve been painful lives, but they’ve been very productive lives -- my mother, Emma Goldman, Bernadette Devlin, Stacia Crickley.  And you can name many other women as well -- the Marian Keoghs, the Anitas.  So I just thought it’s a very important time to be able to name people.  It’s like that chain you talk about, the chain of other women, who’ve paved the way.  So. That’s it.

AK:  I never thought about role models.  Initially who comes to mind are the women who’s stories aren’t told.  Women I hear about all the time. I did interviews when I was in Tech, and there was one traveler woman -- her story was amazing and she’s not wrote into history.  Nobody else probably knows apart from her family.

The person I would have to say I admire would be my mother.  And she wouldn’t have any political analysis or -- she worked in the home all her life.  She brought up 6 children.  My father was working at the time and there was two parents there so we would’ve thought she didn’t have to do things on her own, she would’ve had the help of him.  But in fact she didn’t.  When I look back now I realize that he was away for months on end.  He was a trained driver.  So she didn’t have him around.  She had his wages and I suppose she was fortunate enough to have some income coming in.  But the weekends--she would buy a piece of material and she would make three dresses, the same for the three of us.  I remember one time she made me a bikini.  I went swimming and it fell apart in the water. But I admire her so much because when my father.... As I say he was away working a lot, but when he was home he needed his sleep, so she had to keep us out of the house or keep it quiet so he could get his sleep.  That was the way things were then.  She had to have his meal on time because he had to go back to work. There was so much control in that sense. That was her generation.  It’s something that you won’t change now.  No matter how many times you say, “Why don’t you let him get it himself?”  She won’t change.  But yeah I do admire her so much.  But I haven’t actually given thought to anyone else

MT: And one last question I just have to ask cause when I saw Rita at the Bogside Feile she was making fun of the Celtic Tiger.  How has the Celtic Tiger affected people in working class areas?

AK: Well when I think of the Celtic Tiger I automatically think of the Mangy Cat.  Marian [Keogh, one of the founders of the FRC], when all this stuff with the Celtic Tiger came out, that was her reaction to it.  The Mangy Cat.  I have to say I don’t think much of the Celtic Tiger. When I think of it now, I actually think of poverty.  Because from what I read in newspapers, and from what I hear from people I know that are looking for accommodation, you can’t get it.  Because landlords are putting up the rent.  Couples before who might have been able to get a mortgage, they can’t get a mortgage anymore because house prices are rising so much.  So I see somewhere down the line these people have to go somewhere.  And they don’t have many options.  You see a rising number of homeless people.

RF: So that reflects the Celtic Tiger.  For myself I just think that  it hasn’t hit Michael’s estate.  You know there’s generational poverty there. What it has done is it’s made the gap in Ireland much much wider in terms of the haves and have nots.  And I think that in itself pushes people at the bottom further away than where ever they’d be before.  Because their expectations now are much higher and there isn’t any possibility of reaching that.  And what’s happened again within this Celtic Tiger is hostility.  There’s now hostility towards the poor.  People are saying, “We have jobs, why can’t you go out and get a job?  Why do you expect the state to keep you going?”  But that doesn’t take into consideration that there may three generations of unemployment in a family.  They’re not looking at: what are the skills they need to go out and get a job?  Can they do a job?  How long have they been out of a job?  You’re still looking at conditions that are so unbelievable. There’s 25,000 traveling families that live in Ireland. Many of them live on the side of the roads and still don’t have water.  They experience racism hugely.  We now have refugees and asylum seekers coming in who are experiencing hostility and racism.  And people in poverty are seeing them as a scapegoat.

We say there’s two courts now: there’s the castle courts and the four courts.  You can be guaranteed to end up in prison from the four courts, but you will not go to prison from the castle court.  And the castle court has done more damage in terms of tax evasion.  In terms of the secrecy around the wealth in the country.  And then we’re talking about: share the wealth. What does that mean?  You give me a little bit of yours?  No.  It’s about taking back the wealth.  It’s about taxing those who should be taxed, who can afford to be taxed.  Who’s making money out of those houses that’s £200,000?  Some eejit is going in and buying it because he has no other choice.  Who’s in the middle? The auctioneers and the lawyers are getting the most money out if it. Who else is getting it?  The builders are getting it. So now people are paying £1000 a bloody month to live in a house -- things that you couldn’t swing a cat in.  And this is the Celtic Tiger, and this is what we’re being asked to accept, in this model of development, this model of capitalism.  Because we haven’t changed.  Whether the 4 people sitting at the table are the trade unions, the community, the statutory  sector, the politicians, it’s still within a capitalist model.  So we’re not changing.  And what we’ve managed to do is silence people, silence the trade unions.  So then you have to ask: What are the trade unions doing?  Who are trade unionists in this country, if you can accept that the gap between social exclusion is getting wider, and when what the unions were all about was paving the way and making change for people at the bottom?

So what’s the Celtic Tiger? Nothing in terms of people in the bottom.  It hasn’t touched us down here. And they needn’t tell us that is has.  Because it hasn’t.  I’m telling you, all you people in America.

Viva la revolución!
 


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