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Stop making excuses for Alan Hawe - he killed three sons and wife with hatchet and knives

The response of the media to the killings in Cavan show that misogyny is alive and kicking in Ireland, writes Suzanne Breen

Published 06/09/2016

Alan Hawe (left) who murdered (from left) his wife Clodagh and their children Liam, Niall, and Ryan
Alan Hawe (left) who murdered (from left) his wife Clodagh and their children Liam, Niall, and Ryan
The family’s funeral
Clodagh Hawe
Alan Hawe with his children Ryan, Liam and Niall
Coffins are taken into St Mary’s Church in Castlerahan, Co Cavan, where the funeral of the Hawe family took place
Clodagh Hawe

I'm sick of hearing how Alan Hawe was a fantastic father, loving husband and all round pillar of society. For God's sake, he used a hatchet and knives to murder his wife and kids. Had he black or brown skin, had he been on the dole and living in a housing estate when he butchered his family, he would have been instantly demonised. But Hawe had all the trappings of respectability.

He was a person of prestige and influence in the local community. He was a school vice-principal, a stalwart of the GAA and Catholic Church. It's not every household that is privileged with a visit from the local priest on Christmas Day.

And so the mainstream media - with a few honourable exceptions - have fawned over Alan Hawe in a way that I've not seen them do with other mass murderers.

We have been treated to tales of his decency and kindness. He was most obliging, a great neighbour, you could rely on him at any time of the day or night to lend a helping hand, we have been endlessly informed.

The eulogising reached such dizzy heights last weekend, that I wondered if Alan Hawe was being canonised along with Mother Teresa. You would think that after all the campaigns that Women's Aid, and others, have run that more journalists would have by now copped onto the fact that men who hurt women and children don't have 'domestic abuser' tattooed across their foreheads.

Indeed, the opposite is usually the case. Those who harm women and children more often than not have all the trappings of respectability. They are masters at manipulation. They can present a very pleasant face to the external world. It is behind closed doors that their control freakery is played out.

Outside the home, these brutes aren't aggressive. They don't pick on those their own size. Women's shelters are full of the victims of street angels and house devils.

Perhaps it speaks volumes that so little is known of Clodagh Hawe. Even though Alan was a blow-in - he was from Kilkenny - and Clodagh was born locally, everybody in Ballyjamesduff was well acquainted with him, but she was the invisible woman.

Few people seemed to have known much about her adult life. Indeed, it took the media several days to secure more than one blurry photograph. It's odd that a 39-year-old woman hadn't left more traces of her existence.

We have been told time and time again that old Ireland is dead and buried. But the response to mass murder in a sleepy Cavan community shows that misogyny is alive and kicking.

Clodagh Hawe
Clodagh Hawe
Alan Hawe with his children Ryan, Liam and Niall
Coffins are taken into St Mary’s Church in Castlerahan, Co Cavan, where the funeral of the Hawe family took place

Had Alan Hawe murdered a teacher and three pupils in the school in which he taught, there would have been universal outrage. But because he butchered his own wife and kids in the family home, the great and the good tiptoe around his actions. In Irish society in 2016, women and children are still seen as chattels.

There has been more focus on Alan Hawe's mental state than on his victims' lives. He wasn't well. He was under pressure at work. We shouldn't rush to judge him when we aren't aware of the torture he was going through.

But there are thousands of people experiencing mental health problems across the country, and they don't go and annihilate their families. Indeed, the only risk to human life that they may pose is overwhelmingly to their own.

Experiencing disappointment, despair, and depression - and not being able to cope with it - does not a murderer make. There is something altogether different in the mix here.

Had Alan Hawe taken his own life, for whatever, reason, he would deserve our utmost sympathy. But he treated his wife and children as if they were possessions, to be destroyed at a time of his choosing. He viewed them as an extension of himself.

He embodied a sense of entitlement. If he was to die, then they had to join him. That was the monstrously sick narcissism at play here.

Using a hatchet and knives does not offer your victims a swift or gentle death. Media reports of the post mortems record that Clodagh suffered defensive injuries suggesting that she fought like a tigress to save her own and her children's lives.

Six-year-old Ryan is also believed to have struggled valiantly to fight off his father. The torment in that house for the last living child - seeing what had happened to his mother and two brothers and knowing he was next - is unimaginable.

There is nobody more vulnerable than a child tucked up in bed in their pyjamas. Yet this father - this loving father as he is described - viewed this tableau of innocence and was unperturbed. He looked at those wee boys, heard their cries, and saw their terrified and uncomprehending faces, and kept on killing them.

It is this act - and not how accomplished an athlete Alan Hawe was or how many times he collected money after Mass - that should define him. He may have appeared to be an upstanding, exemplary citizen, but now we know what he harboured in his heart, we shouldn't be afraid to shove him off that pedestal.

The predominant narrative is that Alan Hawe was a good man who had a bad day. For whatever reason, he just snapped. Those who challenge that narrative are attacked by the apologists for misogynist Ireland.

Mind your own business, don't rush to judgement, move on, you don't know the whole story, let the family sort this one out, they say. Should we listen? Hell, no. That same attitude of sweeping evil away, or under the carpet, led to the decades of little children suffering the vilest sexual abuse.

Silence costs lives. Of course, the family's sensitivities should be acknowledged but there is far, far more important issues at stake here. We need a full and frank discussion about Alan Hawe, and about men who murder family members.

As Women's Aid has highlighted, Clodagh Hawe's death is not a rare occurrence. One in two women murdered in Ireland die at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. In most cases, the woman in the place she should be safest - her own home.

All these serenades of sympathy for Alan Hawe are highly dangerous. Such mood music suggests to other violent men that they too will be understood and forgiven if they slaughter their wives and children.

Even though it was apparently what the family wished, I still found it deeply unsettling that Alan was buried along with Clodagh and his children at the weekend. The murdered should not lie with their murderer. We instinctively know that isn't right.

The ceremonial send off for Hawe himself was ill-advised. Even after hacking four people to death, he was still the grand fellow. That sends out a very wrong and worrying message to all the other Alan Hawes that we should know by now are out there.

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