This has hit home.
The murder of Ashling Murphy has hit home in a way that perhaps nothing else has in two years.
One of the many reasons the murder of Ashling hit home is because every community in Ireland had a Fiona’s Way, a Grand Canal walkway. And men and women have flocked to them in the last two years.
These places became our agora. They were a shared space where people walked and ran, where small relationships developed that might just be based on a “hello” or even a nod every day between people on a similar schedule.
People got to know each other through their dogs, developed soft ties, where they shared bits of their life’s journey with people they never met or saw anywhere else outside these walking and running spots.
And in the absence of anywhere else to go or meet, people — especially women — met friends there, had their coffees, laughed together in grim times. No matter how bad things got in the last two years, we had these places. And they seemed safe. We thought they were safe.
Or maybe men thought they were safe and women hoped they were safe.
There seemed to be a contract in these places, an unspoken agreement everyone was looking out for everyone else.
We were all on an awful journey together, staying sane by getting out to walk or run. And it seemed in these places that even if you were alone, you were among people.
Dusk and evening were prime time for these places, too. You would see women out running alone in the evenings, alert for sure, but daring to do it, maybe because these had become almost sacred spaces, where the old rules didn’t apply anymore. These safe spaces really felt like a pandemic bonus.
But now we all know what women suspected all along, that even the “safe” spaces aren’t safe. It is wrong they should, but this weekend every woman in Ireland, out walking or running or going about their business, felt different. You would hope men did, too. Men are certainly listening and talking but, you wonder, are the ones who really need to listen, listening.
There are now important conversations being had. Right now, they are mainly conversations about fear and abuse and shrunken lives. But they are becoming broader conversations, about everything from the justice system to the proliferation of pornography young men grow up surrounded by, and the nature of that pornography.
They are becoming broader conversations about attitudes, culture, about how men talk to each other and how they talk to themselves.
We start this conversation every now and then. It feels like we might get further with it this time. But you know what? None of this is any good to Ashling, or to Kathleen and Raymond, her mam and dad, or to her brother Cathal and her sister Amy, or to her broader family, her friends, her community, and all the communities she contributed to across music, sports and teaching.
Right now, there is no meaning for Ashling’s family, just unfathomable grief. We all offer them heartfelt words of sympathy.
As we learn more about who she was, we agree she encapsulates the best of us, the best of her generation.
But we know, too, that for Kathleen and Raymond and the family, these words only go so far. Everyone else will move on, but there will be no end to their loneliness.
It’s no good to Ashling, or to her loved ones, but it feels like there is a new determination now that women should feel safer and be safer.
We see the first determined steps on that journey in the women who are out in the walking and jogging spots all over Ireland this weekend.
People are lighting candles, showing respect. But mainly, refusing to relinquish these shared sacred spaces.
And maybe, at some point, the journey started this weekend will give Ashling’s meaningless death some meaning.