The Irish Times
In Listowel, the Kerry town hit by controversy after a show of courtroom support for a man convicted of sexual assault, ROSITA BOLAND gauges local opinions
LISTOWEL IN Co Kerry is a small town of some 4,300 residents that has long celebrated words and those who write them. There are statues of two of its former residents, playwright John B Keane, author of The Field, Sive , and Big Maggie , and short story writer Bryan MacMahon in the town centre, as well as a road named for Keane. In the central square, close to Listowel Castle, is a converted Georgian building named Seanchaí, that houses the Kerry Literary and Cultural Centre. Every May, a long-running festival, Listowel Writers Week, takes place, attracting writers and participants from all over the world.
It’s ironic that a town so noted for its love of language on Wednesday became infamous for a communal wordless gesture by some 50 people, mainly middle-aged and elderly men, from the locality. They lined up in single file in a Tralee courtroom to shake hands with or hug Danny Foley (35), from Meen, Listowel, whom a jury had unanimously found guilty of sexual assault two weeks previously. While Foley awaited sentencing in the courtroom, his victim, together with Bernie McCarthy, a counsellor from the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre, a female garda, and a friend of the victim, were forced to watch him receive this display of public sympathy. Some of those who shook Foley’s hand were in tears.
One man in the queue was Fr Séan Sheehy, parish priest of Castlegregory, Co Kerry, who had supplied the court with a character reference of Foley, describing him as “having the highest respect for women”. Judge Donagh McDonagh, who did not witness the scenes in court prior to his appearance for sentencing, criticised Fr Sheehy’s statement, stressing that Foley’s actions “gave the lie” to what Fr Sheehy had said.