Focus Ireland – Catherine

“I remember some lovely memories: my mother cooking dinner, the fireplace, and me sitting on my grandad’s lap while he was smoking his pipe. I can also see my brothers sitting around and playing. I remember those moments very clearly. They are the very few fond memories, so I hold onto them dearly. My mother’s second husband was an abusive man, not with my mother, as she loved and trusted him. He did all those things to us without my mother knowing. I never told my mother as she was never there. She was always out, and as strange as it sounds, somehow you get used to things as a child, even if they are horrible. Abuse of all kinds became part of our lives. My mother had already seen my bruises before, but she only became more suspicious when one day he returned home, and my mother asked me to go and give him a hug. I just couldn’t do it; I felt paralyzed. I was only a child. I remember my mother taking me to the doctor, which was another horrible experience. We never really talked about it after that. He just disappeared from our lives. My mother began going out all the time, and my grandfather was looking after us most of the time. Then one day, I was playing with my brothers in my grandad’s room. My grandad was in bed, and we were just having fun. Then my mother called me out, and he was there over the gate. He said, “come here, I love you! Come here!” I got paralyzed again, and I just couldn’t. I could only say, “I can’t now, I’m playing with my brothers.” My mother looked at me and said, “okay, then go back!” A couple of nights later, my mother came in screaming and crying. It turned out that he had killed himself. I never really understood what was going on in the background as my mother never talked about it, so I am just telling you the things I saw as a child. He left a tape, and my mother played it for us. I can’t remember anything from that tape; I just remember my mother and my brothers crying. I remember feeling odd because I wasn’t able to. I was thinking that I should be crying right now, but I felt numb. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that numbness. It was my way of protecting myself, it was my safe space.”

“After this, we began spending a lot more time with my granddad. We barely saw my mother; she was just never there. One day, my brother Thomas and I were messing around. I remember saying to him, ‘Thomas Pedley, stop it!’ We were just playing. Then, my grandad turned around and said, ‘Don’t use that name! He is not a Pedley!’ My brother was like, ‘What?’ My grandad replied, ‘I said, use your name, Keenan. Your father is Jonny Keenan!’ That was it. That’s how we figured out that he had a different father. When my mother came home, my brother went straight to her and shouted, ‘Who is Jonny Keenan?’ My mother got furious and asked, ‘Who told you that?’ ‘Grandda’ did!’ my brother replied. I could see that she was mad, but she didn’t say much after that. She just put us in bed and went downstairs. We were still up, laughing and messing around in bed, unaware of what was about to happen. Then, we heard a bang, and she came running up the stairs. Smoke followed her into the bedroom. I remember looking at my brother, and he was looking at me, not understanding what had just happened. Then, she grabbed us and pushed us out of the room and went for my other brothers in the other room. When she pushed us out, we saw smoke coming up, and we ran back into the room. Everything happened so quickly. She grabbed my other brothers and ran out. Smoke was coming in under the door, and my brother and I were just standing on the bed holding hands without a clue what to do. The smoke got so bad that we couldn’t breathe. I could feel on his hands that he was struggling, but I could barely see him. I was trying to drag him, but he was panicking and pulled his hand away, and I couldn’t find him again. I couldn’t open the window so I had to punch my hand through the glass. I remember putting my head out, taking a deep breath, and shouting, “My brother is in there!” Then someone pulled me out, and they went in, but they couldn’t find him. We were both 7 years old at the time. “

They took me out to the garden, where my grandad sat wrapped in a big blanket with my other brothers. When he saw me, he grabbed me and cried, “Thank God!” My hand was bleeding so they took us into an ambulance and to the hospital. My mother got arrested. My grandad told the police that my mother had set fire to the house while he was sleeping. My granddad died a few months later from a broken heart. As weird as it sounds, I stuck around my mother for a long time. She kept having kids, and I couldn’t leave them. She ended up having 12 kids. You can call it karma, but my mother died in a fire too, years later. My brother was on drugs and fell asleep with a cigarette. She was my age now. Life is weird. I remember my innocence; it was short but so beautiful. Seeing innocence in other people keep me going, you want to keep that light on as long as you can. I tried to live a normal life; I really did. I tried to make things better. I tried to put all that behind me, but somehow it always came back, and my life was a mess.”

Catherine is a mother of five children. Her three eldest children have established independent lives of their own. Unfortunately, after a relationship break-up, she found herself homeless and resorting to rough sleeping. Catherine endured over five years of homelessness until an opportunity arose and managed to secure long-term housing through the Focus program. During her time of homelessness, her two youngest children were in the care system. However, one of her sons has recently reached the age of leaving care and has now moved in with her.

Catherine receives support from a dedicated housing support worker who assists her on her journey. Additionally, she has actively engaged with PETE (Preparation for Education Training and Employment) by undertaking various training modules. Her ultimate goal is to secure employment and build a stable future for herself and her family.