Solo: Death in Dun Laoghaire – Essay: Jonniers

  Every Saturday from when I was 4 until I was about 8, my siblings and myself were sent up the street to the playground on Library Road, all of a minute’s walk from our old house on Wellington Street. No doubt it had an official name but I never heard any of the children who went there call it anything other than Jonnier’s. It comprised of maybe 3 quarters of an acre. Surrounded by high walls and wrought iron railings as it fronted onto Library road. It was concreted over and contained some swings, a slide, a sandpit, a rocking horse, and a monkey-puzzle that nobody was ever allowed to climb.

I fucking hated Jonniers and I dreaded Saturdays when we were dispatched off. Though no doubt it was a godsend to my parents, allowing them some respite from us. I presume it was run under the auspices of some religious organisation or other as we had to address the middle aged ladies who ran it as Sister, and everyday at 6 we had to stop what ever we were doing, form lines and say the Angelus, something we never did at home. Even then that acute sense of soporific boredom tinged with a vague feeling of oppression, which descends on me when praying in public, was in evidence. Half-heartedly mumbling empty phrases, only becoming vaguely animated when the prayers were about to finish – “Through Christ our lord, Amen.”

One must of course allow for the distortions of childhood but I disliked everything about the place, the metallic taste of the water that we drank from the tap, the home made toilet paper made out of squares of old newspaper which hung on a string. The fact that to use one or other of the games, you had to stand in a line and count time, which had a dual purpose, timing the duration of the other child’s usage and as a by product you would also learn to count. I can still hear the rhythm 5.. 10.. 15.. 20.. 25.. 30.. 35.. 40..

But what I disliked most of all, was the oppressive sense of authority which radiated down from the ladies who ran Jonniers, whom with one or two exceptions terrified me.

At this time a healthy newborn baby boy was found murdered here in this lane, one of many which run parallel to the west of the main street, George’s Street, a terrible crime. All sorts of rumors circulated. The killer or killers were never found. It was hushed up spoken about in whispers, the shame such a crime brought on the community. From where the child was found it was obvious the killer was a local.

Many years later I read a piece in a Sunday newspaper written by the person who as a small boy had discovered the dead infant, he wrote about finding it in a plastic bag and thinking at first that it was a doll. By the time the article was written, in the late 1990’s the full story had emerged. The baby was the result of a rape of a 12-year child, the pregnancy was concealed from the rest of the world and when the child was born, it was stabbed repeatedly with a knitting needle specially sharpened for that purpose.

We of course had all heard that a baby was found dead, murdered up the lanes, not five minutes from our front door. Obviously adults tried to shield children from such stories, forgetting of course that children sense secrets, that they are drawn to them. I have no recollection how I found out or who told me. In Jonniers the kids used to sing a song, an awful dirge the name of which I never knew, in fact, even at the time I remember thinking, “That isn’t even a song”, it was about a child being murdered and the two have always being linked in my mind. I can still hear and see a group of young girls in Jonniers singing it in unison. Enuciating it loudly with gusto and glee like some prepubescent Beverly sisters, and accompanying the words with vigorous stabbing gestures “she stuck the penknife in the babies heart, a weela weela waalya – she stuck the penknife in the babies heart down by the river Sawla”.