Mayo Rape Crisis Centre held a tree planting ceremony at Lough Lannagh, Castlebar to mark 25 years of service provision to the people of Mayo.
Ms Loretta McDonagh, director of services with the centre, thanked everyone who accepted their general invitation to attend the event. She offered particular thanks to Mayo County Council for offering a very prominent and public space in which to plant the trees, as she remarked how the issues relating to the experiences of sexual violence were so often confined to the private lives of the victims, due to shame, guilt and the power of secrecy. She hoped this gesture of planting these trees in such a public spot would give dignity and courage to the victims of the crime of sexual violence.
The first tree was planted by two of the founding members of the centre, Ms Ruth MacNeely and Ms Fiona Neary, who both addressed the gathering. In reflecting on the 25 years since opening the centre, Ms MacNeely said it had been the privilege of a lifetime to have been involved in a grassroots response to sexual violence and to have been an answer to the question which is still asked today: "Is there rape in Mayo?"
She spoke of the courage, creativity, wisdom and imagination of all those who have come through the doors of Mayo RCC, saying that what they have done for their families, workplaces and communities will never truly be known. She paid tribute to those who continue to use the service today, bringing their broken hearts and trauma into the 'safekeeping' of a service created to listen, learn and advocate - which it does in a deeply nuanced way.
In her address, Fiona Neary spoke of the honour to be invited back to plant the first of the 25 trees in a place that is in the very heart and centre of Castlebar. She spoke of how this was the very place we need to honour survivors, at the centre of our communities, because this is where they live, where they are abused and where they recover from those crimes and she congratulated Mayo County Council on their recognition of survivors here today.
She spoke of how when they founded the centre 25 years ago they could never have anticipated this kind of recognition of abuse and of survivors. She remembered her first call on the helpline and a woman who was experiencing panic attacks, asking if someone would walk with her so that she could go outside and how she said yes and how she still finds this so symbolic of what the work of a rape crisis centre is - walking with survivors on a journey of seeking help, telling someone, recovering and moving on.
She spoke of how we are living in shifting times and how she would like to see the advertising of help for abusers, something that tells them that if they think they might be hurting someone, there is help or that if they do not understand consent, there is help for that also.
Abusers, she said, also live here, and are part of Castlebar and Mayo. She added that the real extent of sexual violence and the different kinds of support required for recovery are far from fully recognised. This translates into a continuous shortage of resources. Mayo Rape Crisis Centre, like many RCCs could not function without its dedicated volunteers.
Music for the event was provided by John and Isabella Hoban and a lunch attended by many was held afterwards in Lough Lannagh Holiday Village, where a display of the archival material showing the journey of the centre was on display. A bench with a commerative plaque will be erected as part of the project with the help of sponsorship of the trees and a grant from South West Mayo Development Company.
Mayo Rape Crisis Centre offers free counselling, support, information and advocacy for anyone affected by sexual violence at any time in their lives or anyone supporting a victim. To contact them call freephone (1800 ) 234 900.