SUPPORTING VICTIMS Loretta McDonagh, the Director of the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre.
I live in a beautiful quiet spot in the hinterland of Westport so my morning begins with that first cup of coffee while taking in the sounds, smells and sights of nature to ease me into the day in a gentle way. I grew up in Donegal and came to live in Westport 27 years ago via Germany, London and America. The Mayo Rape Crisis Centre (MRCC), where I work as Director of Services, is based in Castlebar which is about a 15-minute drive for me. I like to do this drive in silence as I ponder the day ahead!
I try to get to my office quite early as it allows me some time to just settle into the day and go through a little practice of lighting a candle and maybe holding an awareness or thought of someone who may need a bit of extra support at this time. I have a great belief in the power of ritual, even in the simplest form, as a way of processing our experiences. I then take a bit of time to look at the diary to get an overview of what are the day’s priorities for myself and the rest of the team.
I began working as a volunteer counsellor with MRCC in 1995 and almost 20 years later, having graduated in 2014 from DCU with a Masters in Supervisory Practice, I applied for the post of Director of Services at MRCC the same year after the position became vacant following Ruth MacNeely’s retirement.
So on a typical day as Director, one of the first things I check in the morning is whether any new calls have come in on the helpline. If there is a recent incident or a crisis call, I will try to ensure this person gets seen as quickly as possible. We take referrals from a wide range of people, be it GPs, the Gardaí, social workers, probation services, psychologists, teachers or public health nurses. This means we have strong community connections which we really value. I strongly believe that the issue of sexual violence needs a whole-community response, both in the prevention of it and in the recovery from it. We are very cognisant of the fact that not all people who experience sexual violence will access our service, but from the number that do, we are left in no doubt of just how prevalent this crime is throughout our society. Following on from that, I will have a meeting with the caseload manager and our administrator to oversee the waiting list and see if we can offer an appointment to someone. I find that a very difficult part of the work, because we know what it can take for someone to reach out and ask for help; then to be told they have to go on a waiting list is so disappointing. So I am always very aware of that and how tough that is for people awaiting a service.
In any given day, I will most likely have meetings with other agencies or services too. These meetings can take me anywhere in the county and gives me great insight into what other fantastic community based initiatives there are throughout the county. At the moment I am actively trying to source additional funds to allow us continue to deliver outreach services in north Mayo. I have a phrase which I tend use quite a bit in relation to this challenge which is that we are a rural rape crisis centre operating in a huge rural county and it angers me that the State seems unwilling to guarantee parity of services to its citizens living in the wider rural community especially when we consider the poor public transport services in the county.
One of my other tasks as Director is involvement with our umbrella body, the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland. The level of support and guidance available to the member centres from RCNI is priceless, from the legal, database, GDPR and governance areas. Smaller services such as ours do not have the capacity to get involved with or attend all the relevant forums etc therefore knowing we are a part of a bigger organisation that speaks on our behalf is reassuring. Again, I feel strongly that financial support should be made available to the RCNI to ensure high quality assurance practices and independent data from the sector.
I have a wonderful bunch of colleagues (both paid and voluntary) who work alongside me every day, so again there will be downtime every day over a shared cuppa or lunch in the kitchen where we can connect and catch up about life in general.
I do try to get out for short walk in the middle of the day, as the movement and fresh air helps clear my head and revitalises my energy. We are just completing the training of ten new volunteer counsellors who will be joining the service over the coming months. We are so thrilled to have new energy coming into the service. On a typical day, I will have meetings with individual staff members for support or guidance around issues they face. I love the hands-on aspect of this work which allows me to draw from my learning as a Clinical Supervisor. My role also involves seeing a small number of clients, and I have to say I believe this is where I truly come into my strength. The privilege of sitting with another person and being trusted to bear witness to their hurts is what is at the heart of this work for me. I have been continually amazed over the last 24 years by the power of people to heal and recover from the deep, deep pain of sexual violence and go on to live full and healthy lives. It is such precious work and I am so grateful to all the clients who have come through the door of the Mayo Rape Crisis over the past 24 years and trusted us with their stories.
Coming home in the evenings after a full day, I so love the peace and quiet of my home and my shared life with John. Getting out together to walk the dogs and having a chat with him allows me to wind down and let the pressures and busyness of mine go. After dinner, if I don’t have work commitments, I will either listen to music, read a book or watch a movie as these are my favourite things to do... I love getting lost in a completely different world. At the weekend, we might meet up with friends or pop down to Galway to see a play and catch up with our son who lives there. I might also get to have a phone catch up with our daughter who is currently in Vancouver. My home life is generally quiet and relaxed which is a lovely balance for the fullness of my working life ... as my children like to remind me one of my favourite phrases has always been ‘it’s all about balance’.
In conversation with Áine Ryan
Name: Loretta McDonagh
Occupation: Director of Services, Mayo Rape Crisis Centre, Castlebar
If money was no object, what would you do all day?
Probably work a bit less and travel a bit more.
Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
That I love to sing!
Where’s your favourite place in the world?
Anywhere by the sea, I am a great believer in the healing power of sea air!
What makes you angry?
That the lack of adequate State funding means that charities such as the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre have to fundraise in order to make its services freely available to all who need them.
Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Coffee, cheese and pesto!
What makes you nervous?
When I have to speak on behalf of the centre as I so want to represent the truth of what victims of sexual violence go through and how the centre tries to respond to that.
What’s your favourite TV show?
Shetland. I really enjoy good quality crime dramas.
Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?
The late Senator Ted Kennedy when I was living on Nantucket Island. It was a great holiday hotspot for the rich and famous back then!
What do you miss most about being a kid?
Having the time to spend daydreaming in the wide open countryside.
What’s your most prized possession?
Possessions are not something I put much value on but things like my Dad’s reading glasses have some meaning for me as he died suddenly when I was 15.
What’s the best advice you ever got?
Trust the process.
Describe yourself in three words?
Calm, clear and patient.
How do you unwind?
Getting out in nature, reading, listening to music and being by myself.