‘I was afraid every time I went running’

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FAMILY TIES Sinéad Stagg is pictured at a GAA match with her daughters Chloe, Emma and Lauren. Pic: Michael Donnelly

The tragic murder of Tullamore schoolteacher Ashling Murphy last week has spread fear of gender-based violence across the land - but that sense of trepidation is always there according to former All-Ireland winning Mayo captain Sinéad Stagg

“I was involved in a car crash recently, but before that I’d go running most days. However, I’d never have EarPods in – I’d always have the phone in my pocket with the music playing because I’d want to have my hands free and be able to hear if someone came up behind me.
I was afraid every time I went running. That’s just the way it was. I’m a confident person in a lot of ways, but this is one area where I know no matter how strong I think I am, no woman is strong enough to physically overpower a man.
My husband, John, would laugh at me when I’d tell him I was afraid, but now he realises what I was on about.
I sometimes ran out in the country, and if I saw a van pulled in at the side of the road I’d turn around and go back, because in my mind I’d be thinking, ‘If I go up there, they’ll know I’m on my own and grab me and put me in the van, and I’ll be gone.’
I do have that fear when I’m out on my own, and it’s not a nice fear to have.
We have three daughters, and I think about their safety when they get older. I think of poor Ashling Murphy’s mother and what she must be going through. The ordinary goals of life people have – getting our kids through college, getting them into good jobs and doing right by them – then suddenly this happens, and all those ordinary things are ripped away.
As parents we’re conditioned to think of the next stage of life, and I’m sure the Murphys were thinking about when Ashling might meet someone and get married and have kids, but that’s all gone now – everything is gone. The heartbreak that those parents are going through is impossible to comprehend, and to think it happened at 4 o’clock in the day makes it even more frightening.
There is always a fear out there, and I think it’s important we talk about it. Whether it’s a group of lads who think they’re cool intimidating young girls or someone like me in my early 40s who’s still afraid to run past a group of lads, or afraid that some fella is waiting in the bushes when you run by.
I don’t think men fully realise the fear women experience in our own society.
Having your car keys in your hand ready to strike someone if they attack you is now a regular part of life. I find myself doing it all the time, which is frightening when you think about it, but that’s the way it is – that’s the fear that’s out there.
It’s going to take a long time to change people’s mentality, and of course I know it’s not all men or anything like it, but the mentality and the thinking around violence against women in our society needs to be addressed urgently.

Ballinrobe native Sinéad Stagg (44) lives in Hollymount with her husband John and their three daughters. She is Operations Manager of St Colman’s Credit Union and a former All-Ireland winning captain with Mayo. She was in conversation with Michael Gallagher.