Reasons to be cheerful (kind of)

Examiner Magazine, Saturday October 27

The clocks go back tonight, marking the official onset of winter. Think of it: weeks of trudging home from work in the dark, with the rain lashing down, and The Worst Budget Ever hovering over your head.

It can’t get much gloomier, can it?

Impossible as it may seem, there are loads of things to be cheerful about as we face into the bleak mid-winter and beyond. It was a struggle, but we’ve compiled a list of them.

The old favourites

With the aid of social media gurus, 2FM’s Rick O’Shea and Storyful’s Gareth O’Connor, we asked 60,000 Twitterers to suggest reasons to be cheerful this winter.

The top replies were: ‘drinking hot port by a log fire, fresh mornings, and being snowed into the pub’. There were also ‘autumn leaves, meaty casseroles, electric blankets, snuggling up, cosy cardigans and Ugg boots’ (seriously).

Facebook threw up a personal favourite: ‘waking up after December 5 and not having to listen to pre-Budget submissions on Mourning Ireland’.

The weather

Whatever you say about Ireland’s climate, you have to admit it’s consistent. Consistently awful. Remember the summer? Of course you don’t. We didn’t have one.

The worst thing about summer is the anticipation that it might turn out nice. This is followed by a feeling of overwhelming despair as you watch the barbecue float off down the garden during a cloudburst.

At least with winter, you know what you’re getting: rain and wind, with the faint possibility of snow. Expect a rubbish winter and every fine day is a bonus.

The good news is that you’ll finally get to wear those Yak Tracks you bought last year. Remember how everyone stocked up on salt and shoe grips and it failed to snow? Snow’s on the way for mid December and February, apparently.

Look on the brighter side

On December 21, New Agers will celebrate the Winter Equinox, known to the rest of us as The Shortest Day of the Year. This means that in less than two months’ time … the days start getting longer again.

Winter TV is better than Summer TV

With the exception of last summer – due to the Olympics and the soccer – mid-year telly is valium for the eyes. This is because schedulers believe we have better things to do in summer than watch TV.

As a result, we’re forced to watch repeats of repeats of repeats on TV3. ‘Ireland’s Dream Debs REVISITED’ has actually been aired twice in the past few months. RTE’s not much better, pumping out US schlock like The Mentalist the same way it used to barf up Mannix repeats.

Now winter’s here and we finally have some good TV on our screens. There’s the new series of Homeland and Grey’s Anatomy to enjoy. And Downton Abbey, among other gems.

We also have The Toy Show to look forward to. Last year, it was watched by 1,528,000 people – the highest viewership of any programme for the past 17 years.

The summer’s biggest TV draw was the Eurovision. I rest my case….

Winter clothes are nicer than summer clothes

You might not agree with that if you’re a skinny young thing who likes to wear revealing clothes. For the majority of us, however, winter attire covers up a multitude of bumps, lumps and saggy bits. Think sloppy jumpers, cosy coats and boots…

Hallowe’en

Everyone loves Hallowe’en. It’s a great excuse to dress up and get drunk at houseparties. Best of all, you can pretend “it’s all about the children” as they roam the neighbourhood demanding sweets with menaces, or setting fire to sheds.

Here’s a Handy Hallowe’en tip: steal half of your kids’ chocolate ‘trick-or-treats’. Stick them in the old Quality Street tin you keep your biscuits in and give them to someone as a Christmas present. Or back to the kids as a ‘special’ selection box.

How’s that for cheery?

Christmas

The good news is that this year Christmas Eve falls on a Monday. This means that most of us will get a decent break: finishing work on Friday the 21st and not returning until Thursday the 27th. That’s if you have a job, of course.

Let’s not be glib. Christmas will be bleak, especially for families on the breadline. However, there is one positive side to it. According to the CSO, 87,100 people emigrated from Ireland between April 2011 and April 2012. Mums and dads all over the country will be looking forward to seeing their emigrant children return from abroad.

Then, after all the usual seasonal rows, they’ll be glad to see the back of them as they head off Down Under again. It’s a win-win situation.

Good news if you’re planning to emigrate:

It’s summer in Australia.

The lunatics are taking over the asylum

Ireland is taking over the EU presidency in 2013. What are the Germans up to? They don’t trust us with our own economy, but they trust us to be in charge of the EU??

Is this some cunning German plan to finally destroy Europe? Are they hoping that the Paddies will achieve what two world wars couldn’t? Possibly.

Beating Simon Cowell

Last November, @BrendaDrumm suggested doing a Twitter-sourced charity Christmas single. Her tweet went viral and, weeks later, over 100 strangers met up in Dublin to record Winter Song. It reached No 1 in the iTunes charts, keeping Cowell and Co off the top spot.

It’s happening again this year, which is brilliant news for all of us who HATE X Factor. It’s open to everyone and is an opportunity to spread a little Crimbo cheer. #twitterxmassingle

Flooding in the west

Winter’s just begun and already the floods have started. Here’s a suggestion: if there’s any repeat of 2009’s Galway floods, we should consider selling the county to the US.

Disney could reopen it as the world’s biggest water theme park and call it ‘Pirates of The Corrib’. Just joking. Sorry.

The Gathering

Ta siad ag teacht! Ta siad ag teacht! We may be penniless now, but next year 100s of thousands of tourists will descend on the Emerald Oisle, ready to be fleeced.

Here’s an idea: let’s seal the borders and mug them. Or if you think that’s too harsh, let’s charge them a €1,000 levy to get out again.

We’re not Greece

No matter how bad things get, we’ll never be as out-of-favour as the rioting Greeks. We Paddies don’t do rioting. We don’t have the weather for it. The closest we’ve come to a riot in recent years was the medical card protest where our grannies waved flasks of tea and umbrellas at Leinster House. For this reason alone, Europe loves us.

2013 may be the year that Greece leaves/is booted out of the Eurozone. This may not break up the Eurozone, but it will break up the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). We’ll then be known as the PIS. Lovely, isn’t it. We’ll be PIS-poor in every sense.

Phil Hogan

Angry at being told you have to pay tax on your stamp-dutied, negative-equity home? Here’s some news to cheer you up. Phil Hogan has found himself in the septic tank over a property deal.

Last week, a British tabloid revealed that Big Phil lost €100k on the sale of a D4 house he bought in 2004 with a loan from Michael Fingleton.

Now you know what it feels like, Phil.

Cardboard bikes for Christmas

We’re not making this up. An Israeli inventor has created the first bike made of cardboard. Izhar Gafni developed a process that makes it waterproof and sturdy enough to withstand the worst of the Irish winter. Best of all, it will retail for about €20 – great news for the unemployed and self-employed.

But why stop with bikes? We could use the same technology to create fold-up cardboard houses. Thinking of emigrating? Why not take your house with you? The slogan could be ‘The Cardboard Home: don’t leave home without it’.

Failing that, we could just waterproof the cardboard boxes that many will be living in come the New post-budget Year.

Cheer up, we’re all doomed

No matter how bad the December 5 budget is, it won’t be the end of the world. That takes place two weeks later. According to an ancient Mayan prophecy, the Apocalypse is going to happen on December 21.

So cheer up, come Christmas, none of us will be around any more to moan about how miserable life is.

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Brownies bag an Emmy nomination for Octonauts

Irish Examiner 10 October 2012

By Dave Kenny

 

Two Irish-made children’s animation series have been nominated for Emmy awards.

Brown Bag Films’ ‘The Octonauts’, and Boulder Media’s ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ will lead the charge for Ireland at the inaugural International Emmy Kids Awards next February.

The hugely popular ‘Octonauts’, which is made in Smithfield, Dublin, has been named in the Preschool category. It is pitted against nominations from Argentina, South Korea and Norway.

Brown Bag already has two Oscar nominations to its name for ‘Give Up Yer Aul’ Sins’ (2002) and ‘Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty’ (2010). The ‘Octonauts’ – which features the underwater adventures of a team of cuddly animal explorers – was also nominated for Bafta and Ifta awards in 2011.

‘The Amazing World of Gumball’, made by Dublin-based Boulder Media for Turner Broadcasting UK, features the exploits of a 12-year-old cat named Gumball and his family in the town of Elmore. It’s nominated in the Kids Animation category.

Brown Bag Films’ founders, Cathal Gaffney and Darragh ‘Doc’ O’Connell, told the Irish Examiner that they were delighted at the announcement, which was made in Cannes on Monday night.

“We’re ordering in some cake to the office today to celebrate,” joked O’Connell, who directs ‘The Octonauts’.

“It’s been brilliant working on the series, although some of my friends want to throttle me now that their kids have become obsessed with it. They’ve no room on the Skybox for ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Homeland’ because it’s all taken up with Octonauts to appease the little ones.

“The creators, Meomi, have been tough people to please because they have such high standards and are amazingly talented artists. We’ve always had to make sure our socks are well pulled-up in order to make them happy.

“Kurt and Adam from producers, Silvergate Media, have been amazing as well, always ready to work through problems with us. They completely understand when they need to trust us and let us get on with things.

“The head writer, Stephanie Simpson, is great at accepting feedback on the storytelling, so we can find ways to tell the best story visually, without ever compromising on quality. Having the head writer on your side can save a lot of heartache further down the road when you’re in the thick of production.

“One of the proudest moments of my career to-date was watching my little boy dancing to the theme tune when he first heard it on TV. It was pure magic.”

O’Connell’s Brown Bag partner, Cathal Gaffney, was in Cannes when he received the news.

“It’s great for Brown Bag Films,” he told the Irish Examiner, “and a real thumbs-up for the Irish animation industry in general.

“The nomination should be another reason for the government to retain the section 481 film and TV tax incentive scheme beyond 2015. Failure to do so would pose a serious risk to our ability to compete effectively for new business.”

Section 481 offers tax incentives for foreign producers to make films and TV programmes in Ireland. The Octonauts is made here by Brown Bag Films and produced by Silvergate Media for the BBC. The programme  is watched by millions of children around the world.

Brown Bag’s most recent Disney series, Doc McStuffins, has attracted almost five million viewers and debuted here last week. It’s already the top-rated pre-school show in the US.

A second season is already in production, while its version of Irish writer, Niamh Sharkey’s, Happy Hugglemonsters will air for Disney Junior in over 150 countries this autumn.

The 2013 International Emmy Kids Awards Gala takes place in New York on February 8.

 

Return of the Dub in a Tub

Sunday Independent, 1 September 2012

Rob Dowling lived out a bizarre dream when he sailed down the Amazon in a bathtub. Now, after a series of personal tragedies, he’s going back to South America to raise money for a children’s charity. But there’s more bad news, says DAVE KENNY: his tub has been kidnapped by Colombian terrorists

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It’s May 2006, and Dubliner Robert Dowling has a splitting headache and a furious itch. He has just woken up in the gutter of a Peruvian town beside a mangy dog. He is wearing a life jacket and a cowboy hat (Robert, that is, not the dog). He is hungover to the point of insanity, and flea-ridden.

It’s hardly the most auspicious way to start an epic adventure, but Rob grabs his hat and hits the jetty to begin his solo sail down the world’s most hostile river, the Amazon. In a bath tub. ‘Rob the Dub in a Tub’ will set one of the bizarrest world records ever, but today he just needs to find some paracetemol.

Rob’s dream of sailing down the Amazon in a bath dates back to a pub conversation when he was in his 20s.

 “Myself and my mates were discussing things we’d like to do before we die,” he says. “I joked that I’d like to travel down the Amazon in a tub. Twenty years later, I did just that.”

 A series of life-tributaries led him to the world’s joint-longest river. The catalyst was a deep depression left by the break-up of his 22-year marriage.

“I was alone and miserable. The family home had been sold off and I was in my mid-40s on the edge of despair. My life as I knew it was over. No-one else was involved. It just ended,” he says.

“I had two choices: stay depressed or patch myself up. I felt emasculated by the divorce. I wanted to do something that would give me back my masculinity. Something really challenging.

“I sail as a hobby – even though I can’t swim – so I decided to test my nerve and boating skills by making the bath journey. I had a good job with Tayto and had some money left over from the house sale, so I started planning my adventure.”

That adventure would see him fleeing murderous guerillas, cut-throats, crocodiles and witch doctors. He would also meet some extraordinary people, including a small, paralysed Indian girl who turned his life around.

It’s a journey Rob’s about to undertake again, hopefully, next month. He had planned to go last January, but a personal tragedy of devastating proportions stopped him. He chokes as he begins to describe it and it’s left until later in the interview to discuss. Despite this, he now feels he is emotionally ready to return to the Amazon.

Two weeks ago, Rob received a ransom message from Columbian narco-terrorists, FARC. The most feared group in South America have kidnapped something very precious to him – his bath tub. He needs to go back to the Amazon to rescue it.

“No, I’m not nuts. I’ve been through a lot with that bath. It’s very special,” laughs Rob.

“I bought it in Peru. Then I got a team together. We housed it in a steel frame, with fuel and water barrels on either side, and a 15hp outboard engine.

“Everyone thought I was mad and would drown. An English missionary told me not to worry about organising for my remains to be flown home if I was killed. ‘The piranhas will take care of that’, he said.

“I planned to travel 5,471km solo with a GPS and a satellite phone. I set off from Iquitos in May 2006. The support boat was to stay with me for five miles, but got into trouble after two. I had to tow it into a town behind my bath. It was some sight.

“I’m not a huge drinker, but that night we were treated as celebrities and drank our way through the town. This was drug country: there were guys with mirror shades and scars everywhere. I was wearing my Stetson, life jacket and shorts – it was asking for trouble, so I decided to call it a night.

“The support team had taken over the boat and the bath. I spotted a mangy dog in a gutter and lay down beside it. I knew if anyone tried to mug me it would bark and wake me.”

A few hours later, Rob started his journey. He made it three miles before he ran into a storm.

“I thought I was going to die. My lifejacket was useless [airport security had confiscated the gas cannister], I was hungover with swirling waves battering my little bath. I was terrified I’d be bashed off the rocks.

“I weathered it in the end and continued chugging along, being eaten by mosquitos and avoiding bandits. That first night, I pitched my tent near a village. The children were the first to visit me. Once I had given them some of my sweets (they had never seen sweets before), the parents started to appear.

“A family took me in and looked after me. It was typical of the hospitality I was to experience along the way.”

Rob also experienced some of the grinding poverty the river children have to endure.

“I have two sons, Colin and Mark. I love kids and the lack of basic facilities for them there is horrific.”

One evening as he pitched up on the bank, he got a satellite call to tell him that the Brazilian navy didn’t want him to travel any further. He was in FARC country.

“I sensed I was in danger. One of the local boys kept making the cut-throat sign with his hand and saying ‘gringo’ to his friends.

“The villagers begged me not to continue. One local offered to guide me past the FARC camp but I knew he was setting me up to be robbed. My $4,000 engine was worth 10 years wages to these people.

“I headed off before dawn, as fast as I could, for the Brazilian side of the river. Later that night, I slipped past the guerilla stronghold unnoticed. I was scared out of my wits. I could smell and see their cooking fires as I passed by.”

Rob’s journey ended after 500 eventful kilometres. He had letters of safe conduct from Peru and the blessing of Amazon charity, Caritas. The Brazilian navy, however, didn’t want him on the river. His adventure was over. Deflated, he donated all his equipment to help the children of a nearby village.

“I then spent a month boozing in Rio. I was really hurting over not being able to continue.”

Once back in Ireland, Rob won a Best of Irish Award for his achievements.

“Everyone wanted to see the bath, but I’d left it behind. So, the following year, I headed back to get it. It had grown legs. I travelled into Colombia and was told it had been sold for a cigarette by a woman who thought it was possessed. It was hidden in the jungle somewhere.

“I returned to Peru really disappointed and accepted an invitation to go on a field trip with Caritas into the rain forest. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The experience completely changed my life.

“We visited a remote village and there, in a small mud hut, I met a child called Jazmin. She was 12, malnourished and paralysed from the waist down. She had open sores on her body. I was furious that a child should have to suffer like that without proper care.

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“Caritas advised me to get medical help for her rather than give cash to her family. It really pissed off the witch doctor who was ‘treating’ her.

“We sent her to Iquitos for tests and I did what I could before heading home. I tried to get on with my life but I kept seeing her face. I phoned a friend in Peru who said she was dying. With the help of friends, I raised €4,000 for her.

“It wasn’t enough, so I hired a nurse for her. Then I bought plane tickets for her to travel to a children’s hospital in Lima with her mother. She spent months there getting well.

“Jazmin brought out something in me. The desire to help kids like her became all-consuming. My mission now is to set up a medical centre on the river to bring these kids a better life.

“To do this, I have to raise funds. I had a successful holistic healing business which I neglected while concentrating on Jazmin. I’m broke. I’ve been to Peru seven times and spent $40,000 on my bath to-date. Each journey costs around €5,000.

“I want to return to Colombia and rescue my bath. When I was last there, I was told that FARC would give it back for $200. I met them and it went up to $600, which I didn’t have. I was told last week that they’re willing to talk again.”

Rob needs a sponsor to help him get there. “Someone who believes in savouring life” like he does.

“When I get the bath back I’m going to finish the Amazon journey. Then I’ll take it up Kilimanjaro, through Death Valley and paraglide it from a volcano in Peru. I’ve worked out the logistics. Those trips will raise the funds I need to set up my centre.”

On paper, those plans look mad, but Rob speaks about them with disarming determination and honesty. The latter is a quality he has in abundance. He opens up and reveals that 2011 was a nightmare year for him.

In the Spring, he lost his father to cancer. In the Winter his best friend committed suicide. In the Autumn, his son Colin (24) emigrated to Australia for two years. His other son Mark (26) made plans to follow him. Losing your sons for two years must be very tough.

“It gets worse,” says Rob, his voice suddenly cracking. He pauses.

“Mark died.” He crumples in on himself, overcome with grief. Wave after wave of it hit him as he tries to talk about the death of his son, just seven months ago. The man who has weathered the Amazon is rudderless in his own private tempest.

 “He had gone to a New Year’s Eve party with friends. He didn’t make it home. I can’t say much about it as there is going to be an inquiry. Everybody loved Mark. He was bubbly and kind. He was never in trouble. It was just that his time was up.

“When I heard the news, I went down to the estuary in Donabate and screamed like a banshee, ‘Why?’ He was a beautiful soul with his life before him.

“I met Mark for dinner at the end of December. I had intended to head out to Peru just after Christmas. I thank God that I didn’t have the finances to go. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had that dinner with him. It was the last time I saw him alive.” He pauses again.

“Well that’s that,” he says with an air of finality that is as unconvincing as it is moving. He is trying to master his grief. Each time he speaks it’s as if someone is punching him in the stomach.

“When you lose a child you join a very exclusive and painful club.” He winces again.

Life seldom has tidy endings. Rob once conquered the mightiest of rivers in the frailest of crafts. He saved a dying Peruvian girl. It’s an uplifting story, but it doesn’t end there.

Now, he is navigating through the unfamothable pain of losing his own child. Despite that pain, he wants to return to the Amazon to rescue more children. And to visit Jazmin.

Life is never tidy.

The day after Rob was interviewed for this article, he received news from Peru. It was about the frail little “daughter he never had”.

Jazmin had died.

 

Email: Rob@amazonchildren.com

http://www.amazonchildren.com

  

 

 

 

 

Terrible lie by troubled teen led to horrific death

A tragedy not unlike a John B Keane novel has blighted the lives of loving, heartbroken parents Lotte and Denis Lyne

Sunday Independent, 13 May 2012

Stephen Lyne was just 17 when he bled his life away on a grass verge, metres from his home. He had been stabbed in the back after being falsely accused of raping a teenage girl. The girl later admitted her claim was “a blatant, disgusting lie”.

His killer, Shane Regan, will never be brought to trial. In August 2010, he died after falling down the stairs of his rented home. Regan – also 17 at the time – was a distant cousin of Stephen’s. That relationship counted for nothing when he drove a knife 11.5cms into his victim’s body in a Kerry laneway on June 18, 2009.  The chain of events leading up to that night wouldn’t seem out of place in a John B Keane tragedy.

“Stephen never knew why he was being killed,” his mother Lotte says. “He kept asking Regan ‘Why are you doing this, cousin?’ Regan gave him no explanation.”

The girl who cried rape – Jessica Klok – was then 15 and going out with Regan. In March, she apologised for her lie during the trial of Martin Ollo (19).  The Estonian student, of An Doireann Aileann, Killarney, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of conspiring with Regan, of Droumkerry, Fossa, Killarney on the nights of June 16/17 and June 17/18  to assault Stephen, causing him harm.

On March 2, Ollo was found guilty of the first charge and given three years at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court. Before sentencing, the judge acknowledged that he had not intended for Stephen to be killed and was not directly responsible for his death. The trial had heard that Ollo did not know Regan had a knife  on the night Stephen died.

The pair planned to lure Stephen to Scrahan Mews, off Ross Road, on June 16 so that Regan could give him a beating.

“Martin Ollo came on a family holiday with us. We travelled across Europe for a month. How could he betray Stephen like that?” asks Lotte.

“Stephen couldn’t see badness in anyone. He was too kind and was always helping people. Everyone loved him. He just hadn’t learned to read people properly. He was only 17.”

This is the first time Lotte – who is Regional Business Development Executive with financial firm, MCN Associates – has spoken about the full extent of her family’s ordeal. She wants to set up a foundation to stop delinquency before it happens. “Children are not born evil,” she says.

Lotte (45), who is Danish, moved to Ireland in 1982 and met her husband Denis in Killarney four years later. They married in 1988 and had their first daughter, Tasha (23), in 1989.

In 1990, they moved to Denmark where their other five children – Benjamin (11), Jonas (16), Mathias (17), Stephen (pronounced ‘Stefan’) and Sofie (21) – were born. In 2001, the family returned to Castle Falls, Killarney: a highly desirable address in a county renowned for its beautiful scenery. The Lynes wanted their children to learn about their Irish roots. Tragically, one of those family roots led to Shane Regan.

“Stephen had only known Regan for about six months. He was delighted when he found out that they were third cousins. He was really proud of his family,” says Lotte.

Stephen, Ollo and Regan were part of a large group of teens who hung around together during the early summer of 2009. The court heard that Regan had a reputation for being domineering, violent and manipulative.

During the  June Bank Holiday weekend Regan’s girlfriend, Klok, was spotted in Killarney Demesne with Stephen.  “They were walking and talking. Stephen was always very kind to Jessica,” says Lotte.

Klok later told Regan that Stephen had dragged her into the woods, put a knife to her throat and raped her. To compound the lie, she added that Stephen had done this to four or five other girls. It was completely untrue. An enraged Regan repeated the accusation to Stephen’s sister Sofie, saying he was “going to get Stephen” Sofie warned Lotte of the threat.

“I absolutely knew the rape claim wasn’t true. I knew my son. Everyone who knew Stephen said he wasn’t capable of such a thing,” says Lotte. “I told him he was in danger and to stay off the streets.”

Her fears were well-founded. She and Denis foiled the first ambush on June 16 when they picked up Stephen on the road and brought him home.

The court heard that, in the early hours of June 18, Ollo went with Stephen to Scrahan Mews to smoke cannabis with Regan.

“No alcohol or drugs were found in the toxicology tests on Stephen. Reports that he had been smoking cannabis the night he died – or around that time – were not true,” says Lotte.

Ollo said Regan hit Stephen in the back and chased him on to Ross Road. He heard Stephen screaming, asking why Regan was attacking him. He was dying from a single knife wound to his back, which had cut through his kidney, spleen and arteries.

It was around 1.20am and, by this time, the Lynes were worried as Stephen wasn’t answering his phone. Lotte was in Dublin for work, so Denis went to search for him. He came across the crime scene and was devastated by what he saw.

“Denis has lived through the agony of losing his eldest son, but he has a heavier cross to bear. He constantly lives through the recurring nightmare of seeing the ambulance, the police, and the flashing lights. As he came upon the scene, he saw his son’s lifeless body lying on the grass.

“He re-lives that night over and over again, constantly blaming himself for not being there to protect his Stephen.”

Lotte will never forget receiving the news of her son’s death.

“I was staying at the Burlington. At 3.30am, two gardaí knocked at my door. They said I needed to call home – they did not know why. Denis picked up my call and told me what happened and the world stopped. ‘It is Stephen, he is dead, and he has been stabbed’.

“I remember slowly sliding to the floor as I cried out. The lady garda reached for me, repeating ‘I am sorry, I did not know’. The other garda sat with a stunned look on his face. I remember putting up my hand as if to physically stop the terrible news from being a reality, thinking that I could somehow, by pure force, hold back the finality of those words: my son is dead.

“The gardaí and hotel staff was very kind and organised a cab to take me to the airport to get a flight to Kerry. There was hassle at the Ryanair desk as I didn’t have my passport with me. After several phone calls, they eventually let me buy a ticket.

“I spent two hours, on my own, in Dublin Airport. I was miles away from my husband and children in the worst moments of our lives. I needed to be there to protect them from this horrendous truth.

“I phoned my parents and Stephen’s best friends to tell them what had happened. Afterwards, I went to the ladies’ and locked myself into a cubicle, shaking and sobbing as the pain raked through my body. I made several more trips to the toilet to collapse in tears before my flight was called.

“That flight was the longest 20 minutes of my life. I sat alone with tears flowing down my face. No-one came near me. Later, as Denis and I drove down Ross Road, I saw the tent that covered my son’s body. I have no words that will do justice to how I felt.”

Lotte speaks kindly of the other players in this tragedy. She bears Ollo no ill will, although he never expressed remorse to them directly.

Klok wrote to the Lynes after Ollo’s trial, finally apologising for what she had done. Lotte has sympathy for her. “Jessica was a very troubled girl back then. There are only losers in this story.”

Regan was never charged in relation to the stabbing. The trial heard he had “gone to his grave” believing Stephen had raped Klok. She told the court that he had admitted killing Stephen to her. Ollo would have been willing to testify against him had he ever been prosecuted for homicide.

Lotte was disappointed at the length of time it took for a case to be heard.

“Stephen’s brothers and sisters have faced a lot of heartache, very young. We waited for over two years for justice. The truth came out during the trial. Our son has been totally vindicated from the lies that were said about him.  People have admitted their involvement and guilt. We are thankful for the hard work that the gardaí have carried out to establish that truth.

“In memory of our son we are in the process of starting up the Stephen Lyne Foundation, which will focus on children and young people. It will aim to prevent youngsters from turning to violence and crime.

“This will be done through a number of initiatives which we will announce in due time. We also want to ensure that our son is remembered for the person he really was: an honest and loyal young man.”

In the meantime, the Lynes are coping with their grief “bit by bit”.

“We only cleared Stephen’s room last summer and that was because we were moving house. Sofie had moved into it to be closer to him and she did not want anything changed. I used to sit there looking at his posters, touching his belongings and the pain of losing him would take my breath away.

“I see him all the time. Sometime I will see a teenager who looks or walks like him, and my heart stops.”

Lotte shouldered Stephen’s coffin at his funeral. “It was something I had to do. I brought him into this world and had to carry him to his last resting place, no matter how heartbreaking that burden was.”

That physical burden lasted only a few minutes. Lotte and her family will carry the heavier burden of their loss forever.

*If you wish to contact Lotte about the Stephen Lyne Foundation, please email her at lotte@mcnassociates.ie

dave@davekenny.com

Meet The Liberator

Sunday Independent, 29 April 2012

He’s a Karate Kid from the Liberties who suffered sexual abuse, poverty and a long list of personal tragedies. Despite these obstacles, Derek O’Neill has transformed countless lives worldwide and now rubs shoulders with Christina Aguilera and Simon Cowell. Here, he talks about following in the footsteps of Bono and Winston Churchill…

By Dave Kenny

You’ve never heard of Derek O’Neill. By his own admission, he is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. But for the past 15 years, Liberties-born Derek has been quietly transforming the lives of countless people.

After witnessing devastating poverty in India, he set up the charitable SQ (Spiritual Quotient) Foundation to build schools, hospitals and other practical institutions in the world’s poorest regions.

It now operates in 11 countries, and 97 per cent of all money raised goes directly to source. Derek absorbs most of the administration costs. To date, he has helped more than 35,000 children.

He should be a household name for his humanitarian work, yet most of us have never heard of him.

Derek’s also an author, transformational therapist, motivational speaker and adviser to some of the world’s top business leaders. He rubs shoulders with Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Christina Aguilera. Oh, and he knows Simon Cowell. If you don’t think that’s an impressive CV, then keep it to yourself. You don’t want to annoy Derek: he’s also a master of the martial arts.

Next Sunday, Derek will be honoured with Variety International’s prestigious humanitarian award at its world conference gala dinner in Dublin. Past recipients have included Winston Churchill, Bono, Henry Kissinger and Frank Sinatra. The accolade may finally bring him out of the shadows where he’s been labouring so long.

Forty-eight-year-old Derek is not what you would expect in a man who was raised by an alcoholic widow and has braved poverty, sexual abuse and the perils of kung fu fighting. He is gentle, eloquent and has surprisingly small hands for a warrior. They look more suited to arts and crafts than the craft of martial arts. His neatly cropped hair is a reminder of his time in the army.

“I was born with a full mop of black hair – they called me the fifth Beatle when I popped out of my mother on the dance floor,” he jokes, referring to the fact that he was born at Dublin’s Rainbow Club disco.

One of seven siblings, Derek comes from a classically poor Liberties background. “My dad worked in Jacob’s earning just the basic wage. There were nine of us in a one-bedroomed ‘artisan dwelling’. We took turns sharing the bed,” he laughs.

He was a loner as a child and would sit by himself in Patrick’s Park or down by the Dodder all day, meditating. His love of solitude and the outdoors earned him the familial nickname of “Nature Boy”. It also earned him some unwanted – and scarring – attention.

“We lived close to the Iveagh Lodgings and there would often be ‘dirty old men’, destitutes, hanging around. When I was six, I went to the toilet in Patrick’s Park and was sexually assaulted by one of them.”

Teenage sweethearts: Derek and Linda pictured in Arizona

His experience of sexual abuse didn’t confine itself to St Patrick’s Park. Derek’s brother Brian was raped and beaten in the notorious Letterfrack Industrial School.

He had been sent there for three years after “borrowing” the local butcher’s bike. He was eight years old.

“Brian was a fun-loving boy and just wanted a go on the bike. The butcher thought he was trying to steal it. He had a horrible time in Letterfrack and used to be beaten with a hurley and sexually abused.

“Brian developed alcohol and drug problems in later life. He was one of the first people to sue the religious orders and won his case in 2004. He left the courtroom and had a heart attack. A few days later, he died. It was as if he had been holding on for years to have his day in court.”

In 1970, the O’Neill family moved to Tallaght. His father was told, in neo-Cromwellian fashion, to go to the fields of Belgard or lose his job.

“It was like an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Liberties. My mother absolutely hated it. She was a real Liberties woman. I, on the other hand, loved it as I hadn’t been ‘Libertised’. There were open fields and rivers, and I made new friends.”

The O’Neill’s new house had all the ‘mod cons’. “We had a cooker with an electric ring. Back in John Dillon Street we had had a gas cooker. I remember my sister once put me up on the gas rings to tie my laces. They hadn’t cooled down fully and I burned my backside. I’ll always remember that gas cooker.”

Derek’s new life in Tallaght wasn’t all idyllic. At the age of 10 he was sexually abused a second time.

“One day this man followed me into a toilet to rape me. I could feel him between my legs. I ran home and told my dad. He didn’t believe me.” Brian eventually persuaded him to investigate Derek’s claim. The abuser subsequently moved out of the area. Derek later heard he had died of cancer.

“Years later, when I was 18, I spotted the man on a train. He was supposed to be dead. I asked if he knew who I was. ‘Sort of’, he replied. I lost control and started beating him. The older me was finally able to stand up for the younger me.”

Shortly after this, Derek entered the army. He hated it and left after six years, in his mid-20s with a wife (Linda) and two kids (Gavin and Orla) to provide for. “I did a bit of everything I could. I cleaned windows, cut grass…” His gardening work led him, indirectly, to seek psychotherapy.

“I had a terrible phobia about wasps, so I went to a psychotherapist. During our session I remembered that there had been a wasp in the toilet when the man tried to rape me. That was when I knew I needed therapy to deal with the abuse.

“I didn’t have any money and discovered that it was cheaper to study to become a therapist than pay for more sessions. There were social welfare grants.” Three years later, Derek was running a successful practice with a nine-month waiting list.

In 1998, Derek and Linda travelled to India for a holiday. The journey would change their lives. “We flew into Madras and while we were pushing through the crowds, we noticed a group of street children. We thought they were playing in a sandpit. It turned out they were amputees. We were told that criminal gangs inject these children with bleach to deform them. It makes them more valuable as beggars.

“Linda and I decided that, from then on, we would just take what money we needed to live on and give the rest to charity.” They went on to raise millions for the impoverished children of the subcontinent.

“The worst thing I have ever seen was a toddler with leprosy. I picked him up and his flesh fell off – practically his entire arm. There were villages full of children like him.” Derek’s spiritual nature and psychological training helped him to cope when faced with such horrors.

Yet another horror – 9/11 – drew Derek to New York, where he held his first ‘More Truth Will Set You Free’ psychology-meets-spirituality workshop. He now tours the United States, sharing his experiences with thousands of people and “empowering them to help themselves, as I have done”.

He even helped Spiderman find his mojo again. Derek was called in after the disastrous opening of Bono’s Broadway musical to “harmonise” the show’s cast and producers. The show went on to become a success.

Between their charity work and Derek’s burgeoning US career, the O’Neills appeared to have it all. That all changed on August 25, 2008.

“I fell in love with Linda when I was 18. We just knew we were for each other. Less than a year later, we were married. She was my right arm. Four years ago, I got a call from Orla who said Linda had a headache and didn’t look great. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home.

“Three days later Linda was dead. She was only 47.”

How do you move on from the death of your teenage sweetheart? Derek’s answer is, unsurprisingly, philosophical: “Death is part of life. We should cry when someone is born and celebrate when they die. Heaven is your rest after the hell of this world.”

I confess to being sceptical about aphorisms like this and the New Age methods of healing his website offers. I tell Derek I have an aphorism of my own, for would-be criminals. “It’s better to find the joy locked inside yourself, than find yourself locked inside The Joy.”

He laughs and it’s easy to see how he attracts thousands to his workshops. He’s instantly likeable. When he says that receiving the Variety Club gong will be the “proudest moment of my career”, there is no doubting his sincerity.

The award came about after a chance meeting with Kevin and Betty Wall of Variety Club Ireland.

“They told me they wanted to buy a Liberty Swing. These enable paraplegic kids to experience the playground thrill of swinging. I was so moved I promised to buy one for every county in Ireland. Kevin (who has since passed away) nominated me for the award. I didn’t think I had a chance of winning it. Hopefully, it will raise awareness here of the SQ Foundation,” he says.

Hopefully, it will raise awareness of this extraordinary Dub as well. He deserves to be recognised.

We shake hands and he leaves to enjoy a day off at Punchestown races. No one takes any notice of this ultimate “secret millionaire” as he exits the bar. Nobody knows who he is.

They do now.

dave@davekenny.com