For some people hitting the road and leaving it all behind is a long time dream, but for Clare-born musician Áine Tyrrell it was a necessity as she took her three young children into the Australian Outback on a vintage bus. to escape domestic violence. .
“That was six years ago now,” says Áine, a successful folk musician who performed at the Woodford Folk Festival in Australia, which attracts around 125,000 people each year.
This story, of her music and her lonely motherhood on the road, is the subject of a documentary screened at Galway Film Fleadh this weekend,
“When I was at one of my lowest socks, I said, ‘I just want to take off on a bus with my kids.’ Then it turned out that my friend knew someone who was selling a bus and it went from there. I just couldn’t sit in the trauma we were in and needed to move. “
Her three children were aged 3, 5 and 7 when Áine – whose father is famous Galway singer Seán Tyrrell – made the decision to take them on the road, as things had become untenable with her partner.
Her children are now 10, 12 and 14 years old.
Áine had trained and worked as a teacher in a primary school and had never planned to live in Australia let alone travel her on a 1960s bus as a single parent.
She had bought a house in Gorey, County Wexford when the recession hit. Australia held the promise of a better life.
“I had my two daughters in Ireland, and it was around the time of the financial crisis and we had bought a house in Gorey. We were one of those people who had to return the keys.
“My experience of domestic violence began before we left. The promise was, “If we go somewhere sunny and I have a job, it will be better. We came here and I got pregnant, and it was very clear that things were not going to change, ”she says.
“I got lost completely. If he had said ‘the sky was purple’, I would say ‘OK’. I was dealing with the abuse of myself, ”explains Áine.
“But with the music and the road, I was able to mend my bond with myself and my children.”
It was only when her partner returned to Ireland for a ‘break’ that her children spoke up.
“They had to tell me. I wasn’t willing to leave the relationship on my own, but when they told me about their fear and the things that he tried to explain, that’s when I had the courage to try to leave. “
Survivors and statistics show this is a difficult path out of domestic violence, with family law, court orders, personal safety and housing all issues that need to be addressed .
“You don’t just leave, the hardest part is leaving and the limits after. I will never feel 100% safe in the world, ”says Áine, adding that there was another problem.
“The Irish Catholic training that you get from Ireland – not from my family – that you forgive and stay true to your man; that was really hard to get over.”
But with the intervention of the Australian state and the judiciary, once her children’s school was made aware of the abuse, the old roster ultimately had little to say.
“The legal proceedings helped protect me, but these are just a piece of paper because he would come back, he would go, there would be threats, abuse online and the reality that I am a musician. and you tell people where your shows are.
“There were 76 breaches of the order before he was charged with violating it, and the judge who gave me full custody said, ‘How has he not yet been charged? “
“But people like him are very good at keeping things in the gray zone.”
Even now with the release of Áine’s documentary, she feels physically vulnerable.
It’s the same feeling as when she had just left the relationship and had to wait several months for the bus to be ready. When the 1966 bus was finally fixed with its bunk beds and shower, the new life of his family of four began.
“Getting on the road and looking to the horizon literally meant that we were also looking to the future. We got so close.
“We met ‘gray nomads’ – they are old people who sell their houses to live on the road and we met families who also raised their families on the road,” says Áine.
The resilience and strength she needed to survive the violence was the same resilience she needed to raise her children on the road.
“Being a single mom on the road, I was picky about where we would park. It’s a problem.
“Then people forget that you are dealing with an automobile that can break down and that is also your house. Sometimes we had to leave our house at the mechanics – you can never tell what will happen with an old bus, ”says the singer.
“We once lost the back door in the desert.
The school was a mixture of home learning, ine able to build on her teaching in primary school; traditional classrooms when the family is settled in a neighborhood; and the school of life.
“People said, ‘Your kids were just amazing in the movie, they were so articulate,’ but they’ve seen so much and their learning has been driven by their interests and they’re learning about real life, like when we break down and let them see how much things cost. It’s learning math in real life.
“Then, when they get off the road, their teachers will say, ‘They’ve all improved in reading and math,’ says Ine.
“They met amazing people and saw amazing places. There is one thing in a city and another in driving in it. “
The man at the forefront of the nomadic life of this family for six years is his compatriot Enda Walsh, who proposed the documentary to Áine and then directed it.
Enda, from County Louth, is 33 years old outside Ireland – 10 in London and 23 in Australia – so he is particularly interested in immigrant resilience stories.
He originally knew Áine’s father from the music world, then came across Áine in Australia from the music scene there.
“I think we’ve been doing it for the past five years on and off,” he says.
“Then the second half of 2019 she was playing at Woodford – it’s the equivalent of Australia’s Glastonbury, except it doesn’t get that muddy. The plan was to go with her, be the fly on the festival wall, and then tell her about her story.
“I wanted her story of domestic violence in there as well and I like the balance now. Although she discusses it at length, it doesn’t define her, ”Enda says.
It sums up the story of Áine, from her external point of view, as a simple woman who wanted to be both a mother and an artist.
“The biggest thing that comes to my mind is that she wanted to be a mother and an artist, and things flow from that, the hurdles she has to overcome to do both.”
Enda had, until the pandemic, been back and forth to the Galway Film Fleadh since 2015, so with this documentary he applied for the festival hoping he might have a chance to be premiered there. .
His candidacy was successful and he now hopes it will reach a wider audience and be successful.
For Áine, his wish is that only one victim of violence can see him and be helped.
“There’s a part of you that feels like it’s hard to reveal all of this to the public. But if even a person looks at her and finds hope and strength to be who they really want to be, to come out of a dangerous situation and get back the dreams they lost along the way, that’s why I think I did, Áine said.
“Our stories are there to be shared, people can turn to them. There are not enough stories of women being told in Ireland, and I am proud that our story has a strong, solid ending.
“It’s a good thing to put out into the world – it comes with courage on our part, but it’s nothing compared to what it might do for some people watching.”
- Áine Tyrrell – Irish Troubadour premiering at Galway Film Fleadh online July 23-25