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FACT CHECK: What really happened at the Men’s Rosary in Limerick?

A recent story reported in the Irish media accused a group of men praying the rosary on the streets of Limerick City of misogyny, abuse and harassment. The Irish Examiner, The Sunday World and The Limerick Post, reported on claims that the Irish Men’s Rosary was guilty of deliberately disrupting a vigil held in memory of Ashling Murphy, a beloved school teacher whose horrific killing sent shockwaves across the nation.

The men’s Rosary group were accused of ‘threatening’ and ‘intimidating’ women present at a vigil, organised by ROSA, a strident socialist feminist movement. 

Some on Twitter, having read ROSA Limerick’s account of the events on the 15th January, went as far as to say the praying men were ‘condoning’ the senseless killing of Ms Murphy. ROSA Limerick’s portrayal of the incident online has provoked anger and much vitriol towards the prayer group. 

What is notable about the reporting of the incident is that, apart from The Limerick Post, the other outlets who covered it did not publish a comment from the Irish Men’s rosary.

The Irish Examiner wrote: “An attempt has been made to contact people identified at the Men’s Rosary, and groups believed to be involved with it, for comment.”

However, sources within the Men’s Rosary group have denied this – and added that a contact number for the organiser of the Limerick Men’s Rosary was widely shared online, and could easily have been accessed. They say The Irish Examiner never contacted a spokesman for a comment, even after a press release was issued from the rosary group. 

The abuse directed towards the Men’s Rosary, which has been furthered by extensive one-sided reporting on the incident on Saturday 15th January, has been described by supporters of the men’s rosary group as a form of sectarian abuse towards Catholics praying peacefully in the public square.

So what really happened at the men’s rosary in Limerick? Are ROSA’s claims accurate, and do they have evidence to support the claims made? Did the men’s rosary group really try to interrupt a vigil for Ashling Murphy? Here, we take a look at some of the claims made in the Irish media about the incident, having reached out to organisers of the Men’s Rosary in Limerick city, and to ROSA and its supporters for comment, and having looked at the video evidence from the day. 

But first, some context. Left-wing activists in Limerick have been agitated for some time now regarding public prayer, and have confronted Catholics who met to pray outside churches during the lockdown on several occasions in the past. That seemed to colour what happened on January 15th. 

And this is a case of two competing claims, so that context matters, as does the verification of any claims by evidence. 

CLAIM:  The Examiner wrote – “It’s understood the Men’s Rosary Group, which normally gathers at a nearby location,  moved their prayer meeting to stand beside the event commemorating the murdered woman.”

Labour Councillor, Conor Sheehan, also posted that the “Irish Mens Rosary are normally on Thomas St but they moved to Bedford Row specifically to disrupt this demo against gender violence.”

The men’s rosary responded to these claims, stating: “In reality, the rosary rally was organised from before Christmas prior to any other event being organised in the same location, and prior to the horrific killing of Ashling Murphy.” Notices of the Rosary rally, dated January 11th, sent to Whatsapp groups have been seen by Gript, with Bedford Row as the location.  

The prayer group added that the rosary had been a regular event in Limerick since 2018, and that they had decided to host the event in Bedford Row as street works were ongoing on Thomas Street. In a public statement the rosary group said that “street renovations” and growing numbers led to the change of location. They also noted that ROSA had previously held demonstrations on Thomas Street, where the rosary rally had also previously taken place. From information posted by ROSA this seems correct.

They pointed out that the public candlelight vigil for Ashling Murphy was held in Limerick the evening before the rosary rally, which supporters of the rosary group attended along with hundreds of other people. 

 “The ROSA demonstration on Bedford Row took people by surprise, it wasn’t a vigil but a demonstration of sorts, which of course they are perfectly entitled to hold,” one observer told Gript.  

The ROSA event was first publicised on Twitter on the 14th January, the day before it took place. It was advertised as a “stand out”, not a vigil. 

The organiser of the Men’s Rosary told Gript that the men’s rosary arrived half an hour prior to the ROSA activists, who they say, “placed themselves beside the praying men” although there was “ample room on the rest of the street”.

From an online discussion of the controversy, former Socialist councillor Mary Cahillane who spoke at the ROSA protest seems to acknowledge that was the case. 

“The rosary organisers had no idea that another group was going to arrive…(we) had set up 30 minutes before Rosa members arrived,” a statement published by the Men’s Rosary Ireland reads.

“The Bedford Row rosary event was organised and advertised before Ashling Murphy’s tragic death. A number of Masses are being offered for her soul and her grieving family,” organisers added.  

 

FINDING: The evidence indicates that the Rosary Rally was organised in advance of the ROSA demonstration and that the prayer group was set up in Bedford Row in advance of the ROSA group’s approach. The public vigil for Ashling Murphy had taken place the previous evening. Headlines, like this one from the Irish Examiner with the heading “Group accused of ‘weaponising prayer’ to disrupt Ashling Murphy vigil in Limerick” are misleading, especially when it used a photo from the actual vigil the evening before:

 

CLAIM: The Rosary Group repeatedly turned up their speaker to drown out the speakers at the ROSA event. 

Sinn Féin TD, Maurice Quinlivan, Labour Councillor Conor Sheehan, along with Rosa Limerick, took to Twitter to claim that the group raised the sound on their PA system every time anybody spoke at the vigil, despite being “politely asked” by organisers to move. 

Belfast Telegraph journalist, Allison Morris, also picked up on the claims, sharing an article on murder rates of women, and tweeting that she felt “it needs to be said”, referring to her choice to give coverage to the altercation. Morris claimed that the Irish Men’s Rosary had “disrupted” a vigil for Ashling. She also incorrectly said the vigil in question took place in Dublin, when it was actually held in Limerick.

Organisers of the Irish Men’s Rosary say the “controversy is being unfairly seized upon for other ends” and add that “at no time” were they asked to turn down their loudspeaker volume or move elsewhere.

The main organiser of the rosary event told Gript that Mary Cahillane could have approached him to ask the group to leave or to turn the volume down – but he maintains that this didn’t happen. Rather, he says, Rosa activists shouted and screamed at the group of men. The organiser we spoke to maintained that at no point was his group “politely” asked to leave or be quiet, as has been claimed.

ROSA Limerick also claimed: “What was happening and why was politely explained to them before the event and if they might facilitate by moving or delaying their recitations. Instead they turned up their microphone!”

The organiser of the Men’s Rosary who was contacted by Gript for comment maintains that this did not happen. 

“The volume on the speaker system was at normal levels despite the opposing noise from the Rosa group. Moreover, it was actually turned down as there was some feedback from the speaker because of its location. To say that it was turned up to drown out the other group is a blatant lie,” the men’s rosary said.

In video footage of the event shared online, ROSA activists are filmed shouting at the men’s rosary and refusing to be ‘drowned out’.

No video footage seen by Gript shows the volume on the sound system increasing. We asked ROSA and former councillor Cahillane if any such video evidence existed but they did not respond. 

FINDING: Video evidence does not appear to show the volume on the sound system being increased. Neither ROSA nor Mary Cahillane offer any evidence that the rosary group were asked to desist. Video evidence shows ROSA supporters shouting at the Rosary Rally. 

 

CLAIM: “They just continued louder and louder with this demonic chanting of the Hail Mary. It was the most un-Christian act I have ever witnessed.”

Speaking to The Limerick Post, Limerick City Labour Party Councillor Connor Sheehan described the recitation of the rosary prayer as “demonic”. 

The use of the word ‘demonic’ to describe the praying of the traditional Christian prayer is very strange.

It is of relevance that Cllr Sheehan has previously complained about prayer and prayerful events. The councillor has made claims about prayer vigils happening outside of maternity hospitals, claiming that intimidation of women has been taking place. However, media investigations into the claims found that such claims were unfounded.

Last year, the Labour party councillor representing Limerick City North called for the implementation of buffer zones by Minister Donnelly.

He claimed: “We have a big issue with intimidating protests outside University Maternity Hospital Limerick and these protests may have the effect of obstructing access to services for pregnant people, many of whom may be in crisis situations. They should not have to pass through these intimidating protests on their way into or out of the maternity. They have a right to access healthcare in privacy, dignity and respect.”

In May 2021, as reported by The Times, Sheehan brought a motion urging Limerick city and county council to write to the health minister and ask for “the introduction of safe zones to prevent people from protesting outside abortion clinics.” 

Sheehan said he has been contacted by patients at the hospital and members of the public who have been upset by the demonstrators. He told The Times that patients told him they were “really distressed” by protests.

He also said: “It’s a form of intimidation as far as I am concerned, and it is not something that a vulnerable woman should have to walk past or witness or interact with.”

In December, the UL Hospitals Group told breakingnews.ie it has not received any complaints from patients, their families, or staff, relating to safe access at University Maternity Hospital Limerick. 

Breaking News said that the UL Hospitals Group, which manages the maternity hospital on the Ennis Road in Limerick City, said “they were not aware of any such protests taking place”. 

“Certainly not intimidatory… there might have been one or two women outside the hospital saying prayers with rosary beads occasionally, but they would only be there for a few minutes and then leave – they were certainly not intimidating anyone,” the hospital told reporter David Raleigh. 

In fact, the hospital had only received “third-party correspondence on this matter” which the group has noted, according to the report. 

In January 2022, a Gript investigation into the matter revealed that there was no record of complaints for pro-life vigils in any of the maternity hospitals contacted across Ireland.

“Despite years of claims, from politicians, media personalities, and NGOs, that pro-life protesters have been harassing and intimidating women attempting to access abortion services in Irish hospitals, Gript can reveal that the available evidence suggests the claim is entirely untrue,” our investigation concluded.

As reported by Gript’s Gary Kavanagh: “Gript contacted every hospital that provides maternity services in the country, asking if a) any staff or patients had ever made a formal complaint to the hospital about pro-life protesters, and b) if there had ever been an incident at the hospital in which “pro-life protesters have impeded the ability of patients to access the hospital, or attempted to intimidate or harass patients?”

“We received responses from 16 of the 19 relevant hospitals – none had ever received a formal complaint from any member of their staff or from patients regarding the protests, and none detailed any incident in which protesters had attempted to intimidate or harass patients.”

The outcome of investigations into the claims stand at odds with what Cllr Sheehan has repeatedly said about pro-life activists causing ‘intimidation’ and ‘harassment’.

FINDING: Video evidence does not suggest the prayer got ‘louder and louder’.  Cllr Sheehan has previously made claims against prayer vigils which have been contradicted by media reports. 

 

CLAIM:  ROSA said they were being intimidated.

ROSA maintains that they were being intimidated but Rosary organisers have completely denied those claims. 

Their representative says Rosa is painting a misleading picture of what happened, and that they were not harassing, abusing or intimidating anyone, but minding their own business. 

Video footage captured of the event appears to back up this claim. Rosa activists, although they said they were ‘drowned out’ can be seen and heard screaming at the kneeling men. 

Explicit language is captured in the videos, and a catalogue of profanities and abuse can be heard from the ROSA abortion activists towards the praying men. The abuse was serious and sustained; so much so that Gardaí warned at least one of the agitators to stop.

Whilst reports in the media paint members of the ROSA protest as the ones being deliberately upset, ‘intimidated’ and ‘threatened,’ footage shows a member of ROSA storming past the kneeling leader reciting the rosary, shouting: “F–you!” 

 

The men’s rosary, citing the footage, claim they were the ones who have been intimidated and verbally abused – and they say that abuse has continued after the incident itself.

 A barrage of profoundly anti-Catholic posts and sectarian rhetoric came on the heels of the protest. One post came from ex-BBC Northern Irish journalist, Mike Philpott, who called the men praying the rosary “a–holes,” and said he would “kick them and their rosary beads the full length of the street.” Another tweet, by an Irish expat, said he would “string them up by their beads…” That tweet has now been deleted.

FINDING: There appears to be no evidence of direct intimidation from the rosary group towards anyone. Claims made, without evidence, against the rosary group, led to threats and abuse aimed at the praying men. 

 

CLAIM: “The people on Saturday had no compassion for the women who were trying to speak about their own experiences or what happened to Ashling Murphy.

A spokesperson for the Men’s Rosary unequivocally rejected the idea that the group lacked compassion or empathy, saying they were “united with the rest of the country in shock at grief at Ashling’s horrendous murder”.

They said that there was no reason why the two groups and events “could not have peacefully co-existed” as there was plenty of space on Bedford row. 

FINDING: No-one has a monopoly on compassion. There was, in fact, plenty of space for both groups on Bedford Row, and the men’s rosary was set up before the ROSA group,  

 

CONCLUSION: The vigil for Aisling Murphy took place on Friday evening, January 14th, the day before the Rosary group met in Bedford Row. The Irish Men’s Rosary group had organised the prayer event for Bedford Row ahead of Ashling Murphy’s horrific murder, with a WhatsApp message dated 11th January in circulation. The evidence shows the claim that the rosary group moved their event to stand beside a vigil for Ashling Murphy to be false. The Rosary group had set up in Bedford Row before ROSA activists arrived and set up a demonstration against gender violence next to them. ROSA says it asked the Men’s Rosary to move; the Rosary group say this did not happen, but there was room on Bedford Row for both events. The video evidence seems to show that the claim that the Rosary group kept increasing the speaker volume to be false. 

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