Margaret Hawkins‘ haunting docu-novel, “Restless Spirit” was first published by Mercier Press in 2006, to broad critical acclaim. Although a relatively recent publication, the book was out of print in 2011 when Margaret, once again holding the rights to the book, approached Cyberscribe for advice on how to re-publish.
Cyberscribe assisted Margaret in setting up her own imprint, Bushel Press; obtained a set of ISBN numbers, requested the final edited text from the original publisher and designed a new interior. Adapting the original cover, streamlining the illustrations and finally creating the e-book version, Margaret re-published Restless Spirit in 2012.
Cyberscribe also created a profile website, blog forum and social media links for Margaret: www.margarethawkins.ie When she published her stunning debut novel, Deny Me Not, she was able to promote and sell both books from the site and its lively blog, as well as her Twitter and Facebook profiles.
Although the story remained a family secret for three generations, this book interweaves a contemporary tale of faith and redemption.
Restless Spirit documents Rose’s tragic life and how her family brought her story to light in the 21st century, a testament to her and others who suffered this cruel fate.
She is health columnist with the Irish Farmers Journal, author of another book, the novel Deny Me Not, and her radio essays have been broadcast on RTE 1’s Sunday Miscellany.
(from Restless Spirit 2nd Edition, Bushel Press 2012)
The journey to the asylum took several hours. The carriage rattled over the rough roads between New Ross and Enniscorthy, the horses finding it difficult to gain speed as snow began to fall and the sharp east wind whipped round them.
‘Not a day for a journey like this,’ said one of the RIC men as he tightened his uniform under his chin. Only for this he would be back in the barracks in Wellingtonbridge, his behind firmly planted in front of the fire and dare anyone shift him.
The sound of the voice startled Rose. Her head felt heavy and she could remember little of the journey up to now. Where were they? Where were they going? She stirred, trying to look out the window nearest her.
‘We’re near Boro Hill, missus – we’re making good time in spite of the weather.’
The words sounded foreign, the voice distant from her, mixed up with the sound of horses’ hooves and the clatter of iron wheels on the roadway.
The other man from the workhouse appeared to be sleeping, sitting opposite.
Rose felt dizzy as the coughing began again. She struggled to search for a rag in her pocket but couldn’t – her hands were tied. Panic washed over her, worsening the cough.
The policeman opposite rummaged hurriedly for a rag from the pile under the seat and threw it in her lap at the same time as he and his colleague covered their noses and mouths with their hands.
‘This job doesn’t pay well enough for what we have to put up with,’ thought the second policeman. ‘You could catch anything on this job.’
At least the man had been sedated before he left the workhouse so he was giving no trouble. The woman was quiet too but you never could tell. You never knew the minute her kind would lunge at you like a mad cat, eyes spitting fire and nails ready to make red tunnels in your face. It had happened before.
‘Doesn’t look very robust, though,’ he thought. ‘The master of the workhouse might have been better leaving her where she was – what are they going to be able to do for her in the asylum in her state?’
The woman hadn’t spoken on the journey. Once she’d come to, having fainted as they left the workhouse, she sat in the carriage, her shoulders hunched, her eyes closed or looking vacantly into the distance.
The first policeman was glad of the silence when the coughing bout finished. He wondered what the woman had done to be committed. ‘Loose with her favours, maybe – she wouldn’t be the first, or the last, who got locked up for that.’
She must have been a fine-looking woman in her day, though, he decided, his eyes darting from her head to her toes. Even leaving the workhouse, she stood her full height, some semblance of dignity in the way she carried her body. Her eyes were dull now, though, and sunken in her head.
Melancholia – how many had he seen with that? He shrugged; wishing asylum deliveries weren’t part of his work.
‘Kilcarberry Mills coming into view – we’re nearly there, thanks be to God.’
The male patient moved in his sleep, turning towards his minder as the carriage rounded a bend into the town of Enniscorthy. The policeman shifted position, wary of the man waking, but settled when his breathing fell into evenness once again.
The second policeman was now looking out the window. ‘The Slaney – no swans under the bridge today,’ he said to his colleague. ‘Must have had a bit of sense and gone somewhere warmer for the winter.’
The carriage made its way across the bridge, slowing to let other traffic pass, then swung right for the Wexford Road.
‘Another few minutes. A hot cup of tea’d go down well now.’
Rose opened her eyes, panic rising in her chest, their movement unsettling her. The madhouse … The policemen were sitting up and straightening their uniforms now, looking out the window.
The horses’ hooves covered another quarter mile of ground.
‘At bloody last – the red brick!’
‘Lord preserve us from madhouses,’ said the other, blessing himself.
‘Fine building, though, whoever designed it. Best site in the town too for making an impression.’
‘For putting the fear of God into people, you mean.’
Madhouse. Red brick … Rose began to whimper like a child as the horses started the steep climb up to the entrance. She was outside her body again. ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death …’
The policemen said nothing, disturbed by her muttering.
‘Whoa!’ The drivers reined the horses to a halt, froth at the corners of the animals’ mouths now and sweat visible on their coats after the long journey.
The RIC men unlocked a door each and blew on their fingers as they stepped out onto the snow-covered ground, their warm breath visible in the cold air.
‘Out!’ The first policeman shook the man in the carriage and pulled him outside. The man staggered, then stood, supported by the policeman.
‘Where am I?’
‘Come on!’ The second spoke more gently to Rose, persuading her to step down.
‘Hold onto her, for God’s sake,’ said the first policeman, going ahead with his charge, who occasionally had to be righted from a stagger. ‘I’m not running after anyone on a day like this.’
‘Hmph! She won’t run far – she’s not fit to.’
Rose felt herself being half lifted, half pushed along. The wind caught her breath as she walked the ground, making her gasp, then cough.
The policeman let her go until the coughing ceased, turning his head away from her.
‘I’ll go ahead with this one. He’s dead weight with the doping,’ called the second policeman.
Eventually the coughing stopped and Rose opened her eyes to look at her surroundings. She felt like a speck beside the huge red–brick building. ‘Lord help me!’ she said.
‘You’ll be all right. Come on!’ said the policeman, anxious to get her off his hands. ‘At least you’ll get three meals a day here – more than you got in that other place …’
The clerk’s nib scratched as it made the entry in the admissions register. Rose Murphy. From New Ross Union.
Rose stared at the light that seemed to hang from a string in the ceiling.
‘It’s electricity,’ said the older of the two female attendants who held her by the arms. ‘We’re very modern here in the asylum, isn’t that right, Mag?’ She laughed.
The younger woman nodded as the clerk smiled and continued to write. The policemen had left the room now having handed over the committal documents.
Rose was still staring blankly at the bulb. Mag Doyle held the new inmate’s arm tighter. If the clerk thought she wasn’t doing a good job he’d report her to the RMS – that’s what Kit, the older woman, said so she’d better do her work properly.
Someone was always watching you and reporting back, she said. She’d have to show willing – she didn’t want to make any mistakes, not on her first day. The asylum was a big employer. She was lucky to get a job here – thirteen shillings a year and live-in.
‘The electricity comes from the mill across the river,’ the older woman, Kit, went on, giving the new inmate a shake. ‘It turns into light as it floats across but then you wouldn’t understand anything complicated like that, would you? Not when you’re a raving lunatic!’
Rose flinched, struggling to remember words once mouthed in Clongeen. ‘O God, our refuge and our strength, look down in mercy upon Thy people who cry to Thee …’
‘We’ve a holy one on our hands!’
‘Silence!’ said the clerk.
Rose struggled to remember more but no other words would come. Contrition – she must be contrite then all this would end. She would wake up and she would be in Rosegarland going about her work like she used to. ‘Our Father, who art in heaven …’
Would He listen to her? Was He punishing her for what she had done? Had the devil driven her to go against the will of her family? What had she done? She tried to remember. Had God visited this madness upon her or had she slept in the shadow of the full moon too many times? Luna, lunatic, didn’t the word come from the full moon?
The clerk made the entry. More details would be entered once the RMS, Dr Drapes, had seen her. ‘The boss is not going to be too happy about being called out on a Saturday,’ he thought, checking the date. ‘Or about the workhouse trying to unload more rubbish on us.’ He glanced at Rose who was coughing again. Chest ailment – he didn’t have to be a doctor to know that.
‘Get her washed then bring her to the examination room.’
His nose twitched. Was the foul smell coming from her or the attendants? He wondered if the woman had been washed before leaving the workhouse. Usually they didn’t bother there, leaving it to the asylum staff when the transferees arrived.
‘As if we don’t have enough disease and dirt to deal with,’ he thought, closing the book and watching the attendants bustle the new inmate out.
‘Strip or we’ll do it for you!’
The washroom was freezing, moisture frozen on the high ceiling and the unplastered walls.
The younger attendant was putting hot water from a boiler in the corner of the room into an enamel basin, the second taking carbolic soap from a shelf beside the washstand.
‘It’ll be a quick dip for her. I’m not staying in this icebox long.’
Rose’s teeth chattered as she tried to undress herself, her fingers fumbling with the fastenings on her skirt. If she blanked her mind would it make it all go away … The rosary, say it over and over and over …
‘Hail Mary, full of grace …’ Her purple lips started to move again.
‘Shut up your mumbling and get on with it!’ The older woman left what she was doing to pull at Rose, removing her petticoats, her boots, her torn stockings, Rose’s body paralysed with fright. ‘We haven’t got all day to wait for the likes of you.’
Eventually Rose stood there naked, shame and the cold making her wrap her arms around herself.
The younger attendant looked at Rose, then at her co-worker. ‘She’s not well. Maybe … we should cover her up a bit?’
‘Listen, you,’ said the older woman, grabbing the younger attendant by the collar of her uniform. ‘Start feeling sorry for anyone in this place and you’ll end up as bad as them, you hear? They’re not human beings: they’re lunatics. You remember that if you want to survive in this place.’