Sunday 21 January 2018

The troubled life of a lonely woman who 'never really grew up'

Victims father Frank O' Hara at court with his (L&R) partner Sheila Hawkins and daughter Ann Charles for the trial of Graham Dwyer
Victims father Frank O' Hara at court with his (L&R) partner Sheila Hawkins and daughter Ann Charles for the trial of Graham Dwyer

THE picture that emerged of Elaine O'Hara was of a troubled and lonely woman, struggling with depression and self-harm and drawn to the idea of "punishment".

From a childhood marred by bullying and sinister fantasies, to her isolated later years, Elaine's inner life was laid bare.

She was born on St Patrick's Day 1976 and went to school in Ballybrack and Killiney, before her final year in the Institute of Education.

Elaine had dyslexia and was intelligent, but found it difficult to get things down on paper. She experienced some bullying but finished her Leaving Cert followed by a childcare course. She had wanted to be a teacher, but did not get enough points.

Elaine's difficulties began as she entered her teenage years - she had been tormented since the age of 12 by a "play in her head" - an obsessional fantasy about being restrained.

A close friend was killed in a road accident. Elaine became withdrawn and introverted and tried to cut her wrists for the first time when she was 16.

In August 1992, she first went to St Edmundsbury Hospital in Lucan suffering from persistent, obsessional thoughts and fantasies.

In all, she would be admitted 14 times between 1992 and 2012.

The late Prof Anthony Clare initially thought Elaine was experiencing a gradually emerging psychosis, but then formed the view that she was suffering from borderline personality disorder and depression.

She continued under his care for 16 years.

A major setback for Elaine came in March 2002, when her mother Eileen died - something she never got over.

In 2005, she moved out of the family home in Ballinclea Heights, Killiney to a rented flat in a converted garage at Rockville Crescent, Blackrock.

She was also admitted to hospital that year and, according to records, she had said: "I wasn't born for life. No one likes me. I'm a bad person."


At that time, her circumstances noted that she was working in a shop, living alone and smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

"She lives a very lonely life with no friends and finds it very difficult to trust people," the records stated.

A repeat self-harmer, she reported masochistic behaviour to her doctors.

In 2006, Prof Clare wrote to a consultant endocrinologist who had ruled out elevated testosterone levels as playing a role in Elaine's "disturbing behaviour".

In 2007, Dr Clare died - another setback for Elaine. Dr Matt Murphy, now retired, took over her care.

He believed that admissions after the death of Prof Clare may have been related to her experience of losing him.

In December 2008, Elaine moved to another rented apartment, at Ardmeen Lodge, Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock.

The trial heard of multiple suicide attempts, including a serious one that left her in a coma for 24 hours.

These incidents were detailed by her father Frank O'Hara, who had been in daily contact with Elaine throughout her life.

He recalled that she had initially been on so much medication she would sometimes fall asleep. This had affected her in her teenage and early adult years and she had never experienced those years the way others had.

She also suffered from asthma and diabetes, but despite her illnesses she had an "incredible work ethic," Mr O'Hara said.

She worked as a childcare assistant in a school in Ballybrack, part-time at Ken's newsagents in Blackrock and was studying at night in Dun Laoghaire to be a Montessori teacher.

His partner, Sheila Hawkins, herself a psychologist, placed Elaine's emotional development at around the age of 15.

Ann Charles said Elaine, her younger sister by two years, was a "naive" person who would "tell a man on the street her life story".

"She acted quite young," Ms Charles said. "She never really grew up as much as the rest of us. She was very naive, very trusting of people."

Her brother John O'Hara said his sister would introduce him as her "baby brother".

In the last five years of her life, doctors were trying to reduce the medication and her father thought she had improved.

In 2010, she used the affordable housing scheme to get her own apartment at Belarmine Plaza, Stepaside. It was something she had always wanted.

Elaine's family was important to her and she often spoke of seeing her niece.

At work at Ken's newsagent's, she was a trusted employee and keyholder. She sometimes told colleagues things they were not sure they believed, like her interest in bondage.

"Some of the things she said, she said to shock," shop manager Jane Cahill said. "You took it with a pinch of salt."

Despite her problems interacting, she felt secure when at St Edmundsbury and befriended some of the women there and confided in them. One, Elaine Twomey, stayed in contact for ten years.


However, with six text messages and six calls a day, the friendship eventually became too much and Ms Twomey said in a statement: "I believed she was attention-seeking and very immature for her age. With Elaine it was always drama."

She broke off contact because Elaine was "too needy".

Elaine's insight into her own problems interacting with others often seemed painfully acute.

In a letter to her therapist Stuart Colquhoun, she wrote: "Every day people have to make small talk, superficial talk. I can do it, but I am scared to go any further. I know what I do is wrong. I know, I am not stupid, but I don't need people shouting at me, making me mad. I don't need that - I've had that all my life. When I get mad, it makes me want to cut myself to release some of the anger."

Mr Colquhoun said Elaine would often feel stronger emotions to situations than most people, would react more, and would take longer to return to a baseline.

She also found it hard to say no.

Elaine was admitted to St Edmundsbury for the last time on July 14, 2012 after calling the psychiatric unit to say she was depressed and was making a noose to hang herself.

She said on admission: "I'm a bad person."

However, the day before her release on August 22, Mr Colquhoun said she was not suicidal at the time but was "cheerful" and looking forward to volunteering at the Tall Ships festival, something she had repeatedly spoken about with others.

Another friend from St Edmundsbury, Edna Lillis, recalled that Elaine had told her she had met someone on the internet and he liked to cut her.

"I told her she was playing a dangerous game," said Ms Lillis. "Elaine just wanted to be loved. She just wanted some attention."

But in the end, it was the wrong kind of attention she received and it would have tragic consequences for her and the O'Hara family.


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