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The Murder of Rachel
By Wanda Moran
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2007 Wanda Moran
All rights reserved.
The Child of Our Later Years
Rachel Louise Moran came into the world shortly after 2.30am on 17 January 1981, our fourth and final child and the one who decided to arrive in the middle of the night! She also happened to be the only one born on Irish soil, making her appearance more than a month early at St James' Hospital in Dublin, a stone's throw from the famous Guinness brewery.
I was unprepared for a premature baby, so it was quite a shock for me to produce this tiny scrap of less than 7lbs, especially as my other three had all been heavyweights. She spent the first ten days of her life in an incubator, suffering from severe jaundice, but, once she was allowed home, she caught up in leaps and bounds. Indeed, in a very short time, she overtook most other babies of her age and continued to grow taller and taller, until she reached her mature height of 6ft.
Those early days were very difficult for me as an older mother without the support of family or friends near by and an often absent husband. At that time, Ray was working as a deep-sea fisherman and continued to do so for the first four or five months of Rachel's life. There was a lot of uncertainty for us at that time, as we were undecided whether we should remain in Ireland or return to the UK. The lease was due to expire on our house and Ray's job was precarious. I had sole responsibility for Rachel and three other children at various stages in their development – Kerry (17), Vanda (11) and John (six). Kerry was going through her own rebellion and studying for her final exams at school, and she was not best pleased that a new baby had come along to add to her angst. Maybe the worst aspect of it all, though, was that Vanda had just been diagnosed with the severest form of diabetes and we knew not what the future held for us.
Hardly surprising, then, that Rachel became a very demanding and unhappy baby. She probably sensed the tension in me, which consequently transferred itself to her. We finally made the decision to return to England when she was six months old and things became somewhat better. Her father secured employment in Hull that allowed him to be at home at some point during every day. The pressure was off me to some extent when he was around. However, because of the hours his job entailed, there would be many times when he would be gone long before Rachel awoke and returned long after she had been put to bed for the night. I was fortunate enough to not have to work myself so, when the others were at school or working, it was very much just the two of us alone together. It is fair to say that she remained an extremely miserable child until she was about two or three years old, when her sunny nature suddenly emerged. What a relief that was! At last I had a child I could enjoy, instead of one I could have happily throttled on many occasions.
She was in effect a lone child because of her siblings being so much older. I wanted her to have the opportunity to mix with other children so it was that, at the age of three, she started to attend a playgroup for a couple of mornings a week. She took to it like a duck to water and loved every minute, even though she was a gentle child and quite unused to the company of other small children and their exuberances.
After a year or so, we moved house and I was able to enrol her, though not without some difficulty, in a council-run nursery five afternoons a week. She loved this place even more because there were far more activities, lots more children and a chance to actually learn and not just play. The nursery, being in the University area, had its share of overseas children. One of the little girls, Shaymaa from Egypt, became Rachel's great friend. She too was a very reserved child and it was quite amusing to see the two of them together. They were born almost exactly a year apart, yet Rachel towered above Shaymaa and treated her almost like a little pet! Her love of younger, smaller children was to prevail throughout her life.
A few of the other friends she made at Lambert Street nursery were to go on with her to primary school, so she forged some relationships before she had to make the transition from the play world to the real world and all that 'big school' entailed. And so it was that Rachel's first five years flew by without too many hiccups, lots of laughter, plenty of tears, and now she was ready to start her education in earnest.
How lucky we were that, as a Catholic family, our closest primary school was St Vincent's on Queens Road. It was there that Rachel's school days began on 7 January 1986, just ten days before her fifth birthday. I remember that day so well: her school uniform, the coat she wore and even the hat I had knitted for her to wear. She was so excited and posed happily at our front door for a photograph to mark the great occasion. Both Ray and I took her along for her first day, happy for her, but sad for ourselves. Our baby had set off on her first big adventure in life and a new era had begun for us.
Very soon afterwards, I took a part-time job – the first time I had really worked since my marriage. The office was literally across the road from home and en route to the school, so I had no problems concerning Rachel's welfare. I was able to take her to school each morning before starting work and, since I left again at 2.15pm, there was even time for me to go home before returning to collect Rachel at 3.30pm. When her dad's shifts allowed, he would take or collect her, and we were fortunate to have older children who would take care of Rachel during the school holidays. It all worked very well.
Her days at St Vincent's were very happy, as it was a family-orientated school with small classes and very much a part of the parish. The teachers were, and remain, kind and caring and the headmaster knew every child by name from day one. It was a lovely community to belong to and Rachel thrived there. Father White, the parish priest, played a big part in the school, both as pastor and friend to the children. He, too, knew them all by name and loved every one of them. I like to think some of them were extra special to him and hope that I am correct when I say that Rachel held a corner of his heart from the very beginning.
There are so many memories of those years, from the day she started primary school to the day she left to become part of St Mary's College at 11 years of age. Of course there are memories of each of our children growing up, but Rachel was our baby, the child of our later years, and we probably had more time and stability to enjoy her. There had been other babies – one before and twins after she came along – but these three were sadly not to be, so her father and I knew that Rachel was to be our last one. Maybe that was why we made more of her than we would have done in other circumstances.
The fact that Ray had always been away at sea during our other children's formative years made a big difference. In their case, I'd had to manage alone, to be both mother and father to them. It was difficult for them and me, not having a father around to support them, but Rachel was lucky enough to have both of us there from the start. It was certainly easier from my point of view, not having to make all the decisions alone, although there were many times when Mum was considered the villain of the piece. But isn't that usually the case with mothers?
We have always been protective parents, perhaps to a fault. I especially am a born worrier and, because of that, none of our children was allowed to roam at will. Rachel was no exception and, now that her father and I were older and times had changed, we were perhaps overprotective of Rachel. Not once was she allowed to come or go to school unaccompanied, nor was she allowed to play in the street. Indeed, the area in which we lived did not lend itself to street games, being a main city road with heavy traffic. Added to that, there were very few young children living near by. We got into the habit of inviting Rachel's friends over to our house to play and they would reciprocate. That way we at least had peace of mind and she had company of her own age as often as she wished.
We had a large garden behind the house where Rachel and her brother John spent many hours. There were snowmen and snowball fights in the winter, games of tennis in the summer and all the other things that children like to get up to. Then Rachel acquired a bicycle, which meant rides out to the park with her dad, but never on the roads and never alone. We didn't dare let any of the children do that, so afraid were we of the risk of accidents, having already lost one much cherished family member in a fatal road accident some years previously.
On reflection, I suppose the years we spent in that large house were our happiest. After a long time of uncertainty, when the fishing industry collapsed and we were compelled to leave Hull for Ireland to look for work, we returned. Finally, we were finding our feet again. Rachel reaped the benefits of our renewed security, of having both parents on the scene, and Ray and I had matured enough to perhaps give more of ourselves to her than we had been able to do the others.
Kerry, our eldest daughter, flew the nest early. Having met her future husband, she relocated to the south of England to be nearer to him. Her greatest regret now is that she wasn't around for Rachel's early years, nor indeed for much of the rest of her all-too-short life. Vanda and John were at home with us and John has still not left, so he saw as much of Rachel as anyone, more than the others.
As Rachel grew up, her older siblings had their own lives, which left only Rachel for us to focus our attentions on. And focus we did, simply because we were in a position to do so. It was as if she was our first child. In a way she was, as the first three had never known the pleasure of having their father at home each day. He in turn had not known what it was like to rear a child day in and day out – the joys, the tears and the tantrums, the highs, the lows and all the other little things that parenting involves. I suppose it is also fair to say that, because we were already in our forties, we would normally have been mellowing towards old age. Instead, we had a small girl and felt that we were young again. It was always laughable for me to see the other mothers in the schoolyard when I was delivering or collecting Rachel. The majority of them were only the same age as our eldest daughter and there was I, thinking I was on a par with them! On more than one occasion, both Ray and I were mistaken as her grandparents, so that says it all.
These happy times at St Vincent's, when there was such innocence, are etched in my memory. Rachel, thankfully, was a healthy child and spent very little time off school. She also became involved in extra-curricular activities as soon as she possibly could. Some of the staff and parents had started up a Friday-night club for nine- to 13-year-olds. Her brother John had been a member until he became too old and, as soon as she was able, Rachel also started to attend. This involved walking out in all weathers, as we had done with John. Summer nights were fine, but not so good was turfing out in rain and snow – there for 7pm and back again at 9pm for the return journey. But it was all worth it, as the kids had such a good time and we knew that they were supervised and safe.
During this time we discovered that there was an Irish dancing class in the city. Rachel decided that she wanted to dance, as had her two sisters before her. In fact, I too had danced for many years as a child, so perhaps it was in the blood. She threw herself wholeheartedly into her dancing and it soon became apparent that she had a real flair for it. Even though she appeared on the outside to be quite a shy and reticent child, once she started to perform on stage, she took on a whole new personality.
Classes were on Saturday mornings and some distance away, so travel was not without difficulty. Ray had the family car and was often working at the weekends, so a lot of manoeuvring was called for at times, but we always managed to get there in the end!
I spent many long hours making her costumes – I couldn't do it now because my eyes are not what they were. The hundreds of sequins, the intricate embroidery and the fittings were all a nightmare, but I took great pride in making sure that Rachel's outfits were unique and special. We have lots of photographs from this period – performances at various venues, presentations of awards and memorable St Patrick's Night shindigs at the Irish Centre. It was at this time that Rachel began her lifelong friendship with Saoirse. She became Rachel's dancing partner and was also a school friend. Her mother had taught two of our children at St Mary's College and, being Irish herself, had a lot in common with us. The girls both considered themselves intrinsically Irish, so a strong bond was formed and continued until the day Rachel disappeared. Of course, they made other friends through the years and, after leaving school, Saoirse's life took a different path to Rachel's, but they never lost touch, met up whenever possible and I can safely say that they remained forever friends until the end.
All too soon, it seemed, the time came for primary school to end and for Rachel to move on to her secondary education. Her dad and I couldn't believe how quickly the years had flown by and once again the camera came out, so that Rachel could pose for us in her new uniform. Even though almost every one of her classmates from St Vincent's went on to St Mary's College with her, it was with some trepidation that she set off on her first day. Her father, of course, went to the bus stop with her, and there she met up with a friend who was also a new girl that day. Lesley, too, was a shy girl, the baby of the family, with an equally anxious mother. We must have caused some raised eyebrows between us in the early days, fussing over two very tall girls, both of whom appeared to be much older than they actually were!
It must have been quite a shock for Rachel to leave a small family school where everyone knew everyone else, and to enter a world of hundreds of pupils. It was quite difficult for her at first, being among vast numbers of pupils of all ages and backgrounds, and having to learn many new subjects with many new teachers. It can be said that this is the case for all children, but she had been much more sheltered than most and she was not at all worldly or streetwise at 11 years of age.
It wasn't long before she got into the swing of things. She did very well at her lessons and we received glowing reports from her teachers. She made a lot of new friends who had come to St Mary's from various schools across the city and, naturally, she wanted to catch the bus by herself each day now.
Gradually, she developed other interests apart from her dancing. She was approaching puberty and boys started to figure in her life, as did music. But she still didn't wander far from home and certainly not without us knowing where to and who with. It was still a case of friends coming to our house and she going to theirs, so we all knew where any of them were at any given time. We were lucky that, for the most part, the parents of Rachel's friends were friends of ours and like-minded. This is not to say that we stopped worrying about her. No indeed: if I thought that she was five minutes late coming home from school, I was at the gate looking out for her. This was a habit that prevailed from when the other three children were younger and remains with me to this day.
Excerpted from The Murder of Rachel by Wanda Moran. Copyright © 2007 Wanda Moran. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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