She is a young, talented traditional musician. When an older musician offered her the chance to teach some classes, she jumped at the opportunity. She worked hard, the classes were a success and the numbers of students increased. Then the messages and texts began - seedy, late at night and from the man who had hired her to teach the classes.
"You're a beautiful woman," he wrote in one message, seen by RTÉ Investigates. "Oh I’d love a bath with you," he writes in another. "I want to kiss you and wrap up in you," he wrote in yet another after-midnight text. "Would you let me undress you." The younger woman tried to deflect, telling him politely, to stop. But when that failed she told him in no uncertain terms that his messages were inappropriate. She later lost her part-time teaching job.
Another musician, 21-year-old, Éilis Murphy, had a more traumatic experience at the hands of a fellow musician. She was staying in a shared hotel room after a gig when she was 18. She woke up in her single bed to find a male musician beside her.
"I woke up and my dress was up to my breasts and his hand was down my underwear. I thought, am I dreaming, am I hallucinating? I was freaked out, I jumped up, ran out of the hotel room. I was shaking. I was going to get sick. I was just horrified," the concertina player told RTÉ. "It was so strange and so disturbing that he waited until I was unconscious to make a move on me."
She later confronted the man, whom she knew, but, while he didn’t deny being in the single bed with her, he said he had not assaulted her. "He never owned up to it, he never took ownership of it. He was always trying to make me feel that I had remembered something wrong, that I had the details wrong," Ms Murphy said.
She said she decided not to report the matter to gardaí, reluctant partly because the traditional music community is small and she would surely bump into her alleged attacker or people connected with him at gigs or festivals. "If I dwelled on it for too long it would come in the way of my own trad and my own enjoyment of the tradition," she says.
She also believed that what happened to her was a once-off. But it seems it wasn’t a once off. RTÉ Investigates has spoken to two other women who say they were sexually assaulted by the same man.
'I was appalled he would do it again'
Separately, a friend of Ms Murphy recently confided that she too had been assaulted by the man. "I was just appalled that he would do it again," she said, "the Harvey Weinsteins of this world are not just in Hollywood."
This is the first time for Éilis Murphy to tell her story publicly, but in recent weeks a number of accounts of sexual assault, harassment or sexism in the world of traditional music have appeared on social media along with the hash tag, #misefosta, which means #metoo in Ulster Irish. A loose grouping of around 20, mainly younger, male and female musicians are coordinating the #misefosta campaign.
It’s a movement that is having an impact. "I think Mise Fosta actually has shown someone like myself how silenced my generation has been about these issues and I think they are really brave and we owe them an awful lot," veteran singer, Karan Casey, told RTÉ. "I think we all need to start having a genuine conversation about sexual assault and how it happens within the arts," she added. Ms Casey is a co-founder of FairPlé, which was set up in 2018 to promote gender balance and equity in traditional music (plé is Irish for discussion).
In a statement issued today, the Irish Traditional Music Archive strongly supported the Mise Fosta campaign. "Recent allegations of sexual abuse and harassment within the Irish traditional music community, revealed through the Mise Fosta movement, are a subject of grave concern," ITMA said, "We commend the bravery of the women who, at some personal cost, have come forward with their individual accounts of abuse." ITMA said the women have "broken a taboo of silence maintained around the issue for many years."
While there is no hard evidence that sexism or violence against women is a bigger issue in the world of traditional music than elsewhere in society, the #misefosta and other testimonies of sexism and sexual wrongdoing jar with the genre’s wholesome image. Some aspects of the traditional music world, however, can make it easier for bad behaviour to go unpunished. For example, some musicians point out the strong association of alcohol with traditional music. Music sessions are often in pubs and sometimes bar owners give alcohol as payment or part payment for musicians so musical colleagues can be under the influence of alcohol while working. It is also an informal working environment for paid musicians. If one of them is subjected to sexist comments or unwanted sexual behaviour by another musician, for example, there is no line manager to complain to or Human Resources department to lodge a harassment complaint.
In 2018 research funded by Cambridge University, musician and composer, Dr Úna Monaghan, collected stories where gender was seen as an issue in traditional Irish music. Out of 121 anonymous accounts provided by 83 respondents, mainly female musicians and singers, 9% described a sexual assault, 13% sexual harassment, with some stories including both. Twenty six per cent reflected the general objectification of women and 59% societal gender bias.
"Every single one of those stories, almost, can be dismissed in one of many ways; either as someone’s bad behaviour; as a misunderstanding; as something that happens in society in general and should be shrugged off," Dr Monaghan said, "the evidence does not come from individual stories it comes from taking a lot of collective stories."