Huge demand for self-defence classes following death of Ashling Murphy, says instructor

Huge Demand For Self-Defence Classes Following Death Of Ashling Murphy, Says Instructor
Anthony Cunnane believes a state-funded self-protection and safety awareness programme in the early years of secondary school is "urgently needed". Photo: Supplied by Louise Walsh
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Louise Walsh

A self-defence instructor, who fought for his own life when he was set on fire as a child, says his classes are now in huge demand by young women following the death of Ashling Murphy.

Anthony Cunnane teaches anti-bullying, self-defence and safety awareness programmes in schools and communities and says demand has grown since Ms Murphy's death last month.


As a 10-year-old, Cunnane was walking home in Dundalk to change his clothes after accidentally spilling petrol on himself while helping to clean a garden shed with friends in 1994.

He was stopped by a gang of teenagers and on learning what had happened, one held Anthony while another took out a lighter and held it to his clothes.

His clothes immediately went up in flames, and were it not for the intervention of local resident, Harry McEntaggart, who threw himself on the boy and onto wet grass to smother the flames, Cunnane says he would have certainly burned to death.


'Absolute miracle'

After a lengthy battle and numerous operations, skin grafts and physio, Anthony learned to walk again. However, he admits his attacker never apologised to him and his family feel justice was not served.

The attacker, who was not named because of his age, was given a two-year suspended sentence and a strict curfew.

"Doctors still say it was an absolute miracle that I survived as others in hospital had sadly died with half of the burns that I had received," Cunnane says.

Despite his injuries, Anthony became a black belt in the military self-defence system, Krav Maga, which teaches how to react to scenario based dangers.


"The classes used to be about 17:3 in favour of men, but all places on my next beginners class which starts next week have been taken up by women.

"There is a demand for places from women around Ashling's age who are feeling very vulnerable and afraid right now.

"A lot of girls are feeling uncomfortable with the increasing dangers in society," Cunnane explains.

Cunnane leading one of his self-defence classes for students. Photo: Supplied by Louise Walsh

"More and more schools are undertaking our programmes and girls will come up to me afterwards asking if they can join our regular classes in Dundalk.

"Safety Training in schools needs to start earlier, and a conversation needs to be had about sexual harassment and the use of sexual innuendos and inappropriate behaviour by young males.

"Boys need to learn how to respect girls. When I talk about inappropriate remarks or innuendos, the heads of all the boys go down in the class because they know they've all done it.

"The big problem is that I'm only teaching Transition Year (TY) students, which is funded by the parents. A State-funded programme of self-protection and safety awareness starting at Second Year is urgently needed.


"By the time boys get to TY, most have already said or done things they shouldn't have said or done in regards to inappropriate actions around women.

"A high percentage of young fellas have made girls feel uncomfortable and girls have laughed nervously, too afraid to speak up. They need to be called out on this from a very young age and practical scenario based education and prevention are the best tools," Cunnane believes.

"The current PDST programmes being taught in schools as part of their curriculum are not working and are not practical," he says.

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