Femicide special report pages

These pages from 2016 were a different sort of layout package to what I normally do.

We had a report in from Women’s Aid on the number of women who had died violently in Ireland, looking back over the previous 20 years of the Femicide Watch Project – 209 at that point, with 131 killed in their own homes. It was grim reading.

Our editor at the time, Allan, asked me if I could look at doing something different with representing it. We had the unusual option of making the centre pages of the main newspaper, normally where things like features are in the Examiner book, into a special report for news and of trying to get it printed as a panoramic (where there is no gutter down the middle because the pages are on a single plate).

To give this a chance at working it would have to be a four-page mini section (I’ve lost the PDF of the fourth page). There were, if I recall, two narrative pieces of text and it was suggested to me that I try and use as many faces as possible. I decided that our report should have a cover page before turning into the report proper. This is what I came up with:

Women’s Aid had compiled all the names, dates, and who killed the women into one list (some killers were awaiting trial at the time). This was bleak reading but essential to the whole point of the report. Pasting them onto the page and seeing how they filled it was cause for reflection. I had an image planned at first and was going to put the names under or around it but then it occurred to me that their names were the point. So I made sure they were, and faded out the word “Killed” behind the list, with each name in bold so you can read them clearly.

At the time, Clodagh Hawe would have been the highest profile of the names along with Elaine O’Hara but it was absolutely essential that no one person be highlighted as a lead image, contrary to typical design rules (which I only use as guidelines anyway). I spent several hours sifting through the archive and found… well, found that we had a great many of the women who had been killed in our database. Not all the image files were the same size, nor were they cropped similarly, so my solution was to run columns of same-size images.

You’ll see if you tap or click on the spread below that the columns are not mirror images of one another, except for the sort of frame of faces I created around the analysis piece, which needed to be as symmetrical as possible to avoid being too distracting to the reader. Generally though the columns have roughly the same number of images in similar shapes, albeit occasionally mixed and matched depending on whether the available photo was a headshot or more upright.

Regrettably, for reasons I don’t remember, this wasn’t printed properly as a panoramic but ended up with a small gutter down the middle. Thankfully it was the text that took the brunt of this and not a face in one of the pictures, which would have felt unforgiveable.

We don’t normally put content above the Irish Examiner titlepiece but do it when the occasion warrants it, so I made the argument that this was one of those occasions. The stock image I used is deliberately grim, and I had our graphics department convert it to mono but to colour the drops of blood on the shoe a very strong red so they stood out.

This is one of the packages I’m particularly proud of and the names concept, as I’m sure you’ve realised, was one I revisited in a different form for the Bessborough page.

Bloodbath in Brussels

Bloodbath in Brussels front page

It seems almost a lifetime ago, but in March 2016 Belgium was hit by bombings in Brussels Airport and on the metro. More than 35 people died, including three suicide bombers, while hundreds were injured. The trial only opened in December.

We were going big on it. Europe was already on alert after the Paris attacks and the Bataclan theatre, and there was a definite sense of edginess. We knew Irish people had been in the area in Brussels, which at the end of the day hosts the headquarters of the EU. I remember coming into work with half a concept of a page in mind. Or a vague idea anyway. Some of the details of the attacks had been out for a few hours; it was clear even then that there had been significant loss of life and a huge number of injuries. I wanted to do something that conveyed the horror of it, but also the human cost.

One of the first things I did after starting work was trawl through all the images we had available. I don’t remember how many there were. Presumably dozens. I knew I was looking for something particular. I just didn’t know exactly what it was, until I saw the picture I ended up using.

This was the very first time I asked to drop the ad off the front page. I mocked up a concept to show the editor at the time, Tim Vaughan, because I knew it would be easier to make that argument if he had something in his hand as opposed to words coming out of my mouth. The image was powerful but not powerful enough if it had to accommodate a 20cm, three-column ad. Or not as powerful as it could be anyway.

At the time I wasn’t even the main front page person (I had done plenty, though) but Tim, to his credit, understood what I was trying to achieve and made the arrangements to go ad free. The result is what you see above.


This is one of the most important projects I’ve worked on, probably ever, and it was certainly one where we couldn’t afford to get something wrong in tone or treatment.

Bessborough was one of the most notorious mother and baby homes – where hundreds of children died over nearly 80 years, and where the resting places of 859 have never been found – and is in the Examiner’s heartland. This page was planned about a week in advance of the publication of a government commission into mother and baby homes nationally. Or begun, at least.

The general concept became clear almost immediately – how else could you commemorate the deaths of hundreds of children without putting their names front and centre? We had different options: Just the names with the years and dates, or the names with years, dates, and cause of death. Even a quick draft with the latter showed that it was too much information and it took away from the names, so that concept was dropped.

It was a rare case where I suggested dropping ads off the front page. It made sense given what we were trying to achieve. There were 13 or 14 variations in the end, many with only slight differences in things like opacity of the text frame sitting on the image by Larry Cummins. There were different crops of the image, there were a couple of versions with the image in black and white, and various measures of leading and kerning to balance fitting everything without making the names too small.

The response to this was overwhelming, and not only did it get picked up internationally but it was projected on a grand scale as part of an art installation to honour the survivors of mother and baby homes across the country.