It would take a certain amount of courage for most of us to return to a location where our life changed for the worse.
Whether it is something as innocuous as the restaurant where your partner split up with you; the stretch of road where you had a crash; maybe the church where you buried a loved one.
For gay American author Robert Drake, courage was not the motivating factor, but forgiveness. Drake was living with his partner Kieran in Sligo in 1999 when he was brutally assaulted in his apartment by two Sligo men, Ian Monaghan and Glen Mahon.
He was left with permanent brain damage and confined to a wheelchair. In 2000 they were each sentenced to eight years in prison.
It was a dark chapter in the recent history of Sligo town, one for which the streets themselves seemed to feel guilt and shame by association. You would understand if Robert Drake never wanted to see Sligo or Ireland again.
However, he did. In the documentary “Where I Am” (RTE One tonight, Thursday, August 27 at 10.10pm) Robert Drake’s return to Sligo town is captured by documentarian Pamela Dryden.
The Scottish film-maker first read Robert’s story in a 2008 Irish Times article and was struck by his forgiving attitude in the face of such a horrific and life-altering act of violence perpetrated against him.
“He expressed notions of forgiveness to the perpetrators that I found fascinating,” Pamela told the Sligo Weekender. “I tried to approach him, but it was difficult to make contact with him. Back then there was no technology like Facebook through which I could get in touch.”
It would be almost two years before Pamela did make contact, eventually succeeding through fellow writers and some of Robert’s many friends in Philadelphia where he now lives.
“I talked to him about making a film and I think it came at the right time for him,” she said. “He was open to talking about it. He was very articulate and despite his difficulty with speech [as a result of the attack] he had a very important story to tell.”
Initially, Pamela met some opposition from Robert’s close network of friends and support, who were less than convinced that a return to Ireland and to Sligo would be good for his physical or mental wellbeing. “Robert is very strong minded. He was incredibly brave even to make the journey.”
The visit took place in 2011. In Dublin and in Sligo Robert met the men and women who had helped to save his life in the aftermath of the attack.
The documentary also details efforts made by both Robert and Pamela to meet one of the men who carried out the attack.
Although that meeting did not come to fruition, Robert expressed his joy at being back in Ireland, a place which was filled with many happy memories. On one such occasion, according to Pamela, those memories almost became too much.
“At one point in filming, Robert was very moved when he approached a village in Dublin, where he remembered once being very happy.
“He basically broke down, and it was a very emotional moment because the crew, everyone who worked on the film, we were all very fond of Robert — very protective of him. It was a defining moment for all of us, and it was a brave moment in filmmaking, I think, because — with Robert’s permission — we continued filming.
“And it was moving for me, because he told us later that he cried because of all the happy memories he remembered.”
Pamela, who lives in Ireland, and Robert have continued to stay in touch. She said he was one of the first people to text her when the Irish people voted in favour of Marriage Equality in May of this year.