Just before 4am, gardaí on patrol came upon the disturbing scene. The young woman was naked from the waist down, in a semi-conscious state, and her head was rolling from side to side. Danny Foley, who was out celebrating his 34th birthday, was crouched over her beside a skip outside the back of a nightclub in Listowel. She was in a distressed state, and was screaming and lashing out as she was placed in an ambulance minutes later.
But the young woman's ordeal was only just beginning. Since Kerry General Hospital closed its sexual assault unit in 2003, she had to travel for two hours with gardaí to Cork's South Infirmary hospital to be assessed at its sexual assault centre.
Foley, meanwhile, was trying to explain to officers in Listowel what he was doing kneeling over the young woman when gardaí discovered them.
"I came around here for a slash and I saw your wan lying on the ground. No one arrived. I tried to get her standing," he told garda John White. But he soon changed his story.
Gardaí seized CCTV footage that showed the young woman leaving the nightclub with Foley, unable to walk in a straight line and clinging to him. Moments later, the grainy footage showed Foley carrying her in his arms across the car park towards the back of the club where she was found soon afterwards half-naked and distraught. He said he initially lied about seeing her for the first time collapsed beside the skip when he went to relieve himself because he "panicked".
Foley (35), a bouncer from Meen in Listowel, gave an unlikely account of what happened between the pair outside the nightclub that ultimately the jury did not believe. They had consensual oral sex, he said, and this was why her trousers and underwear were taken off. After that, the woman, who moments earlier was unable to walk, got down on her hands and knees beside the skip and asked him to have sex with her. It was she who wanted it, not him, he suggested.
"She asked me to ride her," he told Tralee circuit criminal court. But he couldn't. He was so drunk that he couldn't get an erection, he added. Instead, they both fell asleep on the tarmac and when he awoke, Foley knelt over the woman and was trying to "wake her up" just as the gardaí came along. He'd taken her to the skip only because she'd asked him to take her somewhere private, he added.
The coarse language he used to describe his version of their sexual encounter later came back to haunt him. When sentencing him to seven years in prison with two years suspended after a jury unanimously found him guilty of the sexual assault of the young woman, judge Donagh McDonagh said Foley's "revolting" assertions, "odious" language and his allegations about mutual sexual acts on the night was designed "to add insult to injury".
The victim, now 23, recalled an entirely different version of events – not that she could remember everything, as she was very drunk in the early hours of 15 June last year when her life was irrevocably changed. She recalls meeting Foley for the first time in the nightclub and chatting to him throughout the night while he bought her a few drinks. She had visited two bars earlier in the night and had a bottle of WKD in each before heading to the local nightclub. She had another bottle of WKD there and her cousin bought her a Black Russian before she bumped into Foley, who was out celebrating his birthday.
He insisted on buying her another Black Russian shot. She felt ill after sipping it and felt her mouth was "on fire". He bought her another WKD, but as she was drinking it she felt sick and light-headed and decided she wanted to go home. The man she had met for the first time that night insisted on walking with her.
What happened after that is all a blur. The woman remembers being forced to the ground and then pinned down by Foley. She tried to push him off but couldn't and then he pulled off her pants, she said. She had a clear recollection of sharp pains in her wrists as she fought the six-foot five-inch, stocky man who had pinned her to the ground. Eventually, she blacked out.
When examined at Cork's South Infirmary hospital, the doctor found that she suffered bruising all over her back as well as wrist injuries and scratches. This was compatible with being dragged on the ground, Foley's trial was told. There was no clinical evidence of sexual assault, but the jury of 10 men and two women returned a unanimous guilty verdict on 4 December. Last week he was sentenced to five years in jail for the sexual assault.
Those are the facts of what happened, as accepted by the court. It's what happened next that catapulted this story into mainstream public consciousness.
Had the two gardaí on patrol not happened upon Foley crouching over his semi-unconscious and half-naked victim, it is highly unlikely there would have been sufficient evidence to charge him with the crime. But this evidence, along with the woman's account of what happened as well as medical evidence of a physical assault, was enough for the jury to find this man guilty. But had 50 people – mainly men and including a local parish priest – not formed an orderly queue in court to shake the hand of this convicted sex offender, most people in Ireland would have known nothing about the bouncer from Listowel and his attack on the young woman outside a nightclub.
The procession of handshaking and embraces occurred in pointed full view of the victim but before the judge emerged from his chambers to pass sentence on the already convicted sex offender. At worst, it was a barbed attempt at intimidation, at best a sign of disrespect towards the young woman. But ultimately, this action did Foley, his victim and the town of Listowel a major disservice.
The reaction generally at the manner in which sympathy was expressed towards Foley has been shock and disgust. The counter-reaction from his supporters has been to protest his innocence, ensuring the story remained at the top of the news agenda. Since Wednesday, the debate has raged and this weekend Listowel remained a town divided. One camp supports well-known and well-liked Danny Foley and his middle-class family, who own a farm four miles from the town but hail originally from nearby Ballylongford. The other camp stands staunchly behind the young woman, whom everyone in north Kerry now knows by name despite her anonymity in the media. Like her attacker, she comes from a large and well-known extended family. She lives in an estate in the town.
"Some people have said maybe this is a class issue on some level. He'd be of a slightly different, higher social class and maybe some people have dismissed her claims of his attack because of who she is rather than looking at the facts," said a local garda source. "It is a town divided but I think she has more support than people realise. He was always just seen as a gentle old bear sort and people are having trouble accepting what he did."
Danny Foley was a popular man. As well as working as a bouncer, he also worked at Jumbo's, a well-known chipper in the centre of the town. Almost everyone knew him from the chipper; in comparison, far fewer people knew his victim.
By Friday, Fr Sean Sheehy, who shook Foley's hand in court and also provided him with a glowing character reference saying he was always respectful of women, was forced to step down. He had little option after bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy apologised to the young woman and disassociated the diocese from the priest's views.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune this weekend, Danny Foley's brother Tim said his family were upset that their long-term friend and neighbour had lost his position in the church because of his support for his brother.
"We're absolutely devastated. We never would have allowed him to make a statement about Danny if we knew there would be this backlash. It's a disgrace. He's a great priest, a lovely man and a good friend of Danny's. Danny is extremely upset in the prison tonight knowing what's happened to Fr Sheehy. We believe he's innocent and this will be going to appeal. There are so many cases of serious sexual assault and rape. It's just such a shame that this so-called sexual assault is the one getting all the attention."
The refusal by Foley's family and supporters to accept the court's judgement that a sexual attack took place has angered his victim's family and those rallying around the young woman. But mostly, the people of Listowel now want this unwanted media attention to go away.
"It was an appalling act of all those people to shake his hand like that in front of the woman," said a local person who asked to remain anonymous. "The handshaking didn't do anyone involved any favours; the media has all sides harassed now because of it. Listowel has been painted in a bad light, so soon people won't want to talk about it at all any more."
But talk about the case has abounded in north Kerry. Attempts to tarnish the victim's character have been in full swing but all of the rumours about her have been dismissed by a local garda source as entirely mischievous and untrue.
Aside from the obvious emotional damage done to the woman at the centre of this case because of its publicity, there are serious concerns that the ongoing questioning of the convicted man's guilt will stop other victims of sexual attacks coming forward.
"The jury found him unanimously guilty. The rumours and untrue things being spread about this woman are a bad reflection on the people spreading them and the fact that some people cannot accept that this man did this," said Vera O'Leary, director of the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre. "I just really hope that what has happened does not stop other victims from coming forward. It would make this terrible thing that happened even worse."