After surviving sexual abuse, drug addiction and an assassination attempt, Tommy Hanrahan became a church leader – and saw both his abuser and would-be murderer come to Christ

Tommy H

The first time Tommy Hanrahan was shot at, he was 17. He found himself on the wrong side of a local gangster and with a shotgun three feet from his chest. The pellets flew towards him as if in slow motion but, just before they reached him, something lifted them up and away. “I believe it was the hand of God,” says Tommy. “I should have died.” Instead, he suffered only minor injuries. The next time, he would not be so lucky.

Tommy grew up in a part of Dublin plagued by violence and drugs. At the age of seven he was sexually abused at a school run by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic lay order notorious for widespread abuse of young boys. Less than a year later, a family friend sexually abused him in his own bedroom. Not that he recognised this at first. “I thought she was teaching me the tricks of the trade. After I was saved, I heard a preacher – who was also abused by a woman – who said she robbed his innocence. Then I saw it for what it was.” 

 By the age of eleven, Tommy was sexually active. He started taking drugs and committing crimes to pay for them. He was soon skipping school, shoplifting and joyriding. “We were groomed to be gangsters,” he explains. His life became a roundabout of fights and jail, overdoses and hospital stays. 

Then Tommy met “the Northies”. 

If Tommy thought he was a gangster, these were the real deal: paramilitary killers from Northern Ireland. At first, he was excited to be involved with them, but he soon became disillusioned. “They would do terrible things.” Disgusted by the political murders and the way they treated him as disposable, he tried to pull away. 

But one night, a Northie friend confided in Tommy about the 26 murders he had committed. Later, regretting his indiscretion, that ‘friend’ sent a hitman to ensure Tommy’s silence. He intercepted Tommy as he arrived home from work and emptied both barrels into his guts.

Finding forgiveness

“I knew I was dying, and it was the loneliest place I’ve ever been,” recalls Tommy. “I said to God: ‘If you give me one more chance, I’ll make this right. I will change.’” But after four months in hospital, and despite his attempts to quit drugs, he relapsed again.

Finally, during a stay at a Christian drug rehab, he had a dramatic encounter with God. Convicted of his sin, Tommy found himself screaming for forgiveness. Looking up, he saw Jesus, gazing at him with pure love. Instantly, he stopped taking drugs and experienced no withdrawal symptoms. The damage caused to his liver by his past abuse was miraculously healed.

Tommy began to attend church, but after his vision in rehab, the services seemed staid. Although he was trying to stay clean, every few months he would binge on drugs again. 

The final time that Tommy overdosed, his heart stopped. For five long minutes, the doctors could find no pulse. Tommy was flatlining. During this near-death experience, Tommy says he woke up on “a slab in hell”, surrounded by figures mocking his faith in Jesus. “I think the enemy had a sneak preview of my life,” Tommy says. “I always felt that he was trying to take me out.” 

Suddenly, he screamed the name of Jesus – and woke up. “Make sure you stick very close to that name from now on,” his doctor advised. Tommy never touched drink or drugs again. 

Tommy H 2

The comfort of Christ

Ten years later, Tommy and his wife, Brenda, felt called to start a church in Kiltalown, a deprived area on the outskirts of Dublin. But when they first started, nobody came.

“Each week I would preach to Brenda and her to me.” They started questioning whether this really was from God. Finally, Tommy prayed: “If nobody comes tomorrow, we’ll accept that we’ve got it all wrong.” The following morning, two people arrived. Both had woken up at three in the morning with a mysterious conviction that they had to go to church!

Since then, Firebrand Church has seen people from many different backgrounds come to Christ: drug addicts and prostitutes, but also businessmen and bank clerks. “Lost is lost. It doesn’t have a class. You can be a lost drug addict or CEO,” says Tommy.

With what I’ve received, I can’t hold back forgiveness from anybody – even my abuser

They have also seen people freed from the legacy of abuse. “I’ve experienced freedom through forgiveness,” Tommy explains. “We comfort people with the comfort we have received ourselves. I know that abuse is not a prison you have to be locked up in for the rest of your life.” 

Tommy proved that when his former abuser came to church – and he led her to Christ. “It was a bit of a shock to see her, but when she [responded to] the altar call, it was a celebration. All I felt towards her was mercy. With what I’ve received, I can’t hold back forgiveness from anybody – even my abuser.”

Even Tommy’s would-be murderer was not beyond forgiveness. “The fella who got me shot also came to Jesus and was saved. I couldn’t hold back forgiveness for him either. I know that sounds crazy in the world we live in, but as a Christian who has received forgiveness, I can’t withhold it. I believe forgiveness is for everybody.” 


Is There Mercy For Me? (Malcolm Down Publishing) is available now