Mark Ryan, one of two brothers who came forward about being sexually abused in Blackrock College and sparked a reckoning over historic child abuse in fee-paying schools, has died aged 62.
Mark and his younger brother David Ryan spoke about being sexually abused as boys in the South Dublin secondary school in an RTÉ Radio documentary, Blackrock Boys, last November.
The documentary led to a wave of revelations and hundreds of survivors reporting they were also abused as boys in schools run by the Spiritan congregation, such as Blackrock College and its feeder school Willow Park.
The scandal marked a surge in disclosures of historic abuse from former pupils of fee-paying schools run by other religious congregations as well.
David Ryan said his older brother had been his “rock” since the RTÉ documentary aired late last year.
“Mark was very straightforward, he didn’t hold back, he spoke his mind ... He was my rock, he supported me the whole way through, he knew how hard it was,” he said.
The siblings had “never expected” their stories would lead to such a public reckoning over past sexual abuse in fee-paying schools, he said. “It has opened up for so many people to come forward.”
The Government set up a scoping inquiry to issue recommendations by November about what form of inquiry should be established to investigate historic abuse in schools.
It was more important than ever that the Government followed through after its initial scoping inquiry, which is interviewing survivors, David said.
“I want it much more now for Mark, he was the one who pushed everything ... He was so articulate,” he told The Irish Times.
It was tragic that his brother would not be alive to see the outcome of the process, David said.
In the RTÉ documentary both brothers spoke about how they were sexually abused by priests at Blackrock College in the 1970s, only discovering each other’s abuse years later in 2002.
Liam O’Brien, producer of the documentary, said Mark had been “immensely proud” of his and David’s decision to speak publicly and the impact the programme had.
He had been hugely encouraged that coming forward had led to so many other survivors finding “their voice”, he said.
Late last month Mark was interviewed by the scoping inquiry for his views on how the State should examine historical abuse in schools.
In comments to The Irish Times afterwards, he wrote: “One of the things I’d like is some type of study into why this happened, why did the Irish people turn a blind eye to this atrocity and the other atrocities which have happened since the creation of the State? The study has to understand and link these atrocities and make sense of what happened so we understand and learn so this never ever happens again.”
Maeve Lewis, chief executive of One in Four, said the survivor support charity was “deeply saddened” at news of Mark’s death.
The brothers’ courage had “encouraged huge numbers of other men who had been abused in religious run schools to come forward, leading to a tsunami of allegations,” she said.
Ms Lewis said Mark had been a “powerful advocate” and support to other survivors. “His dignity, courage and articulate voice will be sadly missed,” she said.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said in a statement on Friday afternoon: “I am saddened beyond measure to learn of the passing of Mark Ryan. Mark and his brother David showed immense courage in speaking out about the abuse that they suffered.
“Their bravery shone a light into a dark corner, and helped to forge a path for many others to come forward.
“In my meetings and conversations with Mark, I was always struck by his genuine warmth, kind heartedness and enormous sense of compassion. Both Mark and David’s determination and bravery led to the establishment of the scoping inquiry into historical sexual abuse in day and boarding schools run by religious orders.
“I am especially conscious today that Mark was a strong support and advocate for many other survivors, and I truly appreciate the profound sense of loss that so many will be feeling at this time. I will remember Mark with enormous fondness and deep gratitude for his graciousness, leadership and selflessness. We are all the lesser for Mark’s passing, but greater for having had the privilege of knowing him.
“Rest in peace, Mark. Thank you for everything.”
The team conducting the Government scoping inquiry commended the “extraordinary bravery” of Mark and his brother David, in coming forward.
The brothers were “pivotal” in the establishment of the process and their courage influenced “so many survivors’ decisions to come forward and tell their stories,” their statement said.
“Our thoughts are with David and all of Mark’s family today and with his many friends. May he rest in peace,” it said.