This week, The Irish Times invited people who had attended Spiritan and other schools to share their experiences in the wake of revelations of widespread abuse at the order’s schools.
They include Willow Park, Blackrock, St Mary’s and St Michaels colleges in Dublin, Rockwell College in Co Tipperary, and others in Ireland and overseas.
We sought responses from people who had experienced abuse themselves, had witnessed it, or had learned only recently that it occurred in their school.
Below is a selection of the responses we received. Most of these accounts are from men who did not directly experience abuse but were in school when it occurred. We thank all those who responded to the call-out. It is not possible to publish all accounts.
If you have experienced abuse, you may wish to contact the An Garda Síochána.
‘He ran the tuck shop ... this was a paedophile’s dream job’
Garry McKeever, Ontario, Canada
I attended Willow Park school from 1958 to 1960 and Blackrock College from 1960 to 1964. While ostensibly a Catholic school, its true religion was rugby. A Jesuit-educated friend in later years described it as a school “dedicated to rugby excellence and academic mediocrity”. That being said, there were many bright students. My Leaving Cert class produced an eminent politician, an equally eminent judge, a chief executive of a major international oil company and a gaggle of doctors, lawyers and engineers.
As for the abusers, I remember Luke McCaffrey at Willow Park. Fortunately, I never had any involvement with him. He ran the tuck shop, which catered mainly to boarders, some of whom were as young as nine years old. This was a paedophile’s dream job, as he got to know most of the boys and was able to pick his victims at leisure.
I was in the A class. There were a number of priests who taught at the B and C levels, but were never allowed to teach at the A level, so I was also spared any involvement with the vile Senan Corry. I was never sexually abused at the school, but I do remember being slapped hard across the face by an irascible and diminutive man who was another of those not allowed to teach the A classes. I never told my parents – like every one of that generation, I knew instinctively that any complaints against a priest would be futile and that they would likely assume it was my fault.
‘After training we had an understanding never to leave any straggler behind in the dressingroom’
Philip Macdonnell, Co Galway
In 1972, aged 12, I went from St Mary’s College Rathmines primary to secondary. Fr [Henry] Maloney was our maths teacher and rugby coach. He was a somewhat charismatic individual to impressionable young boys. He was a successful coach. He was generally ‘handsy’ to all of us in a way that was not too threatening or invasive or overtly sexual, except that occasionally he crossed that line, and he had what we called his ‘favourites’, who he often called to the top of the class and fondled quite openly.
After training we had an understanding never to leave any straggler behind in the dressingrooms. And one had to be careful about fetching a ball from the games locker, which was his office of a sort. In the summer on camp, stories of his behaviour and incidents were swapped, and we resolved to stand up to him if he tried anything on us. When we returned to school in September he had been transferred out, to Sierra Leone we understood.
‘A shocking level of homophobic abuse’
I attended Willow Park and Blackrock College from second class in primary through to the end of sixth year and the Leaving Cert nearly 10 years ago. I cannot say that I witnessed any sexual abuse in my time, but I still believe the management of the schools presided over an atmosphere of blatant homophobia and toxic bullying in my time there. While there were regular pompous speeches trumpeting “Blackrock values” and “our Spiritan ethos”, [those making them] turned a blind eye to and at times even encouraged a shocking level of homophobic abuse. This was particularly acute among some teachers and staff members related to the rugby and PE programmes, all of them male.
As for myself, I left Blackrock crippled with anxiety and totally uncomfortable with myself and my own sexuality as a result of this culture. Some male teachers used seemingly “effeminate” or non-athletic boys as the butt of persistent mockery to amuse their classes, which only encouraged bullying among students. The slur “faggot” or “gay” will be remembered by the majority of past students as a constant feature of life at Blackrock College, especially in the junior years.
I believe Blackrock still needs to reckon with this aspect of school life. Close family members of mine have still to come forward with their stories of sexual abuse by priests and staff members in previous decades, abusers who are now long dead. I believe the entire culture of the school needs a reset in order for any meaningful change to take place. The Spiritans should divest from the school immediately and upper management resign.
There are many brave and hard-working, brilliant teachers at Blackrock who have made great impacts on their students’ lives. Those teachers’ reputations are blackened by this whole toxic culture.
‘He used audiovisual learning to turn the lights off, darken the classroom and physically molest fellow students’
Brian Walsh, Co Dublin
I left Blackrock in 1979 having gone through Willow first and then Rock. I knew enough to keep my head down and avoid those criminal perverts named publicly in the last week. The two most open perverts that I witnessed were Corry and Flood – both in classes and in other areas in the college. Flood used audiovisual learning to turn the lights off, darken the classroom and physically molest fellow students from the rear of the class while playing the French lesson on the tape to the class. Corry would, in similar fashion, corner his victims at the back of the class, entrapping them in the desk and fondling them while he frothed at the mouth in perverted ecstasy.
Corry and Flood ran matinee cinema showings on Saturday afternoons and boys – plus girls from the likes of Sion Hill, Killiney and Mount Anville – attended them. Corry particularly would rub up and down against boys and girls. Flood preferred, or seemed to, the solitude of the projection booth where victims were privileged to be invited in to be defiled. The dogs in the street knew of these daily occurrences – Flood subsequently was promoted to principal in St Michael’s and then back to Rock as a dean of boarders.
He molested a friend of mine at the time in his family home at weekends. The poor guy couldn’t even get away from his abuser at weekends out of school. Several people reported what they saw and witnessed – my sister and I did to our parents but 50 years ago the priest was a demigod and us kids were not believed, so we put our heads down and avoided the perverts. But those victims who spoke so bravely these past weeks weren’t able to. We unfortunately at the time pretended not to know or see. The truth will come out only if there is an independent inquiry.
‘What did the Garda, politicians and clergy know?’
I attended Willow Park and Blackrock College from the mid-1980s into the 1990s. As a past pupil, these crimes occurred and were covered up. Men and women, past and present, covered up these things. Why was Eddie Baylor removed around the mid-1980s and not the priests? He was convicted but none of the priests faced trial – why? What did the Garda, politicians and clergy know? What legal actions have the schools performed since all of this began to stop information coming out – High Court, Supreme Court? Who did it? Are they still alive now and need to be answerable? Why were parents not informed of a convicted paedophile in 1988 (Baylor)? In school you placed a huge amount of trust as a child in teachers and priests – it is one of the most disturbing things from all of this and is really unsettling. I would have been innocent along with the majority of pupils, I doubt we would have been able to react or cope with abuse if it had happened.
‘He would put his hands down a boy’s pants to feel their backside, as if it was fun’
I was a pupil at Willow Park from second to sixth, starting in 1979. Though I had previously heard about Eddie Baylor, I was not aware about Fr Corry and Brother Luke [McCaffrey]. Fr Corry was a substitute religion teacher who used to sit in front of the class and tell jokes. On occasion he would put his hands down a boy’s pants to feel their backside, as if this is part of the fun. This did not happen to me, nor did I mention this to my parents. But some must have told their parents and they must have notified the school. There were a number of boys who lived nearby who would stay after class with Baylor.
‘He had us sit on his knee and asked us sexually oriented questions’
Mick Phelan, Co Dublin
I boarded in Rockwell College 1974-1979. I personally did not suffer any abuse but in first year (called second year) we each had a one-to-one behind closed doors with the second-year head priest, Fr Cunningham. It was to check how the pupils were settling in. There wasn’t a second chair in the office and Fr Cunningham had us sit on his knee for the duration and asked some sexually oriented questions that had nothing to do with settling in. The worrying part was that the homesick, smaller or more sensitive boys were called back for subsequent meetings. I’ve often wondered whether he was grooming them. Fr Cunningham was subsequently moved to another school.
‘A man with a long history of rape of children still somehow had access to us’
I left Blackrock College in the early 2000s, having been in Willow Park before and had nothing but good memories of my time there. That said, my view of the school is completely tarnished by what I now know about men who taught me and my classmates. Fr Corry taught us religion in fourth class and Brother Luke McCaffrey assisted us around the time of our Communion. This was in the mid to late 1990s and these men would have been in their later years. This did not stop Brother Luke from asking boys into his small shop to change clothes for sports. A man with a long history of rape and sexual abuse of children still somehow had access to us and was actively preying on us. How the school and its management allowed this to happen is an irrecoverable stain on great memories I have of my time there. Small and insignificant comments made by friends over the years are suddenly profoundly concerning.
‘Rockwell was a remote and suitable Siberia for these sick individuals’
Adrian Gibbs, Co Cork
I left Rockwell College in Co Tipperary in 1996. This week I have been in contact with schoolfriends. Henry Moloney taught us religion and other subjects. He was the junior rugby coach, school photographer and co-ordinator of the choir. My friend who was a boarder from Dublin made the point that there were a lot of vulnerable children there. He recalls being dropped by his aunt to Rockwell as a first-year boarder. His parents had separated and his father was a busy person trying to work and support three children on his own. He remembers older boys warning him to stay away from the priests. Boarders like him spent a month in these priests’ care. At weekends most lay teachers were gone. I distinctly remember Moloney not allowing my friend and me join the choir. I believe it was because he saw us as not vulnerable enough. I can’t fathom how this was allowed by lay people and other priests.
We knew these priests were predators and moved around by the order. Rockwell was a more remote and a suitable Siberia for these sick individuals who abused children under the watchful eyes of Éamon de Valera’s portrait and others who taught and went to school there. Don’t forget: Archbishop McQuaid was a Spiritan. Rockwell in the 1990s was like The Lord of the Flies. The lack of concern for children in the care of Rockwell was appalling. Some years ago the past pupils’ union asked me if I would send my children there. Absolutely no!
‘I believe abuse was not limited to the Spiritans’
Anonymous, Co Dublin
I attended Willow Park from 1987-1992 and latterly Blackrock College from 1992-1998. During my time at Willow Park Fr Corry taught myself – and other pupils I continue to remain friends with to this day – religion and also coached rugby and cricket. Last week’s revelations about Fr Corry came as a complete shock as this was not our experience of the man (possibly due to his age at the time we were there) but also prompted discussion and recollections of our time at school over WhatsApp. This resulted in one of the group disclosing an instance of abuse. While I do not feel this is my story to tell – it is a secret he kept to himself for nearly 30 years – our recollections have repeatedly come back to a lay member of staff during our time in Willow Park. While we were not all in the same class (each year had four classes or forms, six in first year) we all clearly remember this teacher bringing kids to the top of the class, positioning himself immediately behind them and then holding the pupils’ arms, clapping their hands together and waving them around. He would also regularly speak of there being “a dark cloud over the class”.
Two specific instances I remember were when I was forced to sit/crouch with another pupil under a lectern/teacher’s desk for the duration of the class. This meant our heads were positioned very close to the teacher’s crotch for the duration of the class. We thought it was funny at the time but also knew it was not normal teacher behaviour. The fact that we as 11-12-year-olds knew he was inappropriate has led us to seriously question what the adult teachers knew.
The second incidence occurred to another pupil in sixth class when he called a boy up to his desk who had not done his homework, to see if he had recorded the homework assignment in his homework journal. He hadn’t, which led the teacher to throw the book in his face and shove him across the width of the classroom. While I understand that these are far less serious instances than the personal stories that have come to light in the past week, I believe that abuse may not be limited to the Spiritans but extend to lay members of staff.
‘Parents wanted the best ... In effect they were buying the school ‘brand’ for their kids’
Michael Gannon, Co Dublin
I was a student at St Mary’s College Rathmines from 1969 to 1979. It was widely known at the time that Henry Moloney touched boys. He was sent on the missions shortly after I went into senior school, so I don’t think he interfered with any of my contemporaries. The fact that he was moved is evidence of complaints that must have been made by parents. St Mary’s had institutional snobbery about it and I personally loathed it. I did not know of any cases of abuse or cover-up until Mark Vincent Healy came forward. The crimes done to him and Paul Daly have appalled me. I have written to Mark Vincent to commend him for his work. Wherever there is an institution there is power, and where there is power there is the risk of abuse. And institutions with children and minors were and are a feeding ground for paedophiles. Private schools were institutions. Parents, such as those of the Blackrock victims, and my own, sent their sons to these schools because they wanted the best for them. In effect they were buying the school “brand” for their kids, who entered an institution governed by priests and tradition. It comes as no surprise that those in authority behaved immorally to protect their brand. I believe there should be a public inquiry into these abuses. Private schools need to be deinstitutionalised so that they are governed by the State and the religious get fees for the use of their assets, provided any victims of abuse have been compensated. Apology, without full victim compensation and deconstruction of the institution that gave rise to the abuse, is meaningless.
‘They told us to ‘be caring, truthful and kind’ ... They were hypocrites’
I am a relatively recent graduate of Blackrock College (class of 2008). The revelations in the past week have been shocking and disturbing and I express my deepest sympathies for the victims. What strikes me now, looking back at my time at the school, is the probability that when senior clergymen, who held or had held senior teaching and management positions in the school, stood in front of us and told us to “be caring, be truthful and be kind” they were hypocrites.
It is clear from the abuse scandals that have rocked Ireland and the rest of the world that those in the church knew of the horrific crimes that were being perpetrated, and it is likely that the so-called men of God of the Spiritan order also knew what their brothers in the order were doing. I truly believe that there must have existed a culture of secrecy in Blackrock College and among its attendant priests which enabled predators to stalk the halls of the college for decades and to evade justice. What is worrying is the lingering and as yet unanswered question of what the lay staff and management knew both in the past but also in more recent years as allegations came to life. A full inquiry is needed.