Two brothers have described the horrific sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of priests at Blackrock College in the 1970s.
avid and Mark Ryan, originally from Blackrock, are the first to speak openly about abuse at Blackrock College. David now lives in Co Tipperary and Mark lives in south London.
Between the ages of 12 and 17, David, 58, and Mark, 61, were repeatedly sexually assaulted at various locations on the grounds of Blackrock College, south Dublin.
Their perpetrators came from the community of the Order of the Holy Spirit, now known as the Spiritans.
Blackrock College, which has been described as one of “Ireland’s most exclusive schools”, was founded by the Spiritans in 1860.
Several court cases followed as the two brothers fought for justice. The now-adult men first told their story in a special RTÉ documentary about One, which aired on RTÉ Radio 1 tonight.
“My parents were very proud that I went to Blackrock College, they thought it was a fantastic school,” said Mark.
“My dad had to drop out of school when he was quite young, he really wanted the best education for his kids, they thought Blackrock College was for me.”
In September 1973, Mark began his postgraduate education at Blackrock College. During his freshman year, one of the teachers took a special interest in him and gradually began to sexually abuse him.
The priest who abused him was a Holy Spirit Father named Father Tom O’Byrne, who was originally from Limerick and began teaching at Blackrock College in 1967.
The abuse took place during private swimming lessons in the on-site pool.
“I was friends with one of the teachers there, a priest, who saw that I was interested in basic math and computers and that there was a small computer society,” Mark said.
The priest gifted Mark his own computer, a rare occurrence in Ireland in the 1970s.
“I now realize that I was nursed, it’s a relatively new thought to me, and seeing things now, I understand that my parents were nursed,” he said.
“This particular priest, I’m going to call him the culprit because that actually happened, he used to invite me to swim at Willow Park, which was the elementary school that was connected to the high school.
“It had its own pool, you could go swimming on a Friday or Saturday night, which in its own way was fantastic to be able to go swimming. It’s part of nurturing, being chosen, making you feel special, coming into our home my parents thought he was fantastic.
“From 12, being touched and I just felt uncomfortable with it, there wasn’t anything sexual at first or anything, it was just a hand on my arm and I didn’t really like that.”
Mark said Father O’Byrne behaved differently as private swimming lessons became more regular.
“He wore weird togs that were different shapes and things like that and didn’t have a real back, I’d say that’s a thong now,” he said.
“Just touch and feel and ‘Wouldn’t you like to try them on?’, change into different things at the poolside.
“He had a camera and took pictures too, I was alone down in the pool so nobody else was there.
“Other times when I was down there older boys had gone swimming before and I remember I was in a locker room with him and these guys were all in the room next door and they were talking about him and saying he was a ‘bender’. .
“I can remember it, but I didn’t know what it meant.”
At the age of 14, another Blackrock College priest also began abusing Mark. Throughout his abuse, he never told anyone.
“He was also very funny and weird, I really didn’t like him, at one point he was with my abuser and I had an operation at Vincent’s Hospital and it was to remove varicose veins in my scrotum,” he said.
“And the main offender came over to see me and I remember he pulled back the curtain and was very interested in looking at my stitches and the wound.
“And then I was back at school, which was actually in the pool at Blackrock College, he was swimming down there too and, ‘oh Mark, you want to show your scars,’ and things like that to this other priest.
“And they both examine me and look at me.”
The abuse continued throughout Mark’s third and fourth years at school.
“I was very scared, very unhappy, it was part of my life, so abuse wasn’t part of my vocabulary,” he said.
“He was my math teacher, he also taught me Latin, he taught me religion, an authority figure. I look back now and there was something wrong with the way he was taking care of his body.”
Mark’s abuse at Blackrock College stopped when he started pushing back.
“When I was doing badly in class or something, I wasn’t the best student, ‘fine, I’ll tell your parents,’ and I started pushing back, ‘no, you can tell my parents,'” he said.
“‘I don’t have to tell your parents if you pull down your pants and sit on my knee,’ that’s not right, I felt very, very uncomfortable but I didn’t know anything else.”
Mark’s 12-year-old brother David then received invitations from P. O’Byrne to take private swimming lessons on the grounds of Blackrock College.
“I thought he was safe the whole time because he was with his friends,” Mark said.
David said P. O’Byrne then started taking pictures and groping him and his friends in the pool.
“There were a couple of us who were going to go under and I was interested in swimming at that point anyway,” he said.
“In the beginning he would always lock the door and always come out in very skimpy thongs and he would take us into the pool and take pictures of us and he would make us wear his others which were very skimpy.
“And it went on like that for a while, we got in the pool, he was always trying to get under us and put us on his back and he was under it, but he was actually feeling us under his hands.
“It was very uncomfortable but no one did anything and if you had taken a shower afterwards he would have been completely naked.”
At that time Father O’Byrne was almost 60 years old. When David was 13, he received Father O’Byrne’s full attention and often swam alone with him.
“Because I had this thing in my head that I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, so I kept swimming, I was on my own and that’s when it started to get really bad,” he said.
“He had me on his knees and groped me and undressed in the shower with him. I was really uncomfortable with that, but I didn’t know what to do.”
Another priest then also began to abuse David at this stage in his childhood. David’s second offender was a different man than Mark’s second offender.
There was a photo lab at Blackrock College that allowed Father O’Byrne to develop any photographs he took of the young children.
“He was chasing me, he knew I was easy prey and he was after me because I would never say no,” David said.
“When I think back to how he hurt my whole body, the abuse, what he actually did to me… It was horrible. If I say no, I could get hurt and I didn’t want that.”
For many years, none of the brothers spoke about their abuse until early 2002 when clergyman sexual abuse of children made headlines.
This led to the brothers first revealing their abuse to their parents and then to each other.
They made statements to the Gardaí, which led to several charges being brought against their perpetrator.
Father O’Byrne was 82 at the time and still lived on the grounds of Blackrock College.
He denied the allegations against him and initiated court proceedings to drop the criminal case.
In 2007, the courts ruled that criminal proceedings against the brothers’ perpetrator should be dropped. Father O’Byrne died in 2010 without ever having been brought to justice.
In 2012, the Spiritans issued a public apology after being heavily criticized in an audit reviewing child safeguarding practices.
This audit also explained how serial abusers went undetected and unexamined within the Spiritans, giving them unsupervised access to children in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.
The number of children who have been sexually abused on Blackrock College grounds is unknown.
In response to questions from RTÉ, Father Martin Kelly, the current Spiritan Provincial, said the Spiritan records now show that 233 people have made allegations of abuse against 77 Irish Spiritans in ministry across Ireland and overseas.
Regarding Blackrock College, 57 people have claimed to have been abused on the Blackrock campus.
The Spiritans have made several financial donations to people who have allegedly committed abuse at the hands of members of the Spiritan community – and since 2004 the total amount that the Spiritans have paid to resolve abuse claims and provide support services is over €5 million.
The Spiritans have settled 12 people related to abuse in Blackrock. All settlements were funded from resources of the Spiritan community.
It is the practice of the Spiritan Congregation to pay the legal fees incurred by its members in connection with their legal representation in criminal matters.
This practice arose in circumstances where members did not have the personal funds to do so.
https://www.independent.ie/news/he-preyed-on-me-it-was-awful-brothers-tell-how-priest-sexually-abused-them-at-blackrock-college-42125780.html ‘He exploited me, it was terrible’ – brothers tell how priests sexually abused them at Blackrock College