‘My father paid the priests good money to care for me, educate and nurture me, not to abuse me’ – survivor of abuse at Rockwell College
The call came late one Sunday evening in 1976. Vera McCarthy picked up the phone and gave the nod to her husband John. On the other end of the line was a priest from Rockwell College in Tipperary who delivered the news they had been waiting to hear; their son Derek had been accepted as a boarder student and could start the following week.
rom an early age, Derek McCarthy knew he was destined to go to Rockwell.
It was family tradition. His grandfather, father, uncle and older brothers all studied there and spoke of their fond memories of one of Ireland’s most prestigious schools.
Derek felt a sense of relief that he would finally get to follow in their footsteps and continue the McCarthy legacy.
Priests beating students was a common occurrence during his time at Rockwell. Sometimes they would use leather straps and drumsticks and then give them sweets the next day, as if nothing ever happened.
But the Rockwell that he would come to know and the Rockwell that his family knew were two very different places.
“When I was accepted to Rockwell I was excited and proud,” Derek said.
“For the first couple of years I was doing very well in my studies. I was playing rugby, I was very active in the choir and I’d gone on school tours to Italy and the Soviet Union. For the first two years I was happy there, despite all the corporal punishment.”
Priests beating students was a common occurrence during his time at Rockwell.
Sometimes they would use leather straps and drumsticks and then give them sweets the next day, as if nothing ever happened.
“We just accepted that’s how things were,” Derek said.
But in the autumn of 1978, during his second year, a different form of abuse started to take place.
One evening Derek attended a study class when a senior student supervising the room told him that one of the priests wanted to see him in the hallway outside.
“I just assumed I was going to get in trouble for something but had no idea what,” he said.
The priest, wearing a black shirt and white clerical collar, said he had come up with a new form of punishment for bold students and wanted to test it out on him.
“He put his knee into my groin and asked: ‘Does this hurt?’
“Then he asked me if I wanted to feel his genitals. I told him ‘no’.”
He alleges that the priest then forced his hand inside his trousers and made Derek perform a sex act.
“I had my first ever sexual experience with a priest when I was 13 years of age,” he said.
Throughout his time at Rockwell, which is one of 10 schools run by the Spiritan congregation, Derek alleges he was abused on at least 50 occasions by three different priests and a lay person.
The abuse became so extreme that he once threw himself in front of a car near his home in Clondalkin, Dublin, so he wouldn’t have to go back to school.
Another time he threw himself down the stairs of his family home.
“My father paid them good money to care for me, to nurture me, educate me and raise me as a model citizen – not to abuse me and teach me about sex.”
More than 400 victims have come forward with allegations of abuse against 78 Spiritan priests. The majority of these allegations concern abuse at schools connected to the Spiritans.
A spokesperson for the Spiritans could not confirm how many allegations had been made in relation to Rockwell, but said more than 90 of the cases involve Blackrock College in Dublin.
When I saw the places where I was abused, it all came flooding back. We went down to the graveyard and one of the priest’s who abused me was buried there and I started to spit on his grave.
Derek hopes speaking about what happened to him will encourage other people to come forward.
“This is a stigma I have carried with me all my life and it needs to end,” he said.
The level of corporate punishment in Rockwell during his first two years taught Derek that if you defied the priests or spoke out against them, it would end in pain.
On the day he alleges he was abused for the first time, the priest in question brought Derek a bag of sweets and asked him whether his parents were coming to visit that weekend.
“When I told him they were he told me not to say anything about what happened.”
The abuse by this priest continued. Derek says it happened in the school bookstore, in his dormitory in St Joe’s and in the priest’s office.
His performance at school started to falter as soon as the abuse started. His A-grades were now turning into fails.
As a famous rugby school, students were given the opportunity to attend away games in other counties to support their classmates. But those who were struggling academically were not allowed to go.
An important away game was scheduled to take place in April 1979 and Derek was left behind, virtually alone.
He was wandering the school hallway when he ran into his alleged abuser, who directed him into a classroom.
“He barricaded the door closed with two desks so I couldn’t get out and took off his clothes and ordered me to do the same.
“He started chasing me around the room and I tried to escape, but he pinned me down.”
Derek described how the man tried to rape him and ordered him to clean up afterwards
“Back then, even after the abuse, I still thought there were priests who you could trust and I wanted to try to find someone who I could talk to.”
He eventually offloaded everything that had happened to a priest with whom he had a friendly relationship.
This priest asked graphic questions including where he was touched and how it made him feel.
Three weeks later, Derek alleges this priest too started to sexually abuse him.
“He would beat the living hell out of me with a drumstick totally naked and then have his way.”
By this point, he had completely withdrawn from his studies, was no longer taking part in extracurricular activities and had become somewhat of a loner.
His academic struggles meant he had to sign up to a tutor.
He enjoyed the first few lessons and found the priest to be a caring man. But then he introduced a game as part of the lesson which involved Derek having to remove an item of clothing any time he got a question wrong. Then the abuse started.
Derek alleges that some of his fellow students knew what was going on and bullied him.
“Not only did I have to deal with the abuse but I also had to deal with the victimisation because of it,” he said.
“This wasn’t just one priest. It was a ring of paedophiles. They passed me around like I was a bag of sweets.”
In September 1980, after already enduring two years of alleged abuse, Derek claims he was forced to perform oral sex on one of the priests in the woods near his dormitory.
He claims that two other students told him they saw what happened and blackmailed him into paying them money not to tell anyone.
“I decided at that point that I had enough and I was going to walk out of the school. I had a friend from Belgium who was an Anderlecht fan, probably one of the few people who was nice to me.
“The night I left he gave me his jacket and his Anderlecht scarf. I walked out the gates of Rockwell and hitchhiked my way to Naas in Co Kildare where I got to a phone to call my father. He told me to make my way across to Lawlor’s Hotel as he knew the owner and said he would pick me up the following morning.
“When he picked me up I told him everything. They (Rockwell) denied it. I’ll never forget this.
“They said to my dad, and I remember him saying it, that ‘Derek is a sick boy’. That was their answer. In those times, which was more than 40 years ago, it was Church and State.
“It would have destroyed my dad. He had a big business. He couldn’t have taken them on. He took my two other brothers out of Rockwell and that was it. I finished my studies at a school in Crumlin, but I didn’t care about my Leaving Cert or anything like that.”
When he started out in Rockwell, he had hopes of one day being involved in his father’s successful financial analytics company Quinn’s Mercantile Agency Limited. When he left Rockwell, he wanted to get as far out of Ireland as possible.
“It destroyed my family,” he said.
“My mother, who is 89, still doesn’t know the extent of what happened.
“I decided that the best thing I could do was leave Ireland and give my family peace.”
Derek was born in Chicago before his family decided to move to Dublin, making him a joint Irish-US citizen.
He signed up for the US air force through the Delayed Entry Programme and embarked on a new life in America when he was 18 years old.
“I had to reinvent myself so I could be free from the stigma of what happened. Nobody knew me in the States so I could lie about my life, which I did. It’s only been in the past three or four years that I’ve gotten a grip on who I am and what I am,” he said.
It would be another 20 years before Derek ever stepped foot on Irish soil again.
It would be a further 20 years before he finally opened up about his time at Rockwell.
Gradually, he has found the strength to return home and find the good in a country that allowed thousands of young boys to be abused at the hands of the Catholic Church.
One particular visit was the catalyst that led him to speak out.
In 2018, he and his wife Mel were visiting friends in Kilkenny and decided to go to the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary.
“It dawned on me we were only four miles from Rockwell,” he recalls.
“I decided to go there and it opened up a Pandora’s box. I signed in, told them I was a past pupil and they let us walk around.
“When I saw the places where I was abused, it all came flooding back. We went down to the graveyard and one of the priest’s who abused me was buried there and I started to spit on his grave.
“Mel knew a little about what happened to me but she didn’t realise the extent.
“It all came to light that day as I just blurted out everything. When you’re standing in the classroom where you were chased while totally naked by a priest, it makes you so angry.
“I’m glad I went because it made it easier for me now to talk about it. When you carry something like this for more than half your life, it takes its toll and impacts your relationships.
“When you’re an adolescent boy you’re supposed to learn sex from a female. I learned how to give oral sex and how to receive it from priests. It messes you up.”
Derek, now 58, comes home once every year. He has three children, coaches a football team in the US and has carved out a successful career. But despite considering himself “one of the lucky ones” as a survivor, he still wants to achieve justice for what happened to him as a young boy.
I think there’s a lot of other people who have been abused who have not come forward
He has enlisted the help of international law firm McAllister Olivarius, which has offices in the US and London. It has joined with solicitors in Dublin to take cases on behalf of victims of sexual abuse in Ireland.
“I have tremendous support over here with my lifelong friends and have tremendous support from people that I know in the States. Everyone is on my side and it gives me the courage to speak about this.
“I would encourage people, and I know there is a lot of people in this country who have been in contact with the Catholic Church, to come out and speak about this and end this, as this is a stigma I have carried all my life and I would hate to see another young boy or child go through this.”
In response to questions from the Irish Independent, the Spiritan congregation, on behalf of Rockwell College, said: “We cannot comment on individual allegations.
“We encourage all victims/survivors to contact our Safeguarding Office and/or An Garda Síochána.”
The congregation would not confirm if it had received any other allegations regarding the three priests and lay person who allegedly abused Derek.
Of the 400 allegations made against Spiritan priests, more than 20pc were received after RTÉ Radio 1 broadcast its documentary Blackrock Boys, which told the harrowing story of the abuse suffered by brothers Mark and David Ryan.
Other schools where abuse is alleged to have happened include Rockwell College, St Mary’s, St Michael’s and Templeogue colleges in Dublin.
Tim Chapman, who is leading the restorative justice programme into abuse at Spiritan schools, said he has received around 86 inquiries so far.
He told the Irish Independent: “In terms of Spiritan schools, my estimate is 75pc of them are coming from Willow Park and Blackrock, but we have had about 10 from Rockwell.
“I think there’s a lot of other people who have been abused who have not come forward and I want to highlight that the programme is open to all past pupils of Spiritan schools, not just Blackrock and Willow Park.”
Since 2004, the Spiritans have settled more than 80 cases, paying out €5m in settlements.
For Derek, he believes there are other people like him who have yet to come forward about their time at Rockwell.
“I hope that they find the strength to do so,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/news/my-father-paid-the-priests-good-money-to-care-for-me-educate-and-nurture-me-not-to-abuse-me-survivor-of-abuse-at-rockwell-college-42285683.html ‘My father paid the priests good money to care for me, educate and nurture me, not to abuse me’ – survivor of abuse at Rockwell College