A loner who found it difficult to communicate with others
A Catholic priest was jailed yesterday for indecently assaulting nine children in Co Down. Suzanne Breen reports on the man who lured young boys to his isolated seaside cottage
By Suzanne Breen
June 15, 1995
Belfast - It's impossible to imagine terror in Rathmullan. There's no sign of life from the houses dotted along the roadside.
Local people are cautious when you ask questions. Yes, they remember Father Daniel Curran and the boys he brought to stay at his cottage. Nobody thought anything of it. The little band of visitors would ramble through the fields or stroll along the beach with their priest. Nothing seemed remiss.
Then, in March last year, the horror was exposed. A boy ran screaming from the cottage in the middle of the night. He banged on the door of the bungalow across the road. He was hysterical. He said that Father Curran had abused him. He was 14.
"I met Father Curran twice," says Father Pat Buckley, the dissident curate in Larne, Co Antrim. "He was an odd, remote man who found it difficult to communicate with people. He was a loner. He wasn't popular with the other clergy.
"He was known as a heavy drinker. But nobody thought he was a paedophile." Father Curran was a keen bird-watcher. The BBC Radio Ulster programme, Clerical Habits, carried a profile of his hobby just months before he was arrested.
Father Curran (45) was born into a solid middle-class family in Newcastle, Co Down. His grandfather had been the town clerk. He had worked steadily, saved hard and built a ballroom, the Central. It thrived under his son Pat Daniel's father who became one of the North's leading dance hall operators.
Pat was a strict man. He forbade the sale of alcohol at dances. He was a firm father to his seven children. Daniel boarded at St MacNissis College in the Glens of Antrim. His father was delighted when one son became a solicitor and two entered the priesthood. Daniel Curran was ordained in Belfast in June 1975.
He was curate in a number of parishes in the diocese of Down and Connor. He was moved to Larne, Co Antrim, in 1984 and transferred to west Belfast a year later. Father Buckley was the priest who replaced him in Larne.
"He hardly spoke a word to me. He didn't know how to engage in small talk," he said.
Father Curran was moved from Larne because of his drink problem, Father Buckley says: "I had to throw out all the bottles he left behind. He was living in a house on his own in the town and the Hierarchy thought it would be better to transfer him to Belfast where he could share a house with four or five other priests who would keep an eye on him."
Father Curran became a curate at St Paul's Church on the Falls Road. He remained there for nine years until his transfer to Ballymena in 1993. It was from St Paul's that he chose the boys that he would abuse.
Rathmullan is five miles outside Downpatrick. It's quiet, conservative and staunchly Catholic. Father Curran's cottage is n the Ballylucas Road. Locals said that it's owned by his father. It has no running water or electricity. Tilley lamps were used after dark.
The cottage looks on to the Co Down hills. Tyrella beach is just down the road. "Father Curran would visit every month or so, mostly on a Sunday. He'd usually stay to Tuesday," says the farmer who lives next door.
"We didn't know him well. He kept himself to himself. Sometimes he'd say 'hello' if he passed you on the road. Other times, he wouldn't bother. There'd always be three or four boys with him. We thought they were orphans from a home and that he was doing a good turn, taking them out of Belfast for a break.
One neighbour claims that she heard screaming from the cottage some nights. But she refused to believe that anything was wrong. Other neighbours heard nothing.
One night in March last year, a 14-year-old boy ran from the priest's house. He pleaded for help from the family at the bungalow across the road. He was soaking wet. Curran had thrown two buckets of water over him.
"He was yelling that Father Curran had abused him," says one eyewitness who wishes to remain anonymous. "He was shaking violently. He was badly bruised. His nose was bleeding. He was really frightened. He couldn't be calmed. He was like a wild horse. You would have needed a rope to tie him down."
The eyewitness says that Father Curran ran over to the house after his victim. "He was in a state. Somebody had to lock him in a room. The RUC arrived. The place was swarming with police.
Two other boys who were staying with the priest ran over that night as well. He had punched one of the boys in the face, split his lip, kicked him in the ribs, and bit his hand when he refused to go to bed with him. He had been drinking vodka earlier.
There was only one double bed in the cottage. The priest would try to abuse children as they slept. He would ply them with cider or beer first. Two boys were later found to have "significant psychiatric or psychological problems".
One of the victims told how the priest had pulled down his jogging bottoms and ripped open his boxer shorts. "I knew what he was doing was wrong but there was nothing I could do about it," he said. Another said: "I was afraid to tell anyone. I thought it would be a sin if I did."
The RUC searched the cottage that night. They found blood-stained clothing and bed linen. Father Curran was arrested. Three days later, he was charged with indecently assaulting two boys. The publicity surrounding his court appearance led to further allegations.
Two months later he was charged with indecently assaulting nine boys between 1990 and 1994. They were aged from 11 to 14. Father Curran has spent 14 months at a Catholic centre in England which specialises in treating clergymen who have sexual disorders.
Father Paul Lyons, who is monitoring his progress, claimed that the priest had suffered psychiatric symptoms since his early teens when his brother had died and his mother developed a nervous illness.
Father Curran was sentenced to seven years imprisonment yesterday. "I feel terribly sorry for his father and mother, Pat and Maureen," says one local man. "They're very respectable people. I'm sure they're devastated by all this."