Claims of abuse at nine Holy Ghost schools as order pays €5m in settlements and support services in last 18 years

Independent [Dublin, Ireland]

November 10, 2022

By Conor Feehan and Seoirse Mulgrew

Siblings tell of harrowing treatment by priests at Dublin school in the 1970s and 80s

The Holy Ghost Order has admitted to paying over €5m in abuse settlement claims and support services.

It also says that complaints of abuse have been received at nine of its schools.

It comes as two former Blackrock College pupils have spoken publicly about the abuse they suffered at the hands of priests in the school during the 1970s and ’80s.

They were abused at various locations on the grounds of the school, including in the swimming pool and library.

The Holy Ghost Order, also know as the Spiritans, has confirmed paying out more than €5m since 2004.

It confirmed to the Irish Independent that allegations have been made by past pupils of nine Spiritan schools.

Eight of the schools at the centre of the allegations are based in Dublin.

They are Blackrock College, its neighbouring Willow Park First Year School and Junior School, St Mary’s Senior College and St Mary’s College Junior School in Rathmines, St Michael’s Senior College and St Michael’s College Junior School in Ailesbury Road, and Templeogue College.

The other school was Rockwell College in Cashel, Co Tipperary.

It has also confirmed that in some instances, complaints of abuse were made against individual priests but in more than one school.

Allegations of abuse have been made by 233 people against 77 Irish Spiritans in ministries throughout Ireland and overseas.

To date, more than 80 settlements have been made and further cases are ongoing.

In relation to Blackrock College, 57 people alleged they were abused on the Blackrock College campus.

The order has made settlements with 12 people relating to abuse there. These allegations include allegations from the Willow Park school adjacent to the college.

Liam Lally of the Spiritan Safeguarding Office told the Irish Independent that settlements were funded through the sale of historic assets and not with donations, school fees or Government grants.

In December 2020, the Spiritan Order sold a three-acre site adjacent to Blackrock College to a developer for an estimated €16m. The site is currently being prepared for a housing development.

Brothers David (58) and Mark Ryan (61) are originally from Blackrock in Dublin and now living in Tipperary and London.

They were repeatedly abused from the ages of 12 to 17 by members of the Spiritans when they attended Blackrock College.

They told RTÉ Radio 1’s Documentary on One of the harrowing abuse they suffered at the hands of Fr Tom O’Byrne, who was originally from Limerick and began teaching in Blackrock in 1967.

Mark said during first year, Fr O’Byrne took a special interest in him and gradually began to sexually abuse him during private swimming sessions at the pool on the school campus. He said he was “groomed” by the priest.

“He used to invite me down swimming in Willow Park, which was the primary school connected to the secondary school,” he said.

“It had its own swimming pool. A Friday or Saturday evening, go down for a swim, which was fantastic in its own way being able to go for a swim.

“That’s part of the grooming, being chosen, made to feel special. Coming up to our house, my parents thought he was fantastic.

“He’d wear strange togs which were different shapes and things like that and had no real back on them. I’d say that’s a thong now.

“Just touching and feeling and ‘why don’t you try these ones on?’, changing into different things at the edge of the swimming pool. He had a camera and he used to take photos as well.

“I was down at the swimming pool by myself, so there was nobody else there.”

When he was 14, another priest from Blackrock College also began to abuse Mark. The abuse continued during Mark’s third and fourth years at the school.

“I was very scared, very unhappy,” he recalled. “This was part of my life, so abuse was not part of my vocabulary.

“He was my teacher for maths, he taught me Latin as well, he taught me religion – a person of authority.

“I look back now and something was very wrong in how he looked after his body.”

David was 12 when he and his friends were invited for private swimming sessions by Fr O’Byrne.

“He’d always try come underneath us and make us lie out on our back… he’d actually be groping us underneath with his hands.

“It was very uncomfortable, but no one did anything and if you went down for a shower afterwards, he’d be totally naked.”

When David was 13, he was targeted on his own by Fr O’Byrne.

“Because I had this thing in my head that I wanted to become an Olympic swimmer, so I carried on swimming, I was on my own and this is when it started getting really bad,” he said.

“He’d make me sit on his knee and grope me and make me get naked in the shower with him. I was getting really uncomfortable with this, but I didn’t know what to do.

“He preyed on me, he knew I was easy prey, and he did target me because I would never say no. When I think back on it, how he violated my whole body, the abuse, what he actually did to me… it was awful. If I said no, I could get hurt and that I did not want.”

David was abused by a second priest – a different man to Mark’s second abuser.

In 2002, the Ryan brothers revealed their abuse to their parents. They made statements to the gardaí which led to multiple charges being brought against Fr O’Byrne, who was then 82 and still living on the grounds of Blackrock College.

He denied the charges made against him and launched a legal case, seeking to halt criminal proceedings.

In 2007, the courts decided that the criminal case should be halted. Fr O’Byrne died in 2010, having never faced trial.