‘Others looked the other way but my dad did something about it’ – son of teacher who blew the whistle on sex abuse priest Joseph Marmion

Independent [Dublin, Ireland]

September 2, 2023

By Maeve Sheehan

The son of an Irish teacher who blew the whistle on paedophile Jesuit priest Joseph Marmion said his father should be recognised for his role in helping to end the reign of the predator who sexually abused at least 60 boys.

Riocard Mór Ó Tiarnaigh reported Marmion to the then principal of Belvedere College in September 1977, prompted by his son’s disclosures about a school trip to Vienna. His son, also Riocard, said the teacher’s actions helped “light the fuse” that led the Jesuits to remove Marmion from teaching duties at the end of that school year.

The then Jesuit principal, Fr Noel Barber, has no memory of that meeting with Riocard Mór Ó Tiarnaigh, a report on Fr Marmion published by the Jesuits on August 23 said, although he accepted it must have happened.

Riocard Mór Ó Tiarnaigh died in 2000, but his son vividly recalls the events that led to his father’s intervention in the Marmion affair.

Marmion was exposed as a relentless predator, who terrorised children as well as other priests during his three decades as a teacher at the Jesuit fee-paying schools Clongowes Wood, Crescent College and Belvedere College.

A report on a restorative justice process undertaken by the Jesuits published on August 23 revealed a catalogue of psychological and sexual violence perpetrated by Marmion.

Sixty-two victims who took part in the process recounted vicious beatings, bullying and sexual abuse that often occurred under the guise of costume fitting for the annual opera when he would force boys to strip naked.

Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh escaped abuse by Marmion — possibly because he was the son of a lay teacher — and each despised the other.

​Ó Tiarnaigh started at Belvedere in 1970, the same year his father, Riocard Mór, joined as a teacher of Irish, English and religion. Marmion was a notorious bully, he said, and stories circulated about what might happen to boys he summoned to costume fittings for the opera. But they did not know enough.

“I don’t think my dad cared for Fr Marmion. I certainly didn’t like him at all. Most people tried to give him a wide berth if they could,” he recalled.

In the summer of 1977, Marmion took boys on a trip to Vienna. Riocard did not go. Most of the boys who did go were from Riocard’s German class who were taught by Marmion. In the first week of September, when the boys returned to school, what happened during that trip was the talk of the German class.

In a statement he provided to the restorative justice process, Riocard said: “The word going around was that at least one of the boys had been kept drugged in Marmion’s room for I don’t know how long and had to be rescued by some of his classmates in an act of supreme valour.

“We were all in a state of shock, both the boys who’d been to Vienna and those who hadn’t.”

After a day or so, Riocard decided he had to tell his father, whom he “talked to about everything”, on the drive home from school.

“I said to my dad, ‘Something dreadful happened over in Vienna’. I said I can’t really tell you what exactly. I gave him the best account as I could of what I had heard: that something dreadful had happened, that one boy had been interfered with and everybody was talking about it.”

His father asked if he was sure and, satisfied, said he would look after it.

The next day, he asked his father if he had met the principal and his father said he had.

“When Fr Barber requested to know where he had got this information, my dad replied, ‘From Riocard’. According to my recollection of my dad’s account, Fr Barber asked him for his assessment of the stories going around about Vienna. I remember my dad repeating his reply to Fr Barber to me as follows: ‘Riocard wouldn’t have come to me with this if there were nothing to it. I trust his judgment’.”

Fr Barber undertook to look into the matter, but Riocard Mór Ó Tiarnaigh heard nothing more from the principal. He feels his father was disappointed.

“He kind of felt that it blotted his copy book, bringing up the subject that everyone else had been ignoring for years,” he said.

Riocard Mór Ó Tiarnaigh moved to Sutton Park school in 1982 after his son had graduated from Belvedere.

The report of the restorative justice process said the first the Jesuits knew of Marmion’s abusive behaviour was in 1977 after parents raised concerns. Marmion was sidelined from the opera and eventually removed from teaching duties nine months later.

The only acknowledgement in the report that a lay teacher had also raised concerns was by way of a statement supplied by Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh to the restorative justice team.

“I would like to believe that my dad’s intervention in September of 1977 helped light the fuse, which led to the removal of Marmion from Belvedere at the end of that school year,” he said.

Speaking from his home in Germany last week, Riocard said: “The fact that Fr Barber did not acknowledge that meeting has now allowed him to forget that it ever happened, which I find a little bit disappointing.”

He has asked the Jesuits to acknowledge his father’s intervention and has been assured they will.

“Others may have looked the other way. My dad didn’t,” he said. “My father did something about it.”

Marmion was allowed to work as chaplain at St Vincent’s Private Hospital until his death in 2000. It was only in 2021 that the Jesuits publicly acknowledged he had abused children, and apologised. It followed an article from food writer and former pupil Tom Doorley, describing the abuse suffered by classmates.

The restorative justice report includes dozens of testimonies from past pupils about the abuse and the impact it had on them. Some contemplated suicide. Others urged the Jesuits to publicly name other sex abusers as Marmion was not the only one.