The recent feature in The Irish Times Magazine on G******l Abbey led me to think of vicarious connections I have had over the past forty years with a boarding school in the state. Initially, on enrolling at University to read law I befriended and was befriended by a surprisingly large number of past pupils of boarding schools. I myself am a past pupil of a non-boarding school in Dublin suburbs. The intellectual liveliness of these undergraduates was an important part of my education and, on one occasion, I was quite surprised to meet a teacher of a group of these new friends who – it seems – had travelled ‘up from the country’ to see how his former pupils were doing in their fledgling university careers. This teacher’s presence has always stayed with me as an unusual event in my time as an undergraduate in Dublin. None of my former teachers – brilliant teachers as some of them were – ever visited former pupils, to the best of my knowledge, on campus.
A number of years later a fellow undergraduate from Dublin made an allegation to me that he had been sexually abused by the teacher to whom I refer. This teacher had taken Holy Orders. My friend and erstwhile fellow undergraduate suffered a breakdown in the meantime. We lost contact and are no longer in touch. However, the difficulties that my former friend experienced in his life have always stayed with me. I often think of re-establishing contact with him. As part of my training in psychotherapy what he told me he had experienced, the substance of his allegations, is occasionally the subject of sessions I have with my training therapist, not least because of my anger with what people in positions of trust get away with in damaging their charges, in this case in boarding schools.
In the past few years, on reading a book of academic interest to philosophers, published in Ireland, I learned that the alleged abuser was now shall I say – without wishing to give too much away – Chief Executive in his boarding school. I felt very uneasy about this and my initial reaction was to think what better way of managing one’s past evil than by taking the lead role in the organisation. The news of institutional child abuse in Scotland and England by male members of the Benedictine Order, in some of those countries’ leading Catholic schools led me to wonder how much currency is there between Benedictines in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. As readers may be aware, the Jimmy Saville scandal extends to his visiting at least one Benedictine educational institution. I wonder if any of the outed Benedictine abusers, criminals, had been attached to Irish institutions.
While my erstwhile friend suffered a mental breakdown, I think he may be schizophrenic – another of his peers from his former school that I know of is also schizophrenic and two others that I know of died at early ages of AIDS related illnesses. I myself am unwilling to be more specific here as I am aware that there are a number of men in positions of power and influence in Ireland who as past pupils of this school would probably be very upset at what I am suggesting (they may even be complicit in a cover-up). But I think that there are questions that need to be asked, not least as the article, in referring specifically to G******l, mentions the safeguarding of pupils welfare.