During the early 1970’s a national school based in Sligo on the West Coast of Ireland was a center for a large group of child sex abusers. The school had approximately 500 students in 10 classes – 40 to 60 pupils per class. The Marist Brothers ran the school.

The children ranged in age from six to 12 and came from all walks of life. Many were from regular middle class backgrounds while some had to work a regular job after school slaughtering pigs, delivering bread or newspapers to keep money coming in for their families. Many of these working children wound up illiterate at the end of the junior schooling. Some wound up as the victim of a perverse group of paedophiles.

Five out of ten teachers were actively sexually abusing against the children in their classes between 1967 – 1977.

Peter White (Brother Agnellus)  

Sentence: three years in prison

In June 2005, Peter White (74) of Celbridge Abbey, Celbridge, Co Kildare, was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to eight sample charges of indecent assault on two boys, in the 1970s.

His trial was told that he had inflicted “unfathomable torture” on the two small boys entrusted to his care.

White followed the boys into the school toilets where he indecently assaulted them. Trial judge Miriam Reynolds said that he had used his cunning and his position as a teacher to terrorise these children in the classroom, where they should have felt protected and safe.

Patrick Curran (lay teacher) 

Sentence: 12 years in prison, later reduced to nine on appeal

In July 2005, Patrick Curran was found guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of indecently assaulting nine boys he taught at the Sligo school between 1966 and 1984. Described by the trial judge as a “determined paedophile”, Curran taught at St John’s National School from July 1966 until he was asked to leave when the allegations came to light in 1999.

Curran had denied an initial 237 counts of the indecent assault of 10 boys between September 1966 and June 1984.

At his trial, he described himself as a “gay person” with a sexual preference for old people over the age of 65.

Michael Cunnane (lay teacher)  

Sentence: three years suspended

In October 1999, retired teacher Michael Cunnane received a three-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to 11 counts of indecently assaulting three boys between 1974 and 1981. In May 2001, the same teacher was back before the courts.

That time, he received another suspended three-year sentence after admitting further counts of indecent assaults against five boys.

The abuse occurred under the pretence of giving horseriding lessons.

Martin Meaney (Brother Gregory) 

Sentence: Two years in prison

In January 2008, Martin Meaney received a two-year jail sentence on five sample counts of indecent assault against one victim, Paul Gordon.

Meaney admitted he had selected his victim carefully because of his impoverished background and because he appeared weak and hungry-looking. He groomed him for weeks before the abuse began.

He took advantage of his then seven-year-old victim’s need for attention and kept him back after school pretending it was to give him music lessons.

Christopher Cosgrove (Brother Christopher) 

Sentence: 12 months

Convicted and then sentenced in May 2010 of 35 charges of sexual abuse against four young boys between 1968 and 1977.

He stood trial on four occasions on charges of abuse at the Sligo school. He was initially found guilty in Sligo Circuit Criminal Court.

But that conviction was later overturned in the Court of Criminal Appeal. Two further trials for the same crimes collapsed. He denied all the charges.

Over the years, five of those ten teachers – some brothers, some lay teachers – were convicted of repeated and multiple charges of sexual abuse of their students. One teacher had an initial 500 counts of child sex abuse against him In one case the abuse came to light after the student murdered his father who he suspects had been accepting money in return for letting his son get abused.

While exceptional in its concentration of abusers, this is an example of what can go on right under parent’s noses. It is also great demonstration of how pedophiles groom and choose their victims, preying on the weak, the quiet and withdrawn pupils with problems at home. The perpetrators claim that there was no collusion between them, no sex ring.  A judge described their targeting of boys as taking “advantage of vulnerability, someone who was poor, hungry, neglected, deprived, weak and from deplorable home circumstances.” Judge Kennedy describing Martin Meaney at sentencing 01/30/08.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. It happens everyday to some extent even in a town like yours. You don’t know about it because we live in a state of unconscious social denial – “it’ll never happen here” and can miss the sometimes glaring signals that abuse is taking place. Moreover we miss the abuse because these young victims are bound to their abusers by a bond of secrecy. Most never tell of their abuse and those that do, do so long after the episodes have ended