Terenure College has begun a fresh round of settlement talks with former students who were victims of the convicted paedophile John McClean.
The private school has recently offered €50,000 plus legal costs to a number of the 23 brave former students whose evidence of repeated sexual abuse by McClean over decades led to his conviction a year ago in February 2021.
Terenure College started settling actions taken by the 23 against it prior to his conviction and it has paid out money to about half of them of €50,000 plus legal costs.
Filings in the High Court show some of these settlements with former pupils but other settlements are not recorded there as the school paid out prior to proceedings being lodged.
The cost to Terenure College, if it can convince all of the men to accept an offer of €50,000, will run to €1.15 million. However, when legal costs are factored in it could hit the school for significantly more.
Dublin law firm Mason Hayes & Curran is representing Terenure College while the former students have used various firms of solicitors.
Terenure College is thought to have also made a number of settlements over the years to former students who were not among the 23 ranging from €25,000 to a little over €50,000 prior to McClean’s conviction.
McClean’s crimes, his trial heard, were known about by Terenure College since 1979 when the school received credible allegations that he was sexually abusing children while in charge of the school play.
When he was convicted in February 2021 McClean, the trial heard, had ejaculated on children, groped them, lay on top of them, beat them, masturbated them, ground his groin against them, exposed himself, and made children touch him.
Before and after abusing them he bullied, groomed, and psychologically terrorised individual children for years at a time.
McClean abused children in Terenure College from the 1970s until the 1990s.
Despite knowing he was credibly accused of sexually abusing children, Terenure College promoted McClean into positions of power as both first year form master and head rugby coach. In 2009 it published an official history of the school that presented a version of events that was entirely at odds with the experience of his victims, and the evidence accepted by a jury in McClean’s 2021 conviction.
Money and land
Terenure College is not insured against the raft of claims being taken against it. It is funded by both the state and private school fees, but like most schools it is not awash with money.
It is, however, asset rich as it sits on over 20 hectares of prime land in Dublin 6. Earlier this month the Irish Province of the Order of Carmelites, the owner of Terenure College, submitted a proposal to Dublin City Council asking it rezone some of its land for housing, saying it was “far in excess” of its needs. The order said a 2.6 hectare site at Forfield Road towards the back of its grounds would be suitable for housing.
It said income raised from the development of this site would be used to finance the school and maintain its buildings, support the school’s ethos and meet the “charitable work and needs” of the Carmelites both in Ireland and overseas.
There is no mention in its submission of money being needed by Terenure to make settlements with McClean’s victims. The school did nor respond to a request for comment on whether money raised from selling land to developers would be used to fund settlements to child abuse victims.
Alongside the school and the religious order behind it, former pupils are also suing McClean personally.
The former teacher has a home worth between €750,000 to €1 million in Harold’s Cross in south Dublin.
Official history and a dark truth
John McClean left Terenure College in 1996 after the father of a boy he abused reported him to the school. When this allegation arose, McClean met with Father Robert Kelly, the then Provincial of the Carmelite Order in Ireland.
According to evidence in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, during one of these meetings with Fr Kelly, McClean admitted he had abused the boy.
When later providing gardaí with notes of this meeting during the investigation into McClean’s offences, Fr Kelly said he had no recollection of what was said, but that if it was in his notes then “it was true”.
After McClean left, his reputation in Terenure College, far from being banished, was allowed to grow. His photograph remained on the wall surrounded by young rugby players, and he became a prominent person in UCD where he was director of rugby.
In 2009 Terenure College published a book about its history by Fergus D’Arcy, a historian who is a former dean of the faculty of arts in UCD where he remains a professor emeritus of modern history. It is a 556-page book entitled “Terenure College 1860-2010: A history.”
Painstakingly produced, this scholarly tome states it had access to the archives of Terenure College, and that it drew upon 61 interviews conducted between November 13, 2007 and September 3, 2009.
There is no suggestion that D’Arcy knew anything whatsoever of the crimes of John McClean.
Nor could he have been expected to do so. He is a respected historian and not a criminal detective or investigative journalist.
Members of the Carmelite order who controlled the school and commissioned the book, however, knew that there was a much darker story that didn’t make the book.
On page 542 of the book, McClean is listed as being interviewed for it on April 8, 2008.
On the same page is Fr Robert Kelly, the priest McClean admitted abusing a boy to, who was interviewed for the book on August 13, 2008.
Also listed as interviewees for the book were others in the school who knew there were rumours about the real reason why McClean left Terenure College in 1996.
Did anybody in Terenure question why McClean was being allowed to be praised in the book?
Pages are devoted in the history of Terenure College to the minute of rugby victories, famous past pupils, the time Pele visited the school in 1979, and when Pope John Paul II invited a delegation of pupils, priests and teachers for a private mass in Rome in 1980.
The book paints a portrait of McClean that is at complete odds to the predator he was, and was known to be by some in Terenure College. None of them informed the author of the book about this.
On page 411 of the book, it describes how McClean, a former pupil of Terenure College, returned to it in the late 1960s as a teacher, along with a cohort of other young teachers who would be his colleagues for decades. This is what the Terenure College book says:
“By any reckoning, McClean was a considerable acquisition, for class and sports fields alike…. Enjoying his school days there, he later recalled Terenure as ‘a school for all the people and not just one that engaged in creaming off the best’ – he would experience the truth of this observation directly as a teacher when, as first year form master, he would serve on the college’s admission committee: here he would come to note the emphasis on the need and practice of observing social, economic and academic diversity in this regard. He was soon nicknamed ‘The Doc’, because of early academic success. His winning the prize as senior English essayist in 1963 was a pointer to his later teaching success, especially in English, but also in communication generally: so his brilliant success as rugby and soccer coach would testify later. Specialising in English during his UCD years, he returned to Terenure for his teaching practice and joined the teaching staff in September 1968. Twelve years later he became form master, a position he retained until 1995-1996. He left Terenure to pursue a highly successful career in coaching rugby at UCD and setting up the Rugby Academy there.”
I knew John McClean from 1990 until 1996. I am a past pupil of Terenure College and he was my first year form master, my Leaving Certificate English teacher, and for short periods my rugby coach.
McClean was a creep, and a bully, who revelled in his power in the school. I did not know he was sexually abusing children, but there were certainly rumours about him when I was in school and afterwards.
Everyone knew the reason for his nickname ‘The Doc’ was not because of some fabled 1963 essay, but because he took it upon himself to massage school boys.
McClean, who had no qualifications as a physiotherapist, was allowed to rub children behind closed doors for supposed rugby injuries, hence his nickname.
These massages – we now know – could be a prelude to him sexually abusing vulnerable children who respected and feared him because of his power to decide who made it in rugby.
But even if the massages were innocent, Terenure College should not have allowed a grown man to tell school boys to undress before massaging them in an unsupervised manner.
Elsewhere in the book there is a long segment on various school plays that took place down the years. The book describes how another teacher took over these activities from the late 1970s on after “the passing of the producer / director baton from John McClean…”
Nobody who read the book prior to publication corrected the record as to the real reason why McClean was moved away from the school plays: namely he was seen abusing young children by older schoolboys.
The fact that Terenure College put McClean in a position of even greater power over children as first year form master when he was seen abusing them in the late 1970s is extraordinary.
McClean was part of the admission committee in the school which allowed him to identify vulnerable children early on. As his trial heard, he would often first abuse children when they were 12, and continue to prey on and terrorise them as they went through the school.
McClean was allowed to stride the halls in a weird black cape making him appear even larger to 12-year olds. He had his own set of keys which gave him free rein of the school.
The school gave him a secluded office which he shared with another teacher. But he had a light workload – because of the esteem he was held in as a rugby coach – so this office was often empty. McClean took children out of class to abuse them in this office often using the pretext that he was trying to help them.
Terenure College did not respond to questions about why nobody in the school told the book’s respected author that interviewing John McClean might not be a good idea given the criminal allegations against him at the time of his departure.
In September 2021, The Sun reported that John McClean had been interviewed at the Midlands Prison after five new former pupils made allegations against him. McClean did not comment when these allegations were put to him. “A new file will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions, with a decision due over the coming months,” The Sun reported. The Currency has spoken to some of the people who spoke to the gardaí, and heard their stories of mental bullying and sexual abuse.
Allegations have also been made against others who previously worked in Terenure College according to newspaper reports. The Currency has also spoken to former past pupils who have made complaints about other former teachers.
All of the former pupils – both among the 23 and others – who spoke to The Currency praised the sensitivity and determination of the gardaí who convicted McClean led by Inspector Jason Miley and his team that included Detective Garda Peter Lyons, Detective Garda Brian MacLoughlin, Gavin Higgins and James Duffy.
But their work is likely not over. The Sunday Times has reported that the writer John Boyne made a statement to the gardaí alleging he was molested by a lay teacher, and he also claimed he was physically assaulted by a priest in Terenure. This priest is now dead. Boyne said he was beaten so badly he was unable to attend school. When I was in Terenure College I saw the same priest punch a child hard in the head in 1995/1996. Nothing was done about it that I am aware of, but the priest didn’t turn up to class again for a number of weeks.
In 2004, the lay teacher Boyne alleges molested him was acquitted in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on two counts of indecent assault and six counts of gross indecency alleged by another former pupil who attended the school in the mid-1980s. During his trial the lay teacher pleaded not guilty to all charges, and said the boy had a consensual sexual relationship with him.
The teacher at the centre of these allegations was close to McClean, and he was given by Terenure College a position of power over children for decades. The Currency has spoken to other school boys who allege that this same lay teacher also abused them.
This teacher features in a positive way in the official history of Terenure College published just five years after he admitted having sex with a pupil.
There are also allegations against other priests, now dead, in Terenure College going back to the 1960s, and 1970s.
These were reported in 2017 by The Village magazine, by the former journalist Gemma O’Doherty. O’Doherty’s story was somewhat dismissed when it was published because of her conspiracy theorist views on other matters. The Village’s article was however credible and based upon the recollections of past pupils.
This history of sexual abuse has mired the reputation of Terenure College, and the failure to tackle it historically perhaps helps explain how McClean was able to continue to abuse across three decades.
Angry and deceived
It is getting to deadline. I emailed various questions to Terenure College on Tuesday, and there was no response. I emailed again on Wednesday, and still nothing.
Fergus D’Arcy, the historian and author of “Terenure College 1860-2010: A history,” does however ring me back.
I can hear the raw emotion in his voice as he recollects hearing for the first time about the crimes of John McClean, years after his book about the school was published.
“When the news broke I got a knot in my stomach, and I nearly threw up,” D’Arcy said. “I was absolutely distraught. I felt angry and deceived and that’s how I still feel today.”
I asked D’Arcy who suggested that he should interview McClean. “The context was this. If Terenure is famous for anything it is sport and it has a long tradition in this. It would have been several people when I was researching the sporting side of the college who suggested I had to talk to John McClean. Several people said: ‘You have to talk to this guy, he’s a genius,’” D’Arcy recalled.
Did anyone tell you why McClean really left Terenure College, or refer to the rumours about him?
“No. I’m very upset reliving all the horrors when his crimes were made known to me,” D’Arcy said. “I interviewed 61 people, of whom 18 were priests, and about a dozen were teachers, as well as past pupils, boys now men, and not a single one of them mentioned a whiff of this.”
D’Arcy said the Carmelites, he believed at the time, had given him total access to Terenure College’s archives. “I had the keys to the safes, and I was allowed to go wherever I wanted in the archives. I never saw a thing in writing (about sexual abuse). There was nothing. Not a hint,” he said.
I asked D’Arcy if anyone told him about the 2004 court case when a lay teacher was acquitted of alleged sex abuse but admitted having sex with a pupil, and he said no.
He said other cases of alleged sex abuse were also not referred to by anyone, nor was there a mention of any crimes in the locked safes where Terenure College keeps its archives.
Did anyone try to take anything out of the book or put anything in? “No. They never interfered at all in any way in any of the content, nor asked for anything to be changed,” he replied.
D’Arcy said he spoke to his senior colleagues in UCD for advice as he reeled from discovering the secrets that had been hidden from him. “Nobody told me anything,” D’Arcy said. “In the aftermath, in the shock of reading about this terrible business, I rang people from the school who I had worked closely with, and asked them did you know anything about this? I spoke to two members of the editorial committee (behind the book). They said they didn’t have a clue. Yet, I now hear the dogs on the street knew, but nobody I spoke to said anything.”
For John McClean, Terenure College gave him all the things he needed to carry on and on from one generation to the next.
Fr Éanna Ó hÓbáin, Principal of Terenure College, and Fr Michael Troy, Provincial of the Carmelite Order in Ireland, both apologised to his victims in 2021. They did not respond to questions submitted by The Currency about settlement talks with McClean’s victims, if money raised from selling school land to developers will be used to pay abuse victims, or why nobody spoke up when the history of Terenure College was being written.
Reflecting back on his time in Terenure College, John McClean remarks at one point in Terenure College’s official history: “These indeed were glory days.” In the book, McClean is described when making this comment as referring to his success as a rugby coach. But was the criminal paedophile thinking about something else? The days, the years, the decades when he was given unfettered access to innocent children despite all the danger signs.
“If you don’t get into my car, I will take that as you saying to me ‘F*** you’”