‘He made me strip naked and put the dress on’ – New abuse allegations at leading Northern Ireland school

Former pupil at St Columb’s College in Derry claims he was told to strip naked by a teacher and put on a dress

Eamonn Lynch. Picture by Lorcan Doherty

Former Saint Columb's College vice-principal Raymond Gallagher

Saint Columb's College, Derry, where Raymond Gallagher was a vice-principal

Ciaran O'Neill

New abuse allegations have been made against a former vice-principal of a renowned Irish school. Raymond Gallagher was a teacher at Saint Columb’s College in Derry from 1953 to 1993. He died in 2007, aged 75.

Last month, a former Saint Columb’s pupil claimed in an interview with the Irish News that he had been sexually abused by Gallagher in the school over a four-year period in the 1970s.

Terry Doran said he had settled a case against Saint Columb’s in 2015 in relation to the alleged abuse and received compensation of £50,000.

Another former pupil at the school, which includes a number of well-known figures among its ex-pupils — including former SDLP leader John Hume, poet Seamus Heaney, musician Phil Coulter and former Republic of Ireland football manager Martin O’Neill — today claims he was also abused by Gallagher.

Eamonn Lynch, who was a pupil at Saint Columb’s from around 1965 to 1970, alleges he was forced to strip naked by Gallagher in a classroom when he was only 11 years old and was touched inappropriately by the teacher on other occasions.

At the time, he said, he told no one about what had happened because of the “shame” he felt. However, he said he has now decided to speak publicly about his experiences to both support Mr Doran and to call on the school to acknowledge the suffering of those allegedly abused.

Mr Lynch, who is now 68, told the Sunday Independent he believed Gallagher, who was called Raymie among pupils, singled him out soon after he started at the school.

In 1965, a team from Saint Columb’s College won the Hogan Cup, the most prestigious trophy in schools’ GAA in Ireland. Mr Lynch, who had a keen interest in gaelic football, was told by Gallagher that he would take him to the semi-final and final games of the competition in his car with another pupil.

“Nothing happened on those trips but, looking back now, why me?”

In his first year at Saint Columb’s, Mr Lynch was a member of one of the class GAA teams and school choir, both of which Gallagher helped manage.

As part of the choir, Mr Lynch regularly took part in after-school practices. It was during one of these that the alleged stripping incident took place after he was asked to stay behind by Gallagher.

“When everyone else had left he pointed at a box where they kept stuff for the shows. In the box there was a pile of costumes, including women’s dresses.

“Raymie picked up one of the dresses and said he wanted me to try it on for one of the shows we were doing. I didn’t really think it was that unusual so I went to put on the dress over the top of what I was wearing. But he stopped me and said, ‘no, you need to take your clothes off’.

“I remember being embarrassed by that but didn’t have the maturity to think there was something wrong here. It was more the embarrassment of a wee boy having to take off his clothes in front of his teacher.

“The embarrassment was one thing but the fear of him would have been another thing and there was no question of me not doing it. So, I stripped down to my underwear and I went to put the dress on, but he said, ‘no, take everything off’.”

Mr Lynch said he remembers being “frightened” at this stage.

“I felt this can’t be right but yet did not know what to do. I was on my own with this big man. I can remember clearly what he was wearing and the smell of smoke off him because he came so close.

“He made me strip naked and put the dress on. It was almost a relief to get the dress on to cover myself up. I put the dress on and I had to walk up the classroom. I remember saying, ‘Is that OK now sir, can I put my clothes back on?’ because all I wanted to do was get out of there but I still needed his permission.

“I was too young and naïve to realise there was something sexual about it but I knew there was something not normal about it. My daddy would not have done that, my mammy would not have done that. Nobody had ever done that in their life with me.”

Mr Lynch said Gallagher eventually allowed him to put his clothes back on and go home.

“I didn’t live far from the school and I remember sprinting home but I didn’t tell anyone about what had happened. There was that mixture of fear and shame, knowing that both my parents would have thought so highly of teachers in those days.

“I thought that no one would understand. I knew it would have been my word against his, and who was going to believe me?”

Mr Lynch said he also had close contact with Gallagher through his involvement with the school GAA team.

“I remember two separate occasions when I was hurt and Raymie ran on to the pitch. The first thing he did both times was to touch my genitals and I said to him, ‘Sir, that’s not where I’m injured’. You learnt fairly fast to get up quickly no matter how injured you were,” he said.

Fear of coming into contact with Gallagher led to Mr Lynch leaving both the choir and the gaelic team.

“By third year at Saint Columb’s I had more or less downed tools. I just hated being there,” he said.

Before he left the school after fifth year, Mr Lynch had started drinking alcohol and gambling, two addictions he was to battle with for long periods in his life.

Sober since 1986, he placed his last bet around three years ago. He links some of his problems in later life to the experiences he suffered at school.

“I know that I had always felt inadequate and some of that came from teachers who kept pushing you down and letting you know you were useless. I almost felt I deserved to be that way,” he said.

“I think my problems with alcohol and gambling could stem from the shame of those experiences of some form of abuse on a young boy. I found that when I got lost in drinking and gambling there was nothing else I thought about.”

Mr Lynch said he related to Mr Doran’s experiences after reading his story in the Irish News.

“It took me right back and I thought somebody needs to stand up and say ‘you weren’t on your own’.

“I also believe that Saint Columb’s need to explain why that man was able to carry out his perversion for all those years.”

Mr Lynch added: “For so long, I always treated the things that happened to me as near misses and yet when I think about it now, an 11-year-old boy standing naked in front of an ogling teacher... That’s not a near miss.”

The Sunday Independent asked Saint Columb’s College a series of questions in connection with Raymond Gallagher’s time at the school.

A statement issued on behalf of the school’s board of governors said the school was aware of allegations of historical child abuse against a teacher who is now deceased. “While the alleged incidents date back to the 1970s, the current board and school leadership can confirm that when these allegations were made to the school in 2009, the details were passed on to the PSNI and to social services by the then principal.

“We take such allegations of abuse extremely seriously and following recent media reports where additional claims were made, we immediately contacted the PSNI to establish if they are currently investigating any alleged historical abuse cases associated with the school.

“If that proves to be the case, we are committed to ensuring full cooperation and transparency around any historic cases and will support any subsequent investigations in whatever way we can.”

The spokesperson said that the board of governors advised anyone who may have been a victim of abuse to bring it to the attention of the PSNI.

“While we continue to liaise with the PSNI on these matters, we are unable to comment any further.

“However, we wish to assure all current pupils and parents that child protection and safeguarding are paramount at the school and our focus remains on maintaining a safe and secure environment for the learning and development for all our pupils.

“Effective child protection, safeguarding, care and welfare measures underpin the professional conduct and behaviour of all members of our staff. Safeguarding procedures within the college are entirely compliant with all current Department of Education regulations and have been subject to inspection by the relevant statutory authorities.”

When contacted in connection with the abuse allegations made by former pupils at the Derry school, a spokesperson for the PSNI said they had received a number of reports of alleged historical sexual abuse dating back to the 1970/1980s.

“In all cases all lines of inquiries have been exhausted,” the police spokesperson said.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this story please contact the Samaritans on 116123.

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