Transgender Dara McGann has revealed how cruel collegemates and religious superiors forced her out while training to be a priest after a campaign of abuse and bullying which included:
- Supergluing a thumbtack to a bell she was due to ring early one morning, causing injury when it pierced into her skin;
- Forcing her when she was a man to wear a lady's dress and wig as part of a humiliating initiation ceremony and t hen tried to rip it off with a hooked pole;
- Two balaclava-wearing students ambushed her one day when she was trying to ring a bell for the Angelus and threw a bucket of dirt over the terrified seminarian;
- Regularly ransacked her room and took and broke personal belongings;
- Left threatening letters at tables in a café used by students, warning them they would be doused with water or worse; and
- A physical examination was carried out on her and against her wishes, when she was ordered to strip naked and "basically" sexually assaulted.
Brave Dara (49), from Cobh, Co. Cork, speaks publicly today for the first time about her torrid life between 1991-92 at the seminary in Thurles, which was then run by the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emily.
"There were 11 in my year and there were 100 students in the entire college over the six training years," she recalls. "It is now a college run by the National University of Ireland."
Dara believes that the culture of bullying and abuse was so bad she suspects it led to one of her best friends in the institution taking his own life.
"One student who was a very dear friend of mine took his own life. I've no doubt others were forced out."
The experience with the physical examination was mortifying for her.
"I can only presume this person was getting kicks, as it was basically sexual assault," she alleges.
The final straw was when she was falsely accused of taking money in the seminary and gardaí were called in. Even though someone else eventually confessed, she was told by the priests not to tell anyone.
Dara, who was born with the name Darragh, was the only child of Josephine and Padraig McGann, who adopted her.
She had tried several years ago to get redress.
I did make a complaint to the gardaí. I went into speak to a detective, who has since retired, and he was absolutely horrified.
"But he advised me about the statute of limitations, as so many years had passed. I just needed to talk to somebody and let them know."
She entered Britain's Got Talent in 2014 and at the audition in Belfast she sang Danny Boy and got four 'yeses' from the judges and a standing ovation from the audience.
Dara is now going through hormone therapy, with most people in Cobh accepting of her.
"I'm going to continue my transitioning. I would like to have my surgery [removal of male genitalia] done in the next 18 months," she reveals. "I want to be the woman I was born to be."
- If you have been affected by this article, you can call the Samaritans on Freephone 116 123.