Why didn’t you tell me? The shame. You might not have married me

By: Michael O’Farrell

Investigations Editor

IT’S BEEN 35 years since Joe Devine has seen Brother Aidan Clohessy. That is also how long he has bottled up the shame he felt about what he alleges happened to him at St Augustine’s special needs school when he was a child.

Until this week Joe – now 54 – had never told these things to anyone. Not even his wife Sally, though she always knew something was amiss. She could tell by the rage within him.

Joe was ‘educated’ in St Augustine’s from the age of nine years old. He was sent there when his mother left her nine children to a father who did not cope. Joe arrived just after his First Communion and left, unable to read or write, at the age of 19.

But Joe didn’t need to read to understand what was on the front page of the Irish Mail on Sunday last week, when Sally brought the paper home.

There before him, on the front page, was Br Aidan’s face – a face he can never forget.

‘That’s Br Aidan,’ he told Sally as memories, long suppressed, rushed back to the surface.

She’d asked him before but now she tried again.

‘Did he do those things to you?’ Sally asked.

‘Yes,’ said Joe.

The floodgates opened and Joe began the first steps of unburdening himself of a load long shouldered.

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Sally asked.

Joe Devine and his wife Sally. Pic Tom Honan.

It was the shame, Joe explained. ‘You might not have married me.’

Sally took a deep breath, relieved after all this time that the source of her husband’s anger – an anger that had nearly torn them apart – was becoming clear.

Beyond the relief there was a stronger feeling. She felt so sorry for the child that Joe had been, the childhood he’d been robbed of.

‘Do you remember our shed was burgled?’ she asked him. ‘They robbed our shed. That’s a crime that someone committed – it’s no one’s fault but the thief’s.

‘You were a child,’ she told her husband. ‘The shame is not yours. You did nothing wrong.’

Joe understood. Now he wants the world to know what Br Aidan did to him.

A statement containing Joe’s alleged experience at St Augustine’s has now been prepared for the gardaí. It’s one of several new sets of allegations unearthed by this newspaper’s investigation into St John of God.

Br Aidan, meanwhile, has not elaborated further on his denials and his comment that he is ‘innocent until proved guilty’. But someone is lying.

In the end, perhaps the courts will decide. Joe would welcome that and he knows what he would tell the court.

He’d tell them how, on his first night at St Augustine’s his older brother warned him that bed wetters would be punished. When it happened to him he alleges this punishment was handed down by Br Aidan.

‘He took me into the bathroom and he pulled down my pyjamas and he walloped me across the a**e and then touched my testicles.

‘He said: “You’ve got a nice fine pair.”

They were his words.

He said: “You don’t have to tell anyone about this”.

‘Then I copped myself on at night-time and I didn’t take anything to drink after a certain time, if it was going to affect me wetting the bed.’

But learning to keep his sheets dry was not enough to escape.

Joe remembers being punished every few weeks.

‘If I didn’t do something properly, like making the beds properly, Br Aidan would punish me by slapping me. He would tell me to pull my trousers and underpants down.

‘Once in the gym he put me lying down in the store room where the mats were. He put me lying across the mats with my trousers and underpants down and then he beat my backside.

‘When I was lying facing away from him he said: “Don’t move, keep your head front ways. Do not turn your head – keep it straight”.

‘He gave me four slaps across the a**e with the strap. He took a long ‘In the gym, he put me lying across the mats’ time with the fifth one and then he came up and put his hands in around me, then I started screaming. That’s when he touched my behind all together. I got up and I wriggled out and pulled up my pants. He said: “Now, I don’t want to see you in here anymore”.’

At the age of 19 Joe left – and went as far away as he could – moving to England to work on building sites.

While there he met Sally and they married in 1992. Tragically their first born – a beautiful son – was born early and died after nine weeks.

A daughter – now 24 years old and engaged to be married – followed. Two years later they had triplets – three special needs girls now aged 22 – that Joe dotes on.

Back in Ireland Joe did what he could to provide for his family. For years that meant working from the back of a bin lorry in Kildare.

Today, things have changed and Sally is the main breadwinner, working locally as an accounts executive while Joe tends to the home and minds his family, cutting grass part-time for some extra cash.

‘I cannot read or write properly. That’s one of my big regrets,’ he says.

‘No one taught me how to read and write. I ring Sally to explain cooking instructions and things like that when I can’t read them. For my wedding I was not able to read my wedding vows.’

But he doesn’t need to read to tell the world what he went through.

It’s now something he has to do.

‘It’s like a weight off my back to talk about,’ he says.

But there’s another reason too. Three reasons in fact. As a father of three special needs girls, Joe knows how vulnerable they are.

He wants them to live in a world where safeguarding responsibilities are taken seriously. Only then can he be sure that his children won’t have to feel the way he has felt for so long.

If you have been affected by any issues dealt with in this investigation, the following helpline is available: Connect Counselling Freephone 1800 477 477. Connect Counselling is open 20 hours a week, out of hours, Wednesday through to Sunday, from 6pn to 10pm.

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