As most readers know, my Mother died from terminal Cancer in 1977. Within two years of her tragic passing my Dad was arrested on dubious charges and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Having effectively lost both our parents, my brother, Kevin, sister Mary and I were then placed into the 'care' of Dad's girlfriend, Briege in the summer of 1979. It has been well-reported what happened to Mary during this period and Briege pleaded Guilty to Child Neglect and Cruelty charges last June in a Belfast Court. Mary was taken from the Meehan home by the RUC and Social Services and placed in a Children's Home on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast. Kevin on the other hand was thrown out of the family home at just Sixteen and had no choice but to emigrate to England, where he eventually found work and built a new life for himself. Shortly after the 1981 Hunger-Strike began, I was sent to an Aunt;s house in New York and lived there until the following year. I attended school and met a number of friends there. On returning home in the summer of 1982, it was clear to me that with Mary and Kevin gone. My so-called family was still dysfunctional as a result, I left home again and lived on the streets for a time.
We had close relatives in West Belfast including, our Grandmother, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. Sadly, my Dad had strong differences with them as they were my Mother's family and he decided against my living there. Mary had already been living with our Granny and she was fairly content being there. Although, the trauma she suffered by Briege continued to affect her. It must have been extremely hard for our relatives to quantify the problems faced by my siblings and I but they did their best under the circumstances.
|Front Gates of St. Pat's|
Within weeks, I found myself 'taken into the care of the Social Services and taken to St. Patrick's 'Training' School, off the Glen Road in West Belfast. I had just turned fourteen and had not much stability in the previous few years. St. Pat's as we knew it was nothing more than an Industrial School run by the Catholic Church. Even though, it was a strange place to be it was much better than 'living' in the family home. The religious Order of the De La Salle Brothers' ran Saint Pat's with the assistance of a number of civilian workers. Most boys there had been sent to the home for refusing to attend school, anti-social activity, rioting, with a few like me under care orders. It didn't matter to me why and how people were there as I did my best to fit in and tried to treat everyone the same.
At the time there were two sections which housed boys, the junior and senior side. Due to my age, I was put in the junior section. There was a number of bedrooms, classrooms, a dormitory, play hall, canteen, TV room. The classrooms were used during school hours, where the De La Salle Brothers and outside Teachers taught the kids the curriculum. At night, boys could watch TV or play snooker, pool or table-tennis. We were allowed visits from family and friends anytime and could stay with relatives at weekends. There was also a small swimming pool, we could use whenever we wanted.
It wasn't like a prison per say, more like a large Youth Club only we didn't go home afterwards. It was a pretty lonely place, especially those from broken homes. As with all institutions, when in bed thoughts turned to better places and ones hopes of the future. My days of imprisonment had begun and I was to experience the inside of many cells onwards. Some nights, one could hear crying but didn't know who it was.
The vast majority of 'Pupils', De La Salle Brothers and Staff were decent, genuine and hard-working people. Admittedly, there were a couple of upstarts, trouble-makers and downright tough characters who caused severe problems for everyone. There were rumours about specific Boys and Brothers who revelled in inflicting pain on some poor lad. Whenever anyone 'misbehaved', they were sent to the Principal's office for a telling off. I visited it once or twice and was slapped on each hand like in outside school with a leather strap. The strap itself was different from others in that when it hit your hand it also wrapped right around your hand making it more painful.
After a number of weeks in St. Pat's, another Ardoyne boy and I were taken to Belfast Juvenile Court for a hearing to decide where we would be placed. We were both placed in the cells under the Courts in Town Hall Street for a number of hours. An experience to say the least, especially when my Dad was able to come and speak to me complete with handcuffs. He was pretty angry that I'd been locked in a cell and demanded to know why. The RUC refused to give him an answer and were very nasty towards him. Dad attempted to ascertain why I didn't want to live at home but found it difficult to understand why his girlfriend was such an issue to me. I explained it wasn't that she was trying to take our Mother's place but her attitude to us was extremely hostile. The Court ordered that I was to remain in care and that whenever a place was available, I would be transferred to another Children's Home in Kircubbin, County Down until I left school the following year.
|Kircubbin Boys' Home|
Unlike St. Pat's, Kircubbin was more appropriate for kids like myself as we all had been placed there because of family or school problems. Whereas, many of the boys in St. Pat's had criminal records and had been arrested for various offences. Kircubbin was much smaller than St. Pat's and we all had to leave when we left school at 16. The De La Salle Brothers were also in charge of the home but they were mostly in charge of the education section and pretty decent in the round with me anyway.
Most of the boys went back home at weekends to spend time with their families. Some weekends I spent time with relatives, as my home life was far from perfect. Though, I was lucky enough to have sound Aunts in Belfast. I am aware that some weekends a couple of Priests and Brothers visited the Children's Home from different parishes etc, they stayed in the main house where the Brothers lived. Boys at the home were not allowed in the main house unless something had to be delivered, apart from that we were discouraged from calling. We mainly stayed in the living quarters that were called 'Chalets'. When not there we were in school. The Chalets comprised a large well equipped living-room, kitchen and a number of bedrooms & toilets upstairs.
It wasn't until the 1990's that I became aware of the notorious Child-Abuser, Brendan Smyth regularly visited Kircubbin at weekends, where he subjected a number of boys to terrible abuse. As a Priest, Smyth was able to hide the abuse for many years. His sick torture of young people hurt many boys across the country and his vile crimes were hidden by the Catholic Church, the Gardaí and even the Dublin Government. His activities forced Fianna Fail Leader, Albert Reynolds to resign in 1995. Smyth was eventually sent to Gaol and died there but his tragic legacy continues. I never seen not to mention met him thankfully. My heart goes out to his many victims and the Church bears the responsibility for allowing this criminal to hurt so many. Apart from rumours about Smyth, boys in Kircubbin also spoke of Brother Florence and his sick 'games' in the main house. Florence had already left Kircubbin prior to my arriving there in late 1982. According to testimonies, the De La Salle Brother badly abused children in the home.
I left the Boys' Home in June, 1984 and returned to the Ardoyne area. In my time in both St. Pat's and Kircubbin, I met many good friends and of course a few enemies. Sometimes, I still see the odd person who was there and we speak briefly about the place but that is it. I returned to St. Pat's in August 1984, although on this occasion I had been caught hijacking a Citybus on the Crumlin Road hours after the murder of West Belfast man, Sean Downes by the RUC. Rioting had erupted across Nationalist Belfast in response to the killing and I like many young people had attacked the RUC and British Army personnel. A number of buses had been commandeered and burned by teenagers in and around Ardoyne. The RUC were used to buses being seized and burned out, on this occasion two plain-clothes Peelers were already on the bus I attempted to hijack ready to pounce. As soon as I walked onto the bus and aimed a replica gun at the driver, the two RUC men pulled their weapons and grabbed me. The driver was ordered to drive immediately to Tennent Street Barracks, where I was arrested and taken to Castlereagh. Two days later, I appeared in Court and was sent to St. Pat's to await trial. This time I was placed in the Senior side with older boys, some of who had also been arrested during the rioting. I stood trial a year later and was sentenced to three years Probation, I met a Probation Officer the following week and he interviewed me etc. After the interview, the Court ordered me back the following month and the Judge reassessed the original sentence. changing it to a Recorded Sentence instead. The Probation Board deemed my views to political and stated that the order would do no good and that i would be involved in further violent acts. Given my beliefs, they weren't far wrong. Within four months, I was in Court again charged with rioting and damaging an RUC Land Rover. I was refused bail and remanded to the old Borstal at Lisnevin in Millise I was held there for eight weeks before being tried for the charges. I was given 18 months imprisonment in the Young Offenders Centre at Hydebank. I wasn't released until September, 1985 whereupon I again returned to my native Ardoyne. I met more sectarianism in those nine months inside than I had in the seventeen years I'd lived in North Belfast. The Screws were the most bigoted I'd encountered before then. It was debateable who should have been locked in the cells, the lads or the Screws.
In conclusion, I personally did not suffer any sexual abuse in any of the above institutions. However, I did experience a number of serious physical attacks from a few Screws. I do consider myself one of the lucky ones. The vast majority of De La Salle Brothers treated me decently and I have no complaints about their conduct. I recognise and accept that many did suffer various forms of abuse in each home and they are correct to seek justice and the truth and they have my full support to do so.