Protestant abuse victims must also be heard

Wed, Jul 1, 2009, 01:00

OPINION:Victims of Protestant prejudice and State neglect are at a disadvantage, writes DEREK LEINSTER

YOU DON’T have to be a Catholic to be listened to as a victim of institutional abuse, but it seems to help. That is my experience as a Protestant victim of institutional neglect. Like all sufferers, I am a victim of prejudice.

It was prejudice that forced my mother into the Bethany Home in Orwell Road, Rathgar in 1941 for the “social sin” (as one cleric put it) of being pregnant out of wedlock. To add to her burden, her gestating baby had a Catholic father. Marriage in those circumstances was out, and so was I, fostered out to a dysfunctional family in Wicklow where I was beaten black and blue and (I mention it since it seems to be what Irish people are most interested in) sexually molested.

I left school illiterate when I was 13 and Ireland when I was 18, still unable to read or write. Some people escaped Catholic Ireland. I escaped the equally self-contained Protestant version, from Wicklow to Wakefield, in England.

Patsy McGarry wrote all too briefly about my call to include the Bethany Home in the Irish State’s redress scheme, but a lot about abuse being something peculiarly Irish and Catholic (Irish Times, June 20th). I can assure him that just being Irish was reason enough. That and being poor was often sufficient.

One reverend gentleman speaking in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin in December 1945 received reports on that score from the Bethany Home, the Protestant Magdalen Home (yes, there was one) and “the Detective Branch of the Civic Guard”. Unwed pregnancy was spreading beyond the “servant girl type”. Sometimes, “business girls and occasionally university students were victims”.

He should have said “victimised”.

The Bethany Home was set up in 1922, the opening presided over by the Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin. He said the home was “specially intended” for “fallen” women.

Another clergyman involved was the a leading supporter of the Orange Order in Dublin. When not making clever remarks about the pope, the Rev TC Hammond was persecuting fellow clerics for placing candles on church altars.

People like him pursued, as The Irish Times put it in 1964, the “moral welfare and rehabilitation” of Bethany women. The women had overstepped the boundaries of prejudice. Some found an all too fleeting happiness with a member of the opposite religion.

Their illicit offspring paid for it for the rest of their lives. Cast off, cast out, half-caste.

That was me and many others.

I am now old, a proud father and a grandfather. I want justice. Not just for myself but for all the victims of State neglect and religious narrow-mindedness. I will not rest until the lies have been exposed.

I was told that the Irish State did not monitor the Bethany Home. That is a lie. Though, as an excuse for getting off the hook, it takes some beating. It was the reason I took so many.

I forgive my dysfunctional foster father. He no more beat me because he was a Protestant than others were beaten because their tormenters were Catholics. He and his wife should never have been given a foster child.

Those who claimed to know better than the rest should have done better. They are to blame. The Irish State I do not forgive. The Irish people deserve better.

We victims of Protestant prejudice and State neglect are at a disadvantage because we were scattered to the four winds, disconnected from each other and forgotten about. Since my personal story, Hannah’s Shame, was published I have met fellow sufferers. They have medical problems alarmingly similar to mine that stem from early neglect.

I can be contacted through my website, I would like to share experiences with Catholic and Protestant victims. Maybe the Irish media and politicians will get more interested. That is up to them.

We need a bit of Protestant people power to make that happen. Catholics can join in.

I am not prejudiced. My father, who died before I discovered who he was, was a Catholic.

Derek Leinster became a trade union official and accomplished amateur boxer in England. He is now retired. Hannah’s Shame, and a companion volume, Destiny Unknown, are available via his website,

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