‘Relentless homophobia’ at Blackrock College in 1980s drove pupil to attempt suicide twice

Second man ‘John’ speaks of his abuse by Br Luke McCaffrey

Leo O’Shaughnessy (51) experienced, he says, “relentless homophobia” while at Blackrock College in the 1980s. He realised he was attracted to men at about the age of nine or 10 but “desperately tried to hide it. I was terrified it would be found out.”

But it was spotted and some, mainly lay, teachers referred to him in class as “pansy, queer, poofter”.

One day a lay teacher “humiliated me for ‘having a period’, in front of my entire year.” He also recalled being “groped” by Edward Baylor.

The abuse, he felt, may in part have been because he was “not sporty” and very tall. He is 6ft 7in now. “The Senior Cup Team were the golden boys, 15 out of 700-800 kids. They were stars, gods.”


Because of the ongoing abuse “I tried to kill myself a couple of times. I was extremely unhappy.” His grades dropped hugely and his parents brought him to see a respected expert who helped children with learning difficulties. “He found nothing. He identified that I had an IQ of 140. He couldn’t explain it. I was trying to hide who I was.”

His younger brother left Blackrock College because of “the trickle-down bullying he received as a consequence of being my brother”. This brother recalled how one of his “horror memories” was of a day “walking along the Rock Road with my whole year. You [Leo] were walking on the other side of the road. The whole year started chanting `Daisy, daisy, give us your tits to chew. I’m half crazy my balls are going blue.’ Not one of our teachers turned around to silence them.”

After “scraping through” his Leaving Cert, Mr O’Shaughnessy went to Trinity College. “I specifically didn’t go to UCD, where Blackrock boys go.”

Abuse, he said, “does not need to be physical. It can be sneering verbal and accepted. So many of the staff turned a blind eye to the bullying I suffered in school. Thank God for the ones who didn’t. They’re the only reason I’m still alive.” They included Mr Grace, who taught English and history at Blackrock. “He apologised to my mother that he couldn’t have done more to protect me.”

Mr O’Shaughnessy attributes his survival since, despite the abuse of those years, to his long-term partner and now husband Mark Kinsella. “He saved my life.” In June 2015 they were the first same-sex couple to announce their marriage in The Irish Times Social and Personal column.

Last weekend The Irish Times reported on abuse at Blackrock and Willow Park of past pupil `James’ by Br Luke McCaffrey. A second past pupil of both schools has since been in contact with a similar story.

`John’, for the purposes of this article, attended Willow Park and Blackrock from the mid 1980s until the early 1990s. “I suffered repeatedly at the hands of Brother Luke McCaffrey in Willow Park school. I have taken no action about this until now, 40 years on,” he told The Irish Times.

“I just watched Ireland beat Fiji – then read this about Brother Luke. Felt a hollow pit in my stomach,” he said. “The modus operandi is very similar to how he groomed me. I have spoken to nobody about this for years, but Br Luke would bring me into the dark wooden veneered tuck shop in Willow regularly.

“He told me: ‘Of all the boys in the year you have the best chance of becoming a priest.’ I kept the pictures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on my wall as a child and gradually became more introverted. My grades fell off almost as soon as I joined the school. My father worked hard to send us to school, he was not a senior counsel or heart surgeon.”

“I still, in my dreams, wake up shouting: ‘No, Brother Luke. Please, Brother Luke, please Brother Luke,’ – the exact words I used to always say to him. “I was anally raped by Brother Luke. I was frequently fondled by Br Luke, aged nine or 10 (3rd form, Willow). I was also forced to fondle Br Luke.”

The revelations so far are only “the tip of the iceberg”, he said: “I could never hold down a job, a steady relationship and have alienated all my friends, systematically. I have not met anybody socially in years, and am effectively a recluse, bar walking the dog. I am forever apologising to people for things I haven’t done wrong. I have never been convicted but have always felt like a criminal.”

If you are affected by any issue in this article, please contact any of the following freephone numbers: Pieta House at 1800 247247; the Samaritans at 116123, or e-mailing jo@samaritans.ie; or YourMentalHealth information service at 1800 111 888

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times