The late Mark Ryan and his brother David “showed enormous courage” in speaking out about the sexual abuse they suffered, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said. “Their bravery has shone a light into a dark corner and has helped forge a path for others to come forward. That pathway forward is now part of Mark’s rich, rich legacy,” she said.
The Minister was speaking at a memorial service in Dublin for Mr Ryan, who died suddenly at his home in London on September 21st last. He was 62. His funeral service took place in London on October 20th, with the memorial service, conducted by Catherine McWade, at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dublin’s Booterstown on Friday afternoon.
“In my meetings and conversations with him I was always, always struck by his genuine warmth, his kind heartedness and his enormous sense of compassion,” Ms Foley said. “I will remember him with enormous fondness and deep, deep gratitude for his graciousness, his selflessness and his leadership.”
Mark Ryan and his brother David took part in the RTÉ Radio 1 Blackrock Boys documentary broadcast last November. Both brothers outlined how they had been sexually abused at the Spiritan-run Blackrock College campus in the 1970s. Since then, a scoping inquiry has been set up by the Minister to make recommendations on the form of a State investigation into abuse at private fee-paying and other schools. The inquiry is to report by June of next year.
Seán Mac Giolla Phádraig, executive producer on the Blackrock Boys documentary, said that as programme makers they could not promise participants anything when it came to reaction. “Mark, along with David and Maura [Harmon], took this leap of faith. Mark’s tragic passing means he will never know the full impact of having taken that leap, but he did get to see the start of it.”
He got to see “many other past pupils come forward along with those in other schools. He got to see the school and the Spiritans respond. He got to see the story pursued by our colleagues in RTÉ and in the print media. He got to see a swift response from the Minister and her colleagues and he got to see the outpouring of love and support from across the country. Mark can have been in no doubt that he did make a difference.”
David Ryan recalled how it had been “a rollercoaster of a year” since the documentary had aired.
Mark, he said “was different all right. Mark gave me a voice I had never got before and over the last nine months Mark and I spoke every single night on the phone. He gave me such encouragement and he wanted me to enjoy life again.”
Now, he said, “I’ve got to step into his shoes, which I will do and we’ll keep this going on.”
An old friend of Mark Ryan’s, Ray O’Neill, felt that “he should be on a stage. Mark had just buckets of drama in him. He was drama Inc.”
Another friend, Peter Gaughan, said Mark “refused to be beaten by the obstacles he encountered over the years. Despite his own trauma he found his own voice and enabled others to find theirs. That took immense courage and is a measure of the person I knew.”
Abuse survivor and activist Colm O’Gorman expressed his gratitude for the privilege of being at the service. “It always struck me when listening to Mark that what motivated him was not anger or rage, what motivated him was a deep sense of justice,” he said. “Let’s not be a society where we keep secrets, secrets that exist in open sight. Let’s not be a society where we look to those who we failed, who we’ve abandoned, who we most hurt, to be brave.”
On the table beside the urn containing Mr Ryan’s remains were awards received for the Blackrock Boys programme, a family photograph of the Ryans, with another of both Mark and David when they appeared on the Late Late Show last December, and a lily for every family member.
Chief mourners were David and Jonathan Ryan, and his sister-in-law Carol.
President Michael D Higgins was represented by Cmdt Deirdre Newell. Also in attendance were Maeve Lewis and Deirdre Kenny of the One in Four agency which helps abuse survivors, RTÉ’s Joe Duffy, and former RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy, who hosted the Ryan brothers on The Late Late Show.