Tony Walsh: More jail time for a ‘most notorious’ child abuser

Background: First complaint about priest came two days after he took up his first role

Tony Walsh was described in the Murphy report as "the most notorious child sexual abuser" to have come to its attention. "It is likely that he has abused hundreds of children," it said.

The report, of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation, to give it its full title, was chaired by Justice Yvonne Murphy and investigated the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese between 1975 and 2004.

Walsh was born in 1954, and ordained in 1978. He had been a seminarian in Clonliffe College during which, it emerged years later, he abused children there and at the home of another abuser priest Fr Noel Reynolds, to whose house he had a key.

Two days after Walsh took up his first appointment as a priest in July 1978, as curate in Ballyfermot, a complaint was received in Archbishop's House that he had sexually abused an eight-year-old boy. That was alleged to have taken place in June 1978 at Fr Reynolds's house.


The next complaint was in 1979 when a mother went to the parish priest of Ballyfermot, the late Canon Val Rogers. Another priest in the parish, Fr Michael Cleary, was dispatched to educate the woman's son on male sexuality. In 1985, Canon Rogers admitted this case had been "hushed up".

Sometime between 1980 and 1982 there were complaints to Archbishop’s House about Walsh’s abuse of young girls at a summer camp.

In June 1985, Walsh began attending a psychiatrist. In October 1985, he denied he had indecently assaulted a young girl earlier that month.


Walsh was moved to Westland Row parish in February 1986. But complaints kept coming from Ballyfermot. A housekeeper at his house in Ballyfermot said there were always children there and on one occasion she saw two boys coming from his bedroom.

In January 1987, the housekeeper at Westland Row claimed to have found underwear of her’s in Walsh’s room. She also found condoms and syringes and said “a number of boys had slept overnight in his bed and a boy from Ballyfermot had been visiting”.

Walsh denied all of this and protested he did not know what condoms were like. In April 1988, a woman alleged her son was in Westland Row with Walsh. The following month parents claimed Walsh had interfered with their daughter.

In May 1988, Walsh admitted to Mgr Alex Stenson, the Chancellor of the archdiocese, that over the eight years he was in Ballyfermot "he was involved with boys about once a fortnight".

It was then 10 years after the first complaint was made to the archdiocese and Walsh was sent to Stroud in England for treatment.

He returned to Dublin in November 1988 and was appointed chaplain at a hospital for older people. He signed a contract of good behaviour with the archdiocese and nominated Fr Cleary as his spiritual director. He continued to receive counselling.

In August 1989 there were complaints about his dealings with a boy at All Hallows College. Walsh returned to Stroud. They notified the archdiocese that Walsh intended accompanying the All Priests' Show (with whom he had a spot doing an Elvis impersonation) on a UK tour. He was refused permission to do so.


In April 1990 then archbishop Desmond Connell and Msgr Stenson gave Walsh until May 1st to decide on either dismissal from the priesthood or voluntary laicisation. Archbishop Connell also formally ended Walsh's public ministry. In March 1991 there were further reports of his contacts with children.

The Dublin bishops decided to begin canon law proceedings against him. In August 1991, for the first time a parent complained to gardaí about Walsh’s attempt to pick up her son.

The following month Walsh was ordered by archbishop Connell to live at the St John of God psychiatric hospital in Stillorgan. The night before he did so he attempted to pick up another boy and gardaí were alerted.

Walsh returned to Stroud in January 1992 where he posed in nearby streets as a priest counsellor at the clinic and agreed to baby sit for a family. By chance the father found out who he was.

Back in Dublin, in July of that year, he befriended a 15-year-old boy. One of the boy’s parents contacted gardaí who contacted the archdiocese. More parents complained about his activities in December 1992 and again in May 1993.

In August 1993 a tribunal of the archdiocese decided he should be defrocked. In October 1993 he appealed this to Rome. While that was in train, he abused a boy at the child’s grandfather’s funeral. The boy’s mother contacted gardaí alleging Walsh had abused her son a year earlier also.

In late 1994 there were media reports about this. Early in 1995, Walsh admitted to gardaí that he abused two boys in the 1980s. In February 1995 he was charged in connection with his abuse of the boy at the funeral in 1994 and sentenced later to 12 months.


In May 1995, the archdiocese provided gardaí with other complaints about Walsh, 17 years after it first became aware of Walsh’s activities. Meanwhile, Rome decided Walsh would remain a priest but spend 10 years in a monastery.

In November 1995, archbishop Connell petitioned Pope John Paul II to dismiss Walsh from the priesthood. In January 1996, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict, issued a decree confirming Walsh's dismissal.

In December 1997, Walsh was sentenced to consecutive terms of six years and four years for assaults on six boys. On appeal this became six years. He was in prison until 2001.

In December 2010, Walsh’s abuse of one boy from 1978 to 1983 was deemed so extreme he was sentenced to a total of 123 years having been found guilty on 13 separate charges. The most lengthy sentence was for 16 years on a single charge.

These were concurrent sentences and four years were suspended as a psychologist’s report said it was unlikely Walsh would offend again. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to two more cases and in 2015 was convicted by a jury in relation to the sexual abuse of a girl.

On Tuesday, he was jailed for seven and half years for raping a boy three times, once with a crucifix. He is he is now due for release in June 2023.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times