Donal remembers vividly one particularly beating by the late president of St Colman's College, Newry, Fr Malachy Finnegan, mainly because the priest insisted his mother should witness it.
He was about 15 or 16 then and in 4th year at the time.
There was a rumpus in the class and Fr Finnegan was passing on the corridor outside. “He came in and grabbed me and two or three others and brought us into the corridor. He caught me by the throat and lifted me by the collar two or three feet off the ground and he said ‘go home and you won’t be allowed back until one of your parents comes in’.”
Donal was “shaking”.
He went home and told his mother. She came back to St Colman’s with him to meet Fr Finnegan. “He brought us to his office and asked her “What kind of Catholic have you reared?”
She was told she was there to witness Donal’s punishment. The priest explained it was the only way, or Donal would not be let back to the college.
“He took off his black jacket and went to where he kept his special cane over the fireplace. It had some kind of tip. And he said to my mother ‘You’ll have to watch.’ But she turned away as soon as the slapping started.
“He gave me six on one hand and she turned around and she was crying and he started to give me six on the other hand and she turned away again. And I kept saying to her ‘I’m alright, I’m alright’. But she was shaking and cried the whole time and he was roaring and shouting. Then he whacked me on the legs and the arse.”
At the end Fr Finnegan told Donal’s mother she could go home. “Then the friendly stuff started. He hugged me and started asking sexual questions. ‘Do you masturbate?’ he asked me, and I said ‘no’ and he called me a liar and said, with a sneering tone, ‘Ye’re all at it. Ye’re all the same.”
Then he asked Donal, “Do you have a girlfriend?” He said he had. The priest asked her name and said he knew her mother. “Do you have sex with her?” the priest asked. Donal said no. “You’re a liar,” the priest responded, “she’s nothing but a spunk-bucket,” he said.
Donal “burst out crying”. He was told he could go back to his class. On the way out Fr Finnegan patted him on the backside in a “good boy, well done” manner, he felt.
He never told his father any of this but when he went home that evening his late mother was still crying. He told one of his sisters two years ago for the first time about all of this. She cried too.
Rife with rumours
The college was rife with rumours about Fr Finnegan, he said, “full of them”.
In their final 6th and 7th years, two or three senior boys at the college would be singled out by Fr Finnegan to serve “in my special room for Mass”, as he used to describe it. It was “like his grooming office”.
Boys selected were known as his “bum chums”. They tended to be in the front seats at the study hall or class room. By chance Donal happened to be in one of the front seats on a particular occasion and was chosen to serve Mass by Fr Finnegan.
“He gave us old altar boy outfits which he buttoned down the back. I could feel his breath.” As he did so he said to Donal, “I’ll make a good Catholic out of you yet.”
Donal was so uncomfortable in the situation he deliberately spilled the wine in an attempt to get out of there. “He punched me and called me a heathen and told me I had wrecked the sacrament and he threw me out,” Donal recalled.
Another time Fr Finnegan slapped him across the face with a belt for smoking, even though he had a note from his parents saying he could smoke, as required in those days.
Once he and other boys from the college got a lift from Fr Finnegan who was on his way to play golf. Donal ended up in the front passenger seat. “He put his hand on my knee and asked ‘Will you caddy for me?’” As soon as he could Donal got out of the car.
He recalls being physically abused by Fr Finnegan, who died in 2002, right from his first day at St Colman’s when he and other pupils were late. Donal was sent to get a table from another room and, on the way back, met Fr Finnegan who greeted him with “What kind of imbecile are you?”
Another episode in 3rd year stood out. There was a rumpus before a Latin class. “He came in shouting and roaring. He grabbed the ”, Donal said.
He remembered too his excitement on passing the 11 plus which meant he was a scholarship boy who could go to St Colman’s. Now “I wish I never passed the 11 plus. I wish I never went to that school,” he said.
'Donal' asked that his real name not be used. He made a full statement to the PSNI last week about his abuse by Fr Finnegan.