Tony Walsh possibly ‘most notorious clerical child sexual abuser’ in Dublin

Murphy report said it was ‘likely that he has abused hundreds of children’

Former priest Tony Walsh, who was jailed on Wednesday for indecently assaulting a boy 35 year ago, was described by the Murphy Commission as "the most notorious child sexual abuser" to have come to its attention.

“It is likely that he has abused hundreds of children,” its 2009 report said.

It also found that Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese did not report child sexual abuse allegations against Walsh to the Garda for 17 years after it first received such a complaint about him.

The report also revealed that in 1989 it had been suggested in the archdiocese that Walsh, then an admitted (to the archdiocese) child sex abuser, be appointed to the regional marriage tribunal, which dealt mainly with annulments.


This was not done but, as the Murphy report put it, there were then “two known abusers . . . in the regional marriage tribunal . . .”

Those were Fr Ivan Payne and a priest referred to as 'Fr Cicero' in the report.

The commission investigated how clerical child sexual abuse allegations were handled in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese between 1975 and 2004.


Walsh's abuse of one boy in Ballyfermot from 1978 to 1983 was so extreme that he was sentenced in December 2010 to a total of 123 years.

Five of the 13 counts, for buggery, attracted sentences of 10, 12, 14, 16, and 16 years each. The remaining counts, for indecent assault, brought sentences ranging from four to nine years. As Walsh was to serve his sentences concurrently, 16 years was the maximum time he would spend in jail for those crimes.

Four years were suspended as a psychologists report said it was unlikely he would offend again. It was the most severe sentence ever imposed on a clerical child sex abuser in the State.

According to that boy's victim impact statement, prepared by psychiatrist Prof Ivor Browne, Walsh raped him with his wrists tied to his ankles as he lay over a coffee table at the presbytery in Ballyfermot, which the then priest shared with Fr Michael Cleary and his housekeeper Phyllis Hamilton.

The boy was “crying loudly” and “hysterical”.

Walsh, who had turned up the music to drown out the boy’s cries, took “about an hour to calm me down. I then went home,” the boy said. This assault led to one of the 16-year sentences.

Another incident took place at Enniscrone, Co Sligo. About 50 children from the Ballyfermot were taken there by Walsh and three other priests, including Fr Cleary. Walsh took the boy to the sand dunes where he raped him. Sand caused the boy to bleed, so Walsh brought him to the sea where he washed the blood off and saltwater stung the child's wounds.

Elvis records

The boy was also raped by Walsh in Dublin's Phoenix Park. Afterwards Walsh wiped him with "a purple sash (stole) he had with him". When Walsh picked up his jacket "a small receptacle for holding Holy Communion wafers fell out of his pocket".

He brought the boy back to the presbytery in Ballyfermot, “put on Elvis records . . . and gave him a glass of Coke”.

He then showed him “a Bible with pictures of Hell and said if he told anyone he would burn in hell and never go to heaven. Then he let him go home.”

One evening the boy told his mother an edited version of what had been happening. She went to the presbytery and knocked, accompanied by the boy’s aunt. Phyllis Hamilton answered and denied Walsh was inside.

The mother insisted he must be in as his car was there. They thought they had seen him at a window. Hamilton went inside, and Walsh came to the door.

He denied everything.

As Prof Browne puts it, in the victim impact report, “then knowing the game was up, Walsh stopped abusing D altogether and terminated their relationship”.

Walsh spent eight years trying to stop his trial, exhausting the judicial review process. He failed. He had failed similarly in another case in 1997. Then, after another round-the-houses judicial review process, also under free legal aid, he pleaded guilty and served time.

Denied all charges

However, he forced the December 2010 trial, denying all charges. The jury found him guilty, unanimously, after just 94 minutes and on the 13 counts.

Tony Walsh was born in 1954 and ordained in 1978. Even as a seminarian in Dublin's Clonliffe College, as emerged years later, he abused children and at the home of another abuser, Fr Noel Reynolds, to whose house he had a key.

In July 1978, two days after Walsh took up his first appointment as a 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. Fr Cleary was despatched 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 of that year, he denied indecently assaulting a young girl earlier that month.

Even after he was moved to the Westland Row parish in the south inner city in February 1986, 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 hers 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 looked 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.

Once a fortnight

In May 1988, Walsh admitted to then chancellor of the Dublin Archdiocese Mgr Alex Stenson that over the eight years he had been in Ballyfermot, "he was involved with boys about once a fortnight".

It was then 10 years after the first complaint about him was made to the archdiocese. Walsh was sent to the Stroud treatment centre in England. 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 Dublin's All Hallows College. Walsh was returned to Stroud.

Management there 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.

In April 1990, then Archbishop of Dublin 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 Walsh’s contacts with children. The Dublin bishops decided to begin canon law proceedings against him. In August 1991, and for the first time, a parent complained to gardaí about Walsh’s attempt to pick up her son.

Psychiatric hospital

The following month, Walsh was ordered by Archbishop Connell to go to 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 babysit for a family. By chance, the father of that family 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 Walsh’s activities in December 1992 and again in May 1993.

In August 1993, a Church tribunal in Dublin decided Walsh should be defrocked. The following October, he appealed this to Rome.

While that appeal was in train, he abused a boy at the child’s grandfather’s funeral in west Dublin. The boy’s mother contacted gardaí, alleging Walsh had also abused her son a year earlier.

In late 1994, there were media reports about this.

Early in 1995, Walsh admitted to gardaí that he abused two boys in the 1980s. He was charged in connection with his abuse of the boy at the funeral in 1994 and sentenced later to 12 months. It was the first of many such sentences.


In May 1995, the archdiocese provided gardaí with other complaints about Walsh.

Meanwhile, Rome decided on Walsh’s appeal. It rejected his laicisation, decided he should remain a priest but also spend 10 years in a monastery.

That November, Archbishop Connell petitioned Pope John Paul to dismiss Walsh from the priesthood.

In January 1996, Pope Benedict XVI, then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a decree confirming Walsh's dismissal.

Acknowledging the role of the archbishop, subsequently cardinal, in this, the Murphy report said it was he who decided to have Walsh laicised "and he pursued this course in spite of the advice and, indeed, interference of his judicial vicar (Msgr Gerard Sheehy) and in spite of the Roman Rota (Appeal Court)."

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 on that occasion.

He was sentenced to 16 years in that December 2010 case. 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.

In July 2016 he was jailed for seven and half years for raping a boy three times, once with a crucifix.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times