Mark Ryan obituary: Generous friend and brave whistleblower about sexual abuse in Blackrock College

Former pupil at the south Dublin school went public with his brother David last year about their experience of sexual assault by priests in the school

Born: July 2nd, 1961

Died: September 21st, 2023

Some have observed that the sudden death of Mark Ryan in London on September 21st at just 62 was the final injustice. More than anyone else, he was responsible for the ongoing scoping inquiry which will recommend to the Government in November what form of State investigation there should be into the sexual abuse of children in Ireland’s private fee-paying schools. It is likely to be the largest investigation of its kind Ireland has seen to date. As he said, such an investigation “needs to be fast. I would like to see it published before I die!” That cannot happen now.

There is no indication that Ryan felt his days were numbered. Some have wondered since he died whether he was even aware of recent studies in the UK, the United States and Australia which found that some adults who had been sexually abused as children were in greater danger of premature death (before 70) due to cardiovascular disease. It seems doubtful that he knew anything about them.


What he was very clear on is that any State investigation arising from the scoping inquiry should look at abuse in all private fee-paying schools, not just those run by Catholic religious congregations. “You can’t differentiate because of religion,” he said.

Ryan was the inspiration behind the RTÉ Radio One Blackrock Boys programme, broadcast last November as part of the Documentary on One series. He and his younger brother David outlined how they had both been sexually abused at the Spiritan-run Blackrock College campus in the 1970s, discovering each other’s abuse there only in 2002. They grew up off nearby Mount Merrion Avenue.

Their story opened the floodgates and soon hundreds of men were coming forward with similar allegations about their abuse as boys at Spiritan-run schools, including Blackrock College and its junior school Willow Park, as well as at other private fee-paying schools run by the Spiritans and other religious congregations in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland.

Just five days after the broadcast, on November 12th last, Mark Ryan told The Irish Times he was “in total shock as to the numbers. Every single person in Ireland is affected by this. Each of us are connected to each other just like a spider’s web.” It had been “emotional trying to digest what is happening.”

On August 23rd last he was interviewed by the scoping inquiry team and commented afterwards how he was with them for “over two hours 20 mins. The facilitator must have been exhausted after me.”

He continued: “One of the things I’d like is some type of study into why this happened, why did the Irish people turn a blind eye to this atrocity and the other atrocities which have happened since the creation of the State.” There had been “so many investigations to date, yet there does not seem to be any correlation or connection being made to these atrocities.”

Early last year in London he first discussed his abuse with friend and neighbour Robert Mulhern, a Sky news producer and journalist from Naas, Co Kildare, who had previously worked on the RTÉ Documentary on One series.

With Ryan’s consent, Mulhern contacted Liam O’Brien, series producer, who flew to London and interviewed him. Returning to Ireland, O’Brien then interviewed David Ryan, three years junior to Mark, as well as their friend and neighbour Maura Harmon, in whom David had confided about his abuse. The programme was broadcast on November 7th at 6pm.

Descriptions of Mark Ryan’s personality are many and include: “flamboyant”, “gregarious”, “infuriating”, “opinionated”, “caring”, “generous” and “a force-of-nature personality”.

David remembers him as someone who “looked after everybody. He guided me in every way. He was loving, caring, everything you could want in a brother.” He could be “cantankerous. He had a short temper. But Mark has given me so much strength.” He was “very straightforward, he didn’t hold back”.

After Blackrock College, Mark Ryan repeated the Leaving Certificate before going to Shannon, where he took a catering course. Following periods working in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire, he took the boat to England in the mid-1980s, ending up in London, where he had a very successful career in information technology and built up a healthy property portfolio, as well as being fortunate with investments. However, this success was marred in recent years due to the ending of his relationship with his partner, with whom he had a son, Conor (16).

In London “he had become very embedded in the Crystal Palace area,” recalled Robert Mulhern. “He was not someone to take a back seat. He would visit us every couple of days and, by his own admission, he was very opinionated. He could infuriate you. We developed a great friendship. He was a keen gardener and very interested in people.” He had “great vitality, enjoyed socialising and, as well as talking a lot, he was a great listener who was always very present in any conversation. He had a great love for Ireland and the Irish way of going on, despite what happened. He was also comfortable being vulnerable.”

Ryan was “very supportive of others, helping people who had fallen on hard times until they were back on their feet again. He had a big heart and walked the walk, in that sense,” Mulhern said. “He was a great neighbour, nearly extended family.”

Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalised but there will be two services for him, “one in London, after which we will bring back his ashes back for a humanist funeral at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Stillorgan,” said David.

“We will scatter his ashes afterwards from a boat in Dublin Bay along the route he took from Dún Laoghaire when he left Dublin. He was a wonderful brother. Everyone is heartbroken.”

Mark Ryan is survived by his son, Conor; his mother, Dympna; and his brothers, David and Jonathan. His father, Patrick, is deceased.