Discarded toys lie strewn outside house where childhood was stolen
THE house is nondescript. What happened inside it is scarcely imaginable.
It's a small council bungalow, off a minor road and no more than a mile from the nearest village in this part of the west.
There are two other homes nearby, but both are far enough away for almost complete privacy. This is important.
"You could see that the kids were rough and ready, but they were grand kids," one local man said.
"I don't believe a single person around here knew about the sex abuse or that they were being so badly abused."
Disused children's playthings are still visible in the front garden. But there was very little happiness growing up in this place.
The children, of course, are long gone. However, the deeply troubling question of why they weren't removed to safety much, much sooner remains.
The family living in what would become known as the 'House of Horrors' first came to the attention of the local health board as far back as 1989. The family was placed on the social service's "at risk" register in 1996.
Yet it wasn't until 2004 that the six children were put into foster care to protect them from their parents.
And, according to the harrowing evidence accepted in two separate cases, it was during the intervening years, between 1996 and 2004, that the very worst of the abuse occurred.
"Mammy didn't take care of us right," the 12-year-old daughter said simply in evidence during a trial in January 2009. Her mother was the defendant.
The 40-year-old alcoholic had earlier admitted to gardai that it was "a house of horrors with bells on".
And she was "the worst mother in the world".
The girl recalled how her hair was crawling with head lice and how she went to school with dirty clothes, only to be bullied there.
But the mother was clever enough to put on a good front for the social workers. Biscuits were bought, the "nice cups" were taken out and the children helped to clean some of the rooms before their arrival.
Other rooms remained "a kip" but the social workers didn't get to see them. Bed sheets weren't changed even when children wet them. The house was cold and infested by mice. Dead rats piled up at the back door.
Yet, as horrific as all that undoubtedly was, the children somehow coped with it. Their mother's alcoholism, however, brought another level of depravity entirely.
When she knew the social workers had finished work, she would go to the pub to spend some of the €800-plus she received in child allowance.
On at least four occasions she returned home drunk and forced her second-eldest son -- then aged 13 -- to have sex with her.
The boy later told social workers that he did not know if "it was right, wrong or normal" to have sex with his mother.
The eldest son, then aged 19, read a victim impact statement in court, in which he said he "never really had a real childhood". It was the only time his mother cried during the trial.
She pleaded guilty to maternal incest and to the neglect of all six children. She was sentenced to seven years.
But just a year later, her eldest son was back in court, again reading a victim impact statement, and again saying that the actions of the defendant ensured he "never had" a childhood.
This time the defendant was his father.
"On a couple of occasions I had seen my husband and my son," the mother said in evidence. She had been granted immunity in this trial.
"He (the boy) was lying on his stomach. He (my husband) had taken down my son's boxers and was having sex with the child.
"He said, 'Stop Daddy, stop, you're hurting me,'" the mother said.
She said she challenged the husband, only to be thrown roughly down a hallway. It emerged that she was also a prostitute, and she claimed her husband had "put her on the game".
In fact, the nightmarish evidence kept coming and coming. At one stage, the boy admitted in court to regularly raping two of his sisters, a scenario that abuse victims support groups say is not uncommon following abuse by a parent.
"Did they scream?" the defence lawyer asked the now-20-year-old.
"Yes," he said.
"Did they cry?"
"Yes," he admitted.
The father consistently denied everything, forcing the young man to take the stand and relive the horror of being raped repeatedly by this man over a period of three years.
But the father lied. Yesterday he was jailed for 14 years.
On hearing the sentence his eldest son smiled, quickly left the courtroom and started phoning.
"The brother is happy enough (with the sentence)," he told reporters immediately afterwards. "I haven't spoken to anyone else (in the family) yet."
His younger siblings are with foster families. Their former 'home' is now unoccupied.