Alleged victim urges St Columb’s College to ‘come clean’ about its former teacher
A former principal of a renowned school has indicated they were aware of sex abuse allegations against a former vice-principal as far back as 1993.
Raymond Gallagher was a teacher at St Columb’s College in Derry from 1953 to 1993. He died in 2007 at the age of 75. In recent months, two former pupils have come forward to allege they were sexually abused by Gallagher while pupils at the school in the 1960s and 1970s.
In a statement in February this year, the school said when it was made aware of allegations against Gallagher in 2009 they contacted the police and social services. However, comments made to the Sunday Independent by a former principal of St Columb’s would appear to indicate those in charge of the school were aware much earlier of allegations around Gallagher, who was never charged in connection with any offences.
Father John Walsh was principal of St Columb’s from 1990 to 1999 and was in charge of the school when Gallagher left in 1993.
Following the recent public allegations against the former St Columb’s vice-principal, the Sunday Independent contacted Father Walsh to ask if knew about the allegations during his time at the school. In an email response, Father Walsh said he was “not free to talk” about the matter as it had been deemed “appropriately confidential” in 1993 and “in my opinion still remains so”.
However, he added when the school had been “dealing with the case” it had involved the “civil authorities”.
The Sunday Independent asked Fr Walsh a number of further questions to clarify some of the details in his response but he declined to comment further.
One of Gallagher’s alleged victims said the former principal’s comments “left unanswered questions”. Eamonn Lynch revealed details of the alleged abuse he suffered at the school in an interview with the Sunday Independent in March.
“I find it hurtful and insulting that even to this day authorities within St Columb’s College are less than forthright about, not only the circumstances that surrounded Raymond Gallagher’s leaving in 1993, but also the wall of silence that has persisted since the 1960s regarding abuse allegations involving him,” Mr Lynch said.
“Most if not all my old college friends/acquaintances that I have spoken to over the years are either aware of this man’s behaviour or know someone who was subjected to it.”
Mr Lynch, who was a pupil at St Columb’s from 1965 to 1970, alleged he was forced to strip naked by Gallagher in a classroom when he was only 11 years old and was touched inappropriately by the teacher on other occasions.
At the time, he said, he told no one about what had happened because of the “shame” he felt.
The 68-year-old Derry man has launched a legal writ against St Columb’s in relation to the alleged abuse he suffered while a pupil at the school.
In February, another former St Columb’s pupil claimed in an interview with the Irish News that he had been sexually abused by Gallagher in the school over a four-year period in the 1970s. Terry Doran said he had settled a case against St Columb’s in 2015 in relation to the alleged abuse and received compensation of £50,000.
Mr Lynch said St Columb’s College, which includes a number of well-known figures among its ex-pupils, including former SDLP leader John Hume, poet Seamus Heaney, musician Phil Coulter and former Republic of Ireland football manager Martin O’Neill, should “come clean” about the allegations made against its former vice-principal.
“It’s very revealing that Fr Walsh refers to ‘the case’ and he reveals that the civil authorities were ‘involved’, which certainly suggests that Gallagher’s sudden departure from St Columb’s was not a normal retirement,” Mr Lynch said.
“After 40 years in post, it would surely have been normal for Gallagher to have been given a leaving ceremony to mark four decades of employment.
“Can the College confirm that this happened and if it didn’t, why not? I understand that a recent newspaper article said that St Columb’s claim to have no records about Gallagher’s leaving circumstances. Surely there has to be records of those circumstances, especially now it has become known that it was seen as a ‘case’ and civil authorities were informed.
“It seems incredulous that those who facilitated his leaving can’t speak to this ‘case’. It seems equally incredulous that retired teachers from the College aren’t speaking up either.
“No records, doesn’t necessarily mean no memory as Fr Walsh has proven in his qualified and limited, but still helpful, offering.
“The time has come for St Columb’s to come clean about Gallagher and answer questions, such as: What were the circumstances of his departure in 1993; which civil authority was involved and what was the nature of its involvement; and who in St Columb’s administered Gallagher’s leaving package — pension entitlements, confidentiality arrangements?”
A spokesperson for St Columb’s College said the statement made by the school earlier this year was in response to the allegations that were carried in the media at the end of February.
When asked if there were records of allegations against Gallagher being received by the school in 1993, the spokesperson said the school was not in a position to comment further due to ongoing legal matters.
In his interview with the Sunday Independent in March, Mr Lynch claimed he was targeted by Gallagher, who was known as Raymie to pupils, when he was asked to stay behind with the teacher after a school choir practice.
“When everyone else had left he pointed at a box where they kept stuff for the shows. In the box there was a pile of costumes, including women’s dresses.
“Raymie picked up one of the dresses and said he wanted me to try it on for one of the show s we were doing.
“I didn’t really think it was that unusual so I went to put on the dress over the top of what I was wearing. But he stopped me and said, ‘no, you need to take your clothes off’.
“I remember being embarrassed by that but didn’t have the maturity to think there was something wrong here. It was more the embarrassment of a wee boy having to take off his clothes in front of his teacher.
“The embarrassment was one thing, but the fear of him would have been another thing and there was no question of me not doing it. So, I stripped down to my underwear and I went to put the dress on, but he said, ‘no, take everything off’.”
Mr Lynch said he remembers being “frightened” during the alleged incident.
“I put the dress on and I had to walk up the classroom. I remember saying, ‘Is that OK now sir, can I put my clothes back on?’ because all I wanted to do was get out of there, but I still needed his permission. I was too young and naive to realise there was something sexual about it but I knew there was something not normal about it.”