Victim tells of horrors at St Joseph's

Simon Brouder

A NEW book on Ireland's industrial schools has laid bare the sexual and physical abuse suffered by one man who spent ten years as an inmate at Tralee's notorious St Joseph's Industrial School.

The book 'Stolen Lives' by former Reuters journalist Bette Browne, which has been published to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Ryan report, tells the stories of 10 abuse survivors. One of these is 61-year-old Dubliner Valentine Walsh who spent a decade as an inmate in St Joseph's and says he has never been able to fully recover from his ordeal.

Mr Walsh, who was taken from his mother when he was just six days old, was sent to St Joseph's in August 1959, when he was six. In the book he says all he can recall of his time in Tralee was abuse and terror.

After he was sent to Tralee, Mr Walsh says, he had his childhood wrenched from him and in its place he was left with a lifetime of darkness and horror.

In the book (right) he recalls how one brother, who was named in the Ryan Report, would regularly take him into a classroom in the evening and, after using a blackboard and newspaper clippings to block the windows, repeatedly sexually abuse him.

"It happened a number of times, as many as five or six times. I didn't understand initially what was happening and thought this was normal. But I didn't talk to my friends about it as it embarrassed me."

The abuse by that Brother went on for about two years and only stopped when Valentine moved to a different class. However, another predator lay in wait and, from the ages of about 11 to 13, he was sexually abused in the school dorms by another of the Brothers whose shocking behaviour was revealed in the Ryan Report's pages.

As well as being sexually assaulted, Valentine also suffered regular violent physical abuse during the same period and still carries a physical reminder of one Brother's brutality.

"Once I tried to run away from him and he struck me on the right leg with his strap. I have a scar to this day from the blow from the strap."

Mr Walsh says it was decades before he was able to talk about the abuse he had suffered at St Joseph's.

"It took me 33 years before I could speak about the abuse. It took me a long time but I ended up telling my wife. I had to tell her. It was doing my head in. Then my marriage broke up, my wife left me.

"I've had a serious alcohol problem for a number of years. Counselling has helped me and I no longer drink from morning time. I still take a drink, but I feel more in control of it."

The torment never leaves Valentine Walsh and he says it haunts him every day and every night.

"I have nightmares all the time. I'm a loner. I live by myself. I only feel safe on my own.

"I can't trust people. I couldn't trust the Brothers, from an early age."

"What's done can't be undone. I can't forgive or forget that. I can never forgive. I can never forget what happened to me."

'Stolen Lives' is available now for €7.99 from


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