Former 'home boy' recalls abuse at Termonbacca

John Meehan says he was just ten years-old when his innocence was shattered by a serious sexual assault at Termonbacca boys' home.

He still struggles with the sickening memory of an older boy attacking him and then callously paying him half a crown to keep quiet.

Fifty-two years later the image remains vivid for John, who spent almost six years in the Creggan home run by the Sisters of Nazareth.

In an emotional interview with the 'Journal', John recalled how he had just finished working with the home's handyman when he went out the back of the home, where he saw an older boy playing with a handmade toy.

"He had a homemade pistol made out of wire and he fired washers at the kids with it. Being curious, I went over to the boy to look at it.

"He then took me out the back to the garage and that's where the abuse happened. Afterwards he looked at me and said: 'You're not happy', before paying me half a crown. Being paid was like being abused for a second time, I thought."

John said he believes that the boy who cruelly assaulted him by performing a sex act on him worked outside the home, possibly in the BSR factory at Bligh's Lane.

"I think he had been brought up in the home and still helped the nuns out," he said.

John recalled with equal horror the unprovoked and savage beating he received two weeks after he reported what had happened to one of the Sisters.

"I told one nun what happened me but just two weeks later I got an unmerciful beating from another nun. I was up picking spuds as usual - because we were always taken out of school to do work for the nuns - and when I came back she beat me senseless with a square leg of a chair. I had a serious hearing problem in later life and went to see a specialist seven years ago. He asked me if my parents were rough on me. He said the bones in my ear were fused together and that it went back to childhood, around the 10 to 12 years mark. I knew right away when it had happened."

The cruelty suffered by the youngster was not confined to sexual and physical abuse. After the death of his mother when he was just eight years-old, John's uncle asked the Sisters of Nazareth to take him and his brother and sister into care. Shortly afterwards, the family was torn apart.

"My brother Danny, who was five years older than me, was sent to Australia and my sister Betty, who was two years older, was sent to the Bishop Street home for girls. I saw my sister once more, six years later, at our confirmation in the Long Tower church. I walked across the pews to see her but was put back into my seat by one of the nuns. I didn't see Betty again until five years ago.

"Danny was sent to a Christian Brothers home outside Perth and I didn't see him again until 1988 when we were put back in touch with one another by the Australian Child Migrant Project. The Project Manager Joan Kerry was trying to find the families of children sent to Australia and Danny was one of them. She wanted to come and see me because he didn't know much about himself or his roots."

Lost in the past

The men were reunited but John soon realised that the years of separation were a hurdle too far for the lost brothers. "We began writing back and forward and eventually arranged to meet. I discovered that he had been very badly abused in the home in Australia.

"He came to Ireland but it was very hard for both of us. We were glad to meet each other but we never really bonded like brothers and it was the same situation with my sister - it was lost in the past. Danny came back to Ireland to see me again last November and I see Betty every so often."

Despite feeling bitter about the abuse he received and the destruction of his family when he was just a child, John said he is aware that there are other Derry 'home boys' who may be deeply disturbed by his comments about the Creggan home.

"I would like to apologise to anybody who is hurt or offended by reading this. There's nothing I'm saying which hasn't happened to a lot of others. Some boys still say 'it's the only home I've ever had'. I know four brothers from the home and there's is not a chance they'd go against the nuns, they still can't see that they were abused. The difference with me is that I came out of a normal home in Donegal and entered Termonbacca at eight years-old."

He added: "The story about the whole thing is really sad. I lost a whole childhood, a whole life with my family."

John left Termonbacca after more than five years in 1961 when he was sent to Ravenhill Road Nazareth Lodge orphanage in Belfast. He returned to the Derry care home only briefly in 1964 before being "put on a bus" to Athlone to join the Irish army, in which he served for six years. He remained in the midlands, where he is happily married to Pauline. They have three grown-up children of whom he is "very proud".