Eugene Gallagher was just a baby when he was handed over to the Sisters of Nazareth in Fahan.
When he was four years-old - with no idea why he had been placed in care, not knowing who is mother or father were, or if he had any brothers and sisters - he was sent to the St Joseph’s Home in Termonbacca on the outskirts of Derry. He remained there until he was 17.
“A 13 year nightmare,” he told the ‘Journal’ this week. “Not a single day went by when I didn’t wish I was somewhere else other than Termonbacca.”
Eugene said he and the other boys at Termonbacca were allocated numbers - sewn into their clothes - and were referred to by their numbers rather than their names.
“I was placed in the nursery when I first arrived at Termonbacca. I remember being punished because I wet myself. Sometimes I was made to wear my wet trousers over my head and I was beaten on my body with hands or straps.
“One day, when I was in the nursery, I remember being so hungry or thirsty that I got one of the cats and sucked its milk. I remember being horsewhipped for it.”
Aged five, Eugene was moved to the junior group in the home.
“One day, when I was aged about six or seven, I was taken to a bathroom by an older boy, who I think was about 16, and I was abused. I didn’t know what was going on.
“On one particular day, I had five different boys abuse me. The sexual abuse went on for quite some time - until I was about 16 years old.”
Eugene says he was also sexually molested by a priest who regularly called to the home.
“I didn’t know what he was doing because, to me, as a child, he was God,” said Eugene.
He was also physically abused by the nuns.
“I had brushes broken over the back of my head and my back because I did something ‘wrong.’
He recalls one particular beating he received “because I looked up a girl’s skirt.”
“I was aged 10 and I suppose I was just curious. We were never taught what was right from wrong. I was taken in front of the class and my short trousers were taken down and I was whipped by a nun. She gave me 12 strokes of the belt she wore around her waist. Another nun punched me in the face and called me a ‘dirty beast.’
Eugene said that, after he left school aged 16, he was sent to work in the laundry of the Good Shepherd Sisters.
“I still lived inTermonbacca. One day I arrived home and a nun told me that I didn’t live there anymore. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. That night, I cried, thinking to myself: ‘This is it. This is the new world.”
Aged 17, Eugene joined the Irish Army where he remained for five years.
“I’ve never had a childhood.” he said. “I was robbed of that. I was known by a number. I was put on the streets when I was 17-years-old. I’m still angry today because I was never allowed to have a childhood.
“I think alot about the abuse when I’m at home on my own. Sometimes it gets me down but we all have different ways of dealing with things and I cope with things in my own way.
“Stories of abuse are on the news all the time. There’s no getting away from it now.”
Eugene said his life has been ruined because of what happened to him at Termonbacca.
“I don’t know if the nuns knew we were being sexually assaulted. However, I hold the nuns accountable. They should have been there to look after our welfare. I also hold them accountable for the beatings.”
The Catholic Church in Derry, adds Eugene, has many questions to answer about what occurred at church run children’s homes in the city.
“I know this will annoy some people but, surely, someone like Bishop Edward Daly had to know what was going on. And yet, nothing was done about it.
“Now, that’s simply not good enough. To me, this smacks of a cover-up. The Derry diocese needs to come clean about that era. It was horrible - alot of young, vulnerable, innocent people suffered, and are still suffering, because nothing was done about it. It’s unforgiveable what happened and was allowed to happen.”
Eugene says it’s crucial that the North’s politicians urgently agree some format to allow compensation to be paid to victims of abuse - as recommended by the Historical Instititional Abuse Inquiry.
“It’s deeply frustrating that, six months after the inquiry’s findings were published, no action has been taken.
“Its recommendations, including the redress scheme and support services for victims, are simply gathering dust on a shelf.
“We were betrayed by the authorities as children and now it seems we are, once again, being betrayed as adults. We are not political pawns.
“Delay after delay only adds to the pain and torment already felt by victims, many of whom are in poor health.”