Patrick O’Rourke recently visited the graves of some of the Sisters of Nazareth in the grounds of the Long Tower.
Some of the nuns buried there had resided at Termonbacca during their lifetimes, and others from the same Order had been in charge when Patrick was subjected to traumatic physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the former boys’ home there.
Patrick said he was glad the Sisters of Nazareth were able to have their say at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in the north “in case anyone thought this was a one-sided thing.”
“They went in, which was great, which is as it should be,” he added. “I’ve nothing personal against the Sisters of Nazareth. As a matter of fact I visited their graves. The gate was open across from the Long Tower and I’m sure a lot of them were good nuns. I wouldn’t have known them, they’ve been buried there for hundreds of years. I’m not a religious man, but I acknowledged them anyway.”
In what he described as a “pilgrimage” like journey, he also returned to Termonbacca while in Derry recently and met with some of the monks now stationed there (who had no involvement at Termonbacca during its time as a boys’ home).
“It was a few months over 67 years since my mother took me to Termonbacca. I found it strange looking around the place on my return and thinking of the nuns and the surroundings.”
It was a local singing teacher from Spencer Road, who managed to ensure that Patrick got out of Termonbacca on occasions.
“I played the coronet and I sang in the choir,” he said. “I went back there to the Guildhall too and the security guys were great. I told them, ‘I sang up on that stage when I was 10 years old’.”
Returning to those early years in Termonbacca, Patrick continued: “At the time I left I would have been 13, I was very disturbed.
“But the funny thing is when I was leaving Termonbacca I cried a lot too, which seems unbelievable, but it was because I had a very heavy foreboding about what I was going home to.”
His apprehension was well founded. Patrick returned to Donegal to live with his parents after eight years in Termonbacca, but he found the reduced circumstances they were living in shocking.
“They were good people but I wouldn’t have known them,” he said.
“Society could learn a lot from this, what can happen. Their own circumstances had got worse. There were many good people in the town but the conditions we were living in was something Third World, would be an understatement.
“They were living in a little hovel with a tin roof, no water, no lights, no toilets. The well was rat infested. The authorities’ attitude to us was they thought we shouldn’t be there. They would say: ‘look there’s nothing here, you’d be better off in England’ and that used to upset my parents.
“People were deeply shocked, even the authorities, about our living conditions. Many people in Ireland, even in Derry city, were suffering, but our case had to be seen to be believed.
“I remember the public nurse saying: ‘if you don’t get out of here you will lose your health.’ My parents didn’t get out of there until 1967.”
Patrick said the church showed neither understanding nor compassion towards the family and he said trying to obtain his own records has always proved difficult. “The Catholic Church in Rome has the most historical records going back hundreds of years but people like us always had problems getting records. The attitude was ‘you don’t matter that much.’ I always say when a saint is canonised they know every miniscule part of the person’s life, but maybe it was different rules for us.”
While back in Donegal, Patrick’s own mental health had deteriorated and at the age of 16 he was admitted to hospital and received electric shock treatment.
“After that I said, ‘well now I can’t go on like this’.”
He secured transport to Derry and managed to get onto the cattle boat, Laird’s Lough, below Tillie and Henderson’s for the 10 hours journey to Glasgow. But eking out an existence in Scotland also proved tough.
“I went picking potatoes in the fields of Scotland with Irish contractors. The Irish foremen weren’t very nice. The English tabloids came up undercover looking at the abuse of the workers.
“After I’d finished picking I got to Edinburgh. I was still only 16 and I got a lift from a lorry to London and the driver said to me ‘could you pull pints?’”
Patrick ended up working in a succession of pubs across London.
“You had a TV, good food, I was never used to that in my life before. It was gas.” he said. “I served Richard Burton, Diana Dors. Later on I was introduced to Mohammad Ali and Joe Lewis. I left misery and there I was in the bright lights! I made the best of my situation.
“Later on I said to my boss, ‘I’d love to drive’. Three weeks after I passed my test I got a call down in the cellar, the manager said: ‘Will you take Tom home? Tom was a contractor who had million pound contracts but I didn’t know what he drove. When I went outside the first thing I saw was the big mascot of the Rolls Royce, the flying lady and the grill. I said sir, what if something happens and he answered, ‘Tom will get another one!’”
“The customers thought it was funny- one said: ‘He came here in his bare feet and now he’s going out in a Rolls Royce!’ I was coming out of myself. I was keeping going.”
Like many others from a similar background, however, Patrick developed a drink problem, a struggle he successfully overcame later on.
He also worked widely as a lorry and bus driver over the years and was “never out of work.”
Patrick said he never bore his parents any animosity for what he went through and would send money to them.
“I’d come back to Ireland at times. I came into Dublin in January 1972. I walked into the barracks at Rathmines and within 20 minutes I was in the Irish Army. I joined the army on January 3, 1972, and I passed out in April. I did a guard of honour for President De Valera.
“The first detail was to do guard of honour over the the 1916 signatories. I would look up at the Proclamation on the Walls and catch the line ‘to cherish all the children of the nation equally.’ The men back then meant well, and somewhere their message got lost big time. They wrote a wonderful Proclamation but that wasn’t lived up to at all.”
Mental illness, however, was again to interfere and despite passing out with a prize for best new recruit, a nervous breakdown ended his army career.
“In fairness then they gave me a good discharge, let me go quietly,” he said, adding: “The biggest myth about people who grew up in the institutions is that they only suffered in the institutions. They suffered nearly as much when they came out.
“There was a thing about mistrust, almost discrimination. Ninety per cent of people who grew up in the institutions had to leave the country. In my case, when I worked in the bars in London in the ’60s, I was serving some of those people. I came from that background.
“That was pretty distressing for me because they had awful social problems but they had no-one to turn to. They would end up in drink and getting into trouble and ending up in homeless hostels, so the consequences were enormous.
“You had no-one to talk to. A lot of people had no interest and even yet if they had, they would try to dismiss you. A lot of people like us suffered in silence.
“Most people were really broken. They suffered but I kept going.
“If you said to me, how would you judge a country? It’s how you deal with people at the bottom of society’s ladder who are broken.”
Patrick carried on though, and for six years he worked on excavating a Viking settlement in Dublin before working in the Peace Centre in Glencree, doing voluntary work initially and later employed there as the offical driver.
“I worked with both divides of the community in Derry and Belfast. You had volunteers there from all over the world.
“That was in 1980 and there were droves and droves of young people leaving the Republic of Ireland.
“That kept me with something to do. Then I got involved with the homeless in Dublin, I worked with the Capuchin Order, they gave me work driving, picking up supplies.”
During his chequered career, Patrick has also excelled in various sports.
“When I was a young man in England I got involved in rowing and tug-o’-war.
“I’ve ran about 25 marathons and I would train out in the Wicklow MountainsI actually ran in a number of half marathons in Derry during the 1990s.
“I still swim in the sea all year round. The neighbour’s labrador has formed a bond with me, I take it for a walk and it comes into the sea with me. It forms a protection thing; goes round in circles. I couldn’t believe that.
“I remember sitting back in the chalet one day and thinking, isn’t that strange that the only thing that ever cared about me was the dog!”
Despite never being idle, depression was a constant threat hovering close by.
“There were times in my life when I would get confident but then other times I would have suffered from severe depression,” he said.
“Celebrities talk about depression which is great. Bruce Springsteen came out and said it, and I thought that man has saved more lives just by being open, but we could not say that.
“All my life I would hide it; conceal it; wouldn’t mention it. Depression is such a killer. There were times in my life, when I was young, I could life a couple of hundred weight off the ground and yet when the depression hit me I couldn’t tie my shoes.
“I used to always say ‘I’m glad nobody sees me like this’ when I wasn’t well.”
Things came to a head for Patrick when the institutional abuse scandal broke in the South of Ireland, leading to the Ryan Report and an apology from the Irish Government. For Patrick and many others like him who had suffered horrific abuse north of the border, it brought everything back.
“When it finally came out in the Republic it was a race against time. I was bad.
“The doctors told me later, after the abuse scandal in the south, don’t try and fight depression. Today I’m not cured, but I’m stable.
“What I say for the benefit of others, is don’t try to fight depression because you won’t win te battle.”
He said a large part of keeping everything inside was the society at the time, the pessimism and derision the victims of abuse were treated with over the years, and the fact that depression was neither spoken of nor understood.
Giving evidence at the Historical Abuse Inquiry was also very difficult for him, but he got through it.
“We suffer from what people imagine, ‘awe they are looking for this and looking for that,’ but I’m 73 years of age and nobody’s ever heard of me,” he claimed.
“Queen’s Counsel said they would be looking into the soul of Northern Ireland, I believe so.
“After we’re gone - I’m at the end of my life - and if no-one else suffers like that, I’ll be very happy.
“I have nothing to apologise for. I’m off alcohol for 30 years now and that’s a miracle. I’m thankful every day, even for little things.”
And despite all he has gone through, Patrick said he does not feel sorry for himself and his thoughts were very much with all those who have suffered.
He added: “We’re 17 years behind the Republic’s apology. I’m not going to mention the word closure, because people like us will not get closure. The only time we will get closure is when we die.”
Patrick said he wanted to speak out to help ensure that lessons will be learned from experiences and that there will be no repeat of, the life-long suffering and difficulties endured by many children raised in institutions.
“I think you do a great disservice to mankind by keeping silent,” he concluded.