A 73 year-old survivor of the cruel regime at the former St Joseph’s Industrial School at Ferryhouse, Clonmel has decided to write a memoir detailing the three and a half years he spent in the institution and his tragic early life.
Thomas Pollock, who lives in Castleplunkett, Co. Roscommon, suffered sexual abuse as well as regular beatings and neglect during his incarceration at the Rosminian Order run Industrial School in the 1950s when he was aged between 12 and 16.
His troubles began when his mother Catherine died in 1942 from TB when Thomas was two years old.
He and his sister June were initially taken into care as his father was in the army stationed in the Curragh and unable to care for them.
After his dad left the army, Thomas spent a deeply unhappy period living with him at his uncle’s house in Dublin.
When his father found out about beatings Thomas was suffering from his brother’s wife, they left and he entrusted Thomas into the care of a friend, who had five children.
Thomas was happy there for a while but things turned sour when he was accused of stealing £5 from the family’s gas meter.
Thomas insisted he never stole the items but the Gardai were called and after a court hearing, he was sent to Ferryhouse.
One of the brothers at Ferryhouse began sexually abusing Thomas two months after his arrival.
Thomas recalls he was summonsed to him on the pretext of getting his hair shaved. But instead the brother molested the terrified boy.
The brother’s abuse of Thomas continued for a long time during his stay at Ferryhouse and it worsened to buggery.
A priest also sexually abused him while he was in the institution.
Thomas says the trauma and stress caused him to wet the bed at night and he was unable to eat his breakfast due to the fear he felt of what lay ahead.
Missing breakfast attracted its own punishment - a caning.
“One day myself and a Dublin boy also called Tom, who is now dead, decided to run away.
“We were caught two miles away. We were stripped and given a wet tog and caned so hard by one of the brothers that I bled.”
The death of his friend Paul Cantwell at Ferryhouse also deeply affected him.
He remembers vividly the day he found Paul collapsed on the floor of the institution’s kitchen where Thomas worked.
The sick boy was taken to the infirmary and died shortly afterwards.
Thomas learned years later that Paul died from blood cancer.
The abuse and regime took a huge toll on his mental health.
Nearly 60 years on, he still receives treatment for psychiatric problems and has spent periods in psychiatric hospitals throughout his adulthood.
Thomas reported the sexual and physical abuse he suffered to the Gardai after his release from Ferryhouse but it was never pursued.
He believes the Rosminians and other religious orders that ran industrial schools as well as the State are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children from abuse and suicide.
Thomas, a former soldier once stationed at Clonmel’s Kickham Barracks, says people in Clonmel knew what was going on in Ferryhouse but turned a blind eye out of a fear of rocking the boat and questioning the Catholic Church.
He says many Ferryhouse boys, including himself, told locals they saw on their weekly Sunday marches to Clonmel about the abuse.
“I remember one woman said to me ‘well son we know it is bad but they are all afraid to open their mouths’.”
Thinking of the boys and men who died due to the abuse they suffered at Ferryhouse and other institutions still makes him cry.
“If there is a God, I hope he will take these angels into a special area of heaven,” he said.