THE death of their mother (in Fintona) during the early 1950s dealt a cruel hand to two local men and their six brothers and sisters.
At a time when they should have been enjoying growing up, the brothers were separated from their siblings, and plunged into a terrifying cycle of sexual and physical abuse in one of the North’s most notorious institutions.
For Patrick Murphy and Willie Kelly, the painful memories of that period will never fade. Both are now aged in their 70s and say they will never forget the horrors of their youth.
The shocking nature of the abuse which children were subjected to at Rubane House in Kircubbin, Co Down and other institutions is currently being investigated by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
Last week, The De La Salle Brothers – which ran Rubane House – was one of two Catholic orders that said sorry for the abuse children suffered in their children’s homes in Northern Ireland.
The Sisters of Nazareth and the De La Salle Brothers issued apologies on the second day of the inquiry in Banbridge – the biggest public inquiry into child abuse ever to take place in the UK.
It is investigating abuse claims in 13 children’s homes and juvenile justice centres in Northern Ireland, from 1922 to 1995, including Rubane House.
Upwards on 100 people from the Omagh and Strabane areas are said to have submitted evidence to the inquiry.
However, the brothers are not taking part because they feel it has come “too late” for them.
“I am 77 years of age now and the chances of me getting anything other than a feeble sorry are remote,” said Patrick. “But if we had been born in Donegal then we’d have received compensation.
“It is hard to say why all of this has taken so long and to be quite honest our view is that they’re only going to be touching the surface of what went on.
“My intention was to take this to the grave with me. But when the inquiries started in the Republic my son began asking me about my experiences because he knew I’d been in a children’s home here.
“He started to make the connection. The real truth became apparent and he couldn’t believe that I had held onto those memories for all these years.”
Patrick and Willie never met for almost four decades following their mother’s death. Both now live in Strabane and it was only by chance that they discovered their shared experience in Rubane House.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather when Willie told me that he had also been in Rubane House,” said Patrick.
After spending most of their lives being separated from each other and their other brothers and sisters, the family is now reunited. Despite the brothers’ reluctance to take part in the inquiry, Survivors NI is appealing for other local people who have been abused to contact them.
Spokesperson Margaret McGuckin told the Ulster Herald, “Our organisation has been contacted by upwards of 100 people from the West Tyrone area. Many more have not come forward, but I would urge them to contact us because there is nothing to fear,” Ms McGuckin said.
“Victims now have protection and, while we have given a guarded welcome to the apologies by two religious orders in the Catholic Church, this must be supported by their full co-operation with the inquiry.
“At last the victims of this abuse have been given a voice and I have seen grown men and women cry tears of relief that their stories are finally being listened to.
“The pain which they have carried with them for a lifetime never goes away. There will be more heartache ahead for them, but it will be worth it.”