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Abused aged 8: 'School was about survival, I'd be looking at the teacher thinking 'just stay away''

Christopher Rainbow was abused by his teacher when he was just 8-years-old, he spent his life trying to forget about it until a knock came on his door 10 years ago.

“EVERYTHING CHANGED WITH that knock on the door. Everything.

“It was all forgotten until I heard the guards had called. I was thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’ I have never been in trouble in my life and neither have my kids.

“I contacted them and when they told me to call in about Creagh Lane, the penny dropped.”

Christopher Rainbow had been abused by his teacher at Creagh Lane National School in Limerick when he was just eight years of age.

He spent his life trying to forget about that time and never told anyone about the abuse -not even his wife or four children – until that knock came on the door in 2009.

Rainbow was abused in 1967 and 68, but stayed silent for more than 40 years.

When Rainbow returned from the garda station, he told his wife it was about an accident he witnessed and she didn’t discover the truth until her husband appeared on RTÉ News one evening, speaking outside Leinster House.

In 2009, Rainbow’s abuser, ex-Christian Brother Sean Drummond, was sentenced to two years in prison for indecently assaulting 19 boys between the ages of seven and nine.

Rainbow was being interviewed after a motion had been put down in the Dáil seeking redress for the victims.

Creagh Lane 

“I was going into big school and I was going to be a big boy. I still believed in Santa, the tooth fairy, all of those things. I still had my imagination and you came into this class and saw this man in front of you.

“There were 54 in our classroom. The bright boys were put up at the front and you were graded down along.

“When I went in there I thought, ‘Is this the way adults are supposed to approach us now? Is this life? You’re supposed to be touched, felt, the whole lot?’

He [the teacher] used to say to the classroom ‘put your heads down’. Up in the middle of the classroom he had a high desk and he had a stool in between that, he’d drag you up, put his legs in between you and his two hands inside your pants and he’d be fondling you. That’s what he done.

“I was glad to take a beating and I didn’t care, just give me a beating but don’t be putting your hands down my pants again. And then me coming back to my seat with the back of my shirt wet. That’s the way I’ll put it, my shirt wet.

And I remember looking up when he was doing it to another kid, he had a vein right down the middle of his forehead when he was sexually excited and it always stuck in my head. And he all red and puffed and everything.

“This happened every day, five or six children during the day. It destroys your whole world.

“The best time in your life should be when you’re a child and you’re playing with your toys and full of imagination and imaginary friends and playing hiding-go-seek. That is the way it’s supposed to be but it wasn’t. I didn’t know anything as a child, I was thinking, ‘Is this life?’

“My thing going to school was ‘survival’, ‘let’s hope I’m not picked today’. I didn’t learn anything. I couldn’t read or write, I’m dyslexic.

When a teacher was teaching me I wouldn’t be thinking about what they were saying at all. I’d be looking at them thinking, ‘You just stay away from me today, just stay away.’ My focus was to watch him.

“It was A lucky dip, you felt lucky if you weren’t picked that day and this was going on for the entire time.”

‘A new life, a new Christy’

Rainbow came from a family of nine children and he started contributing to the family financially when he was just 13.

“We come from a working class area and poverty really. I often remember taking my father’s suit up to the pawnbrokers on a Monday morning and getting seven [shillings] and six [pence] and going into school to get a beating because I was late. But I had to get that for my mother to put food on the table because my father wasn’t paid until Friday.

“I went to England when I was 13 years of age and got on a building site. I studied one night a month and became educated through different types of society, different types of people. I used to send my mother 10 pounds out of my wages every Friday, my mother had nine children and I’m the second eldest. I was nearly earning more than my father at 14 years of age.”

Speaking about moving on with his life, Rainbow said, “When I got out of there I said: ‘That is over, I don’t want this anymore. I want a new life, I want a new Christy.’

“I found my lovely wife and I blanked it out of my head and I thought about my family, my commitment was to my wife and my four children.

When the knock came on my door, everything went out the window. The memories came back.

“When I came home to my wife [from the garda station] I said it was over an accident I witnessed. That’s what I told my wife. I hid all that.

“When I went out [to the station] I told him I didn’t want to talk about it. It brought something back to me.”

However, Rainbow later decided he would confront his past, saying otherwise he would not have been true to himself “and that’s all we have”.

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His wife first found out about her husband being abused as a child when he spoke to media on the day a motion was put down in the Dáil seeking redress for the victims.

“I came back home then and she said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

“We got the kids together and I said to them, ‘You know what’s happened and I love you more dearly than life.’ My youngest daughter put her arms around me and said, ‘You’ve been the greatest Dad any child could have’.”

‘I should have been protected’  

Rainbow has joined Vocads, Victims Of Child Abuse in Day Schools, and is fighting for redress from the State.

Describing some the men in the campaign group, he says, “They’re amazing people, they’re honest, they’re truthful, they tell you how they feel.

“Everyone has a bad day and a good day … if we do one thing, it’s to be there to support each other when people go through bad places.  If I go through a bad place, I hope I have someone there to say, ‘You know you’re not on your own’.”

Survivors of abuse have a long history of battling with the Irish State.

In the high-profile case of Cork woman Louise O’Keefe, both the High Court and Supreme Court ruled that the State was not responsible for abuse she suffered in primary school, but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) overruled their judgements.

Following that ruling, the State said it would make settlement offers of up to €84,000 to people bringing cases similar to O’Keeffe’s.

However, the government argues that the ECHR decision applies only to people who were abused after an initial complaint was made against a teacher and no action was taken.

This has been widely criticised with survivors saying it essentially means that the second child abused by a teacher is entitled to a settlement but the first isn’t. O’Keefe described it as “discrimination of the highest order” and Rainbow agrees:

How dare they say that I need to have a prior complaint. I should never have been touched, I should have been protected.

He added: “Prior complaints should be gone out the window, a crime is a crime is a crime.

I was having a chat with a barrister a few years ago and they were talking in legal jargon and I said, ‘Look I don’t have your education but you don’t have my experience’.

He said he feels that the government is trying to forget about the past. “They’re trying to sweep it under the carpet like we have no story to tell, but we do have a story to tell and the story should be that children should be listened to, children should be protected, children should enjoy their childhood.

“Redress would be saying that this isn’t going to happen on anyone’s watch ever again.”

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