Northern Ireland

Fermanagh child abuse: Four women claim ex-principal abused them

john McElholm
Image caption John McElholm died in 1995

A former school principal in County Fermanagh sexually abused several young girls more than 30 years ago, it has been alleged.

Four women have told the Impartial Reporter newspaper they were attacked by John McElholm, a former principal of St Paul's Primary School in Irvinestown, who died in 1995.

Mr McElholm was also a former chairman of the Fermanagh GAA county board.

The alleged victims said others knew the abuse was happening.

It is the latest report into historic sexual abuse in County Fermanagh carried by the newspaper in the past several months.

The Impartial Reporter's Rodney Edwards told BBC Radio Ulster that Mr McElholm was "a highly respected member of the community".

"For years he allegedly preyed on children by summoning them to his office, closing the blinds and sexually abusing them before sending them back to class," he said.

Image caption Numerous victims have told their story to journalist Rodney Edwards

"I have been investigating allegations surrounding McElholm for months now.

"The most striking is the amount of people say they knew or had heard rumours about what was going on.

"It was very much an open secret in Irvinestown but why was he allowed to get away with it?" he said.

Mr Edwards was contacted by four of his alleged victims.

'Pillar of the community'

"They don't know each other but their stories are similar," he said.

The newspaper carries testimony from four woman who alleged they were sexually assaulted as children and a man who said he witnessed an attack by Mr McElholm.

One woman told the Impartial Reporter that she was in primary four when the abuse started and that it continued for four years.

She said she "thought no one would believe me as he was a pillar of the community".

Mr McElholm was also the chairman of the Irish National Teachers Organisation and president of local St Vincent de Paul for a time, the Impartial Reporter reported.

'Takes allegations seriously'

"By many accounts he was adored and respected by many," said Mr Edwards.

"For the alleged victims, and for others, it is vital that someone confirms what was known back then and by whom," he added.

The paper reports that the Public Prosecution Service are interviewing his alleged victims.

The Clogher diocese said it had never been made aware of any allegations against Mr McElholm.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) was established after the alleged abuse took place as and therefore has no records available.

The PSNI told the paper that it does not comment on the detail of specific cases but that it "takes every allegation of child sexual abuse seriously whether it happened recently or many years ago".

"The public protection branch continue to offer to meet with any victim of historical sexual abuse whether or not previously reported," it added.

Related Topics

More on this story