SAMANTHA has always preferred weekends. Not because of the pub, or sport, or getting away to the cinema: but because, during her schooldays, from Friday till Sunday she was safe.
From Friday till Sunday she would be home from the convent and nobody could attack her, terrorise her, hurt her.
But from Monday to Thursday she was abused by notorious paedophile priest, Brendan Smyth.
There, in the house of God: in the place where young women went to examine the possibility of giving their entire lives over to Christ, she would be summoned to a room where Father Brendan Smyth would attack her.
Over the years, he raped her, he sexually assaulted her, he inflicted appalling degradations on her. She was 13 years old. She has never forgotten.
It began, she says, when she agreed to help a friend who didn’t want to be alone with Fr Smyth when he was due to call one day to the convent where they were both boarders.
She said: ‘My friend asked me to come along with her because she said she felt weird being around him. ‘She didn’t really say what it was about him, and I didn’t really mind because I knew he used to have sweets and odd bun with him.
‘It would, I thought, also mean a half hour off study.’ The visit was one of Smyth’s regular trips to the convent, whose location has been concealed to protect the identity of Samantha – which is an assumed name.
The priest would come to the door during study periods, ring the bell and – after being led in – request to see one of the girls.
Samantha recalled: ‘The first time I went with him was when my friend stood up and I stood up.
‘But the nun in charge of the study period said that just one of us should go and she said I should go because I was nearest the door.’
She walked down a long corridor and into a room at the end of it that was used both as a recreation area for the girls and a visitors’ room.
Smyth – whose Norbertine order was aware that he had been an active paedophile since at least the late 1940s – was standing behind the door as she walked in.
He slammed the door shut and locked it behind her and almost immediately started rubbing himself up against her.
Although he didn’t rape her, he carried out a sexual act that left the shy, quiet teenager in confused turmoil.
She recalled: ‘Nobody had ever done what he did. I was shocked. I was a mess.’
A cycle of abuse soon emerged, its severity and nature worsening as it went from non-penetrative molestation to repeated and often violent rape.
The abuse usually took place in two locations within the convent – in the visitors’ room and upstairs in the dormitory.
The attacks would take place between Mondays and Thursdays because she would go to her parents’ home on Fridays, returning on Sunday evenings.
She still refuses to be in a room with a locked door and abhors being late for any appointment or meeting.
She says much of the five years she spent there is now ‘a blur’, and she remembers little more than Mass each morning, breakfast, then the walk to the classrooms, lunch, more classes and then the dreaded study periods.
She said: ‘I just about existed and that is about the best I can say about my time there. I’d hate going back to the convent at the end of each weekend but I hated the annual term-time holidays more.
‘I hated them then, and I still hate them because in the week running up to the breaks, the abuse would happen almost every afternoon.
‘I also hate exams and suffer anxiety attacks and hallucinations because we always used to have exams before annual holiday times like Christmas and Easter.’
The abuse has had other lasting effects. She still refuses to be in a room with a locked door and abhors being late for any appointment or meeting.
Samantha explained: ‘Smyth would tell me when he was coming back. And I would psych myself up for his arrival.
‘As I’d sit in the study room with all the other girls, just dreading the moment the doorbell rang. I would mentally prepare myself for what was going to happen, then I would feel terrible if he didn’t turn up because I knew I would have to psych myself up all over again for the following day.’
‘I was convinced that I was in some way evil and deserved to be punished.’
She recalls with a shudder: ‘Every time he raped me, I’d feel like I was in flames.
‘But to deal with the pain, I just repeated a mantra over and over in my head, “Don’t let the bastard see you cry, don’t react, this will end…”. ‘The lack of a reaction annoyed him but it was all I had left.’
She added: ‘Another way I would get through each rape was to concentrate on being a small spot in the ceiling. ‘I would focus my mind on it, as if taking myself out of my body and into that spot.’
Throughout her entire ordeal, she refused to tell anybody, out of fear that no one would believe her but also out of a misconception that the abuse was her own fault.
She became so traumatised and affected by her treatment at the hands of the paedophile that she believed him when he said she would die in hell if she ever told anybody.
Disturbingly, she says he used every possible aspect of her faith in his abuse against her. ‘I told nobody what was happening. I couldn’t because I had been made to feel that somehow it was all my fault and that I deserved to be abused.
‘I was convinced that I was in some way evil and deserved to be punished.’
In an effort to escape the terror she experienced, she frequently tried to make herself sick and did everything she could to get kicked out of the school.
‘He had told the girl who let him into the convent that he was going to give me the blessing of the sick, so she let him up.
As a result, she gained a reputation for being a trouble-maker and an attention seeker. Although she didn’t drink or smoke while at the convent, she used to make sure to go to the illicit parties the boarders held occasionally.
She said: ‘The convent wasn’t overly strict and some of the girls used to sneak down to the recreation room and hold midnight parties.
‘They would smoke cigarettes out the fire escape and maybe there was the odd drink. But I would make sure to be there on the off-chance that I would get caught. I wasn’t a great mixer, I didn’t have many friends and I was actually very shy and quiet.
‘There was a nightclub near the convent too and I used to join the other girls who would sneak out.
‘Again, I didn’t drink, and I didn’t particularly enjoy myself. I just wanted to get caught and get kicked out.’
Typically, however, pretending to be sick – or even actually being ill – just made the occasions of abuse even worse.
The first time Samantha pretended to her teachers that she was sick on an afternoon when Smyth was due to call, she was allowed stay in her cubicle in the girls’ dormitory.
‘As far as anybody else was concerned, Smyth was a divine and respected man doing God’s work. It was as simple as that.’
But he raped her there, after saying he wanted to bless her. She recalled: ‘He had told the girl who let him into the convent that he was going to give me the blessing of the sick, so she let him up. ‘He came into my cubicle and raped me every which way. It was just horrible. Absolutely horrible.
‘When I got into a bath, I noticed I was bleeding and as I sat there in the water, I just wished there and then that I would bleed to death because that was going to be the only way the abuse would stop.
‘But then the water started to go cold and I realised that I wasn’t going to die and that there was still no end to what was happening to me.’
Another aspect of her abuse started when Smyth forced her to pose naked for photographs.
She recalled: ‘He would make me adopt all sorts of positions and there were other things that happened that I just don’t want to talk about.’
While it does seem astonishing now that nobody within the convent ever asked why Smyth had to see her so many times, it wasn’t to Samantha.
She recalled: ‘As far as anybody else was concerned, Smyth was a divine and respected man doing God’s work. It was as simple as that.’
‘I always feel like one of the lucky unlucky ones.’
Samantha doesn’t know exactly how many girls were abused at the convent – which had about 250 female pupils, about 100 of whom were boarders – by Smyth.
She said: ‘As none of us talked about what was happening, you just never knew.’
Although she had always wanted to be a nurse when she eventually left school, she drifted from job to job and said she ended up ‘on a rocky path’.
She said: ‘Smyth always said I would never amount to anything and I didn’t disappoint because for a while I just went off the rails.’
This period allowed her to blot out the abuse by Smyth – whose eventual arrest in 1994 lead to the collapse of the then Fianna Fáil-Labour government. It was at the end of this phase that she met the man who would – two years later – become her husband.
She said: ‘I always feel like one of the lucky unlucky ones. ‘I was able to give love, able to be loved and I ended up having children.’
It wasn’t until around 1998 – when she was in her late 30s – that that her abusive childhood came flooding back to her.
She was physically assaulted in a workplace incident, during which she had the surreal experience of seeing her attacker take on the form of Smyth in a shock-induced hallucination. Smyth, aged 70, had died of a heart attack in prison the year before.
Suddenly, memories started to come flooding back, and the hallucinations got worse. Just a few years ago, for example, she came close to killing herself during one such episode.
She said: ‘I was driving along and he suddenly appeared clinging to the bonnet of the car, shouting at me to stop and that he was going to get me.
‘I started panicking and pushing my foot down on the accelerator and looking for a wall to crash into to get him off the car. ‘I very nearly did it but managed to come to my senses.
‘When he appears, it is as if he is flesh and blood and very much alive and not in the grave where he deserves to rot.’
She went into counselling and, after hearing campaigner Colm O’Gorman speaking on RTÉ’s Gerry Ryan Show, joined group counselling with the survivors’ support group, One in Four.
‘If Seán Brady had done the decent thing and gone to the gardaí, the abuse I was suffering would have stopped.
There she underwent intensive group therapy, which she only stopped late last year. Continuing to attend one-to-one therapy to this day, she still finds it a struggle to deal with her experience but she now knows she was not alone in going through it.
About six years ago, she was contacted by two school friends who briefly opened up about their own abuse.
They had heard Samantha talking about her experiences on a special programme on Louth’s LMFM radio in about 2004 and got in touch with her.
She recalled: ‘It was very emotional to talk about what happened. ‘It was obvious that they were both very damaged by their experiences and appeared to be quite mentally disturbed and broken people.
‘I found out a few years ago that they both ended up committing suicide and have since wondered how I ever survived.’
While her views on Smyth go beyond disgust, she reserves no small amount of contempt for Cardinal Seán Brady.
Since he started featuring in the headlines over the revelations that he had been involved in two canonical enquiries in 1975, she has again been traumatised by her past.
She said: ‘If Seán Brady had done the decent thing and gone to the gardaí, the abuse I was suffering would have stopped. Instead, it carried on for another four years after 1975.’
She added: ‘I don’t want to meet Brady or give him his title. ‘Instead, I want him to directly say that despite knowing Smyth was free to abuse and rape myself and other victims, he didn’t go to the gardaí and that for this he is very sorry.
‘Brady has had a lifetime to reflect on what he didn’t do and I have had a lifetime to deal with consequences of that inaction.
‘He failed in his duty as a citizen and he let everyone – the Church and the victims – down.
‘He has the power to authorise an all-Ireland investigation into every diocese in the country. Until he does that and apologises for his behaviours, I can’t take him or his office seriously.’
She believes the Cardinal needs to sanction an independent national inquiry – funded by the Catholic Church – into all the country’s diocese. Samantha also feels the Church should be removed from having a role in child protection.
She said: ‘The Church has clearly failed in its duty and from now on it should be the case that if there are any allegations, they should go before a garda and not a bishop.’
Samantha, however, doesn’t want to join the chorus of people who want Cardinal Brady to resign.
She said last night: ‘As things stand, I don’t believe a word he says. But I’m not going to lower myself to ask him to go but it’s time he turned his sorry into action.’