John McElholm was regarded as a pillar of the Irvinestown community when he was Principal of St. Paul’s Primary School over 30 years ago.
But now it is claimed he abused that position by preying on innocent children and sexually abusing them where they should have been safe - in school. 
An investigation by The Impartial Reporter over several months has uncovered serious child sexual allegations against McElholm who died in 1995 and claims that the alleged abuse was well known.
It’s understood specialist detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch are interviewing his alleged victims as part of a major review into historic sex abuse here, even though none of them will ever get justice. 
“Everyone in Irvinestown knew what was going on, it was an open secret in the town,” a source from the area told this newspaper. 
“It was accepted, as he was treated as a God in the community,” said another source who claims to have witnessed abuse.
Now serious questions are being asked this week: who knew precisely what was going on in Irvinestown? Why was nothing done to protect the innocence of these children? And if people knew, as it is claimed, why did nobody say or do anything?
Four of McElholm’s alleged victims have now approached this newspaper independently with shocking claims of his abuse of power. None of them know each other. A fifth source has claimed he witnessed the alleged abuse but his parents stopped him from reporting it because McElholm was “treated as a God”.
Two other sources, including a former colleague, have said they were aware of “rumours” of inappropriate sexual behaviour while he was in charge of 300 pupils and 11 teachers.
McElholm was the chairman of Fermanagh GAA County Board; the Chairman of the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the President of the local St. Vincent de Paul Society. He served on the Arts Council; was involved in Fermanagh Feis; was a member of the Sports Council and was involved in drama productions at Mount Lourdes Grammar School and St. Fanchea’s College in Enniskillen. He was, by all accounts, adored and respected by many.
But it is claimed that some of the children in his care at St. Paul’s saw a different side to one of Fermanagh’s longest serving Gaels; it is alleged that for years he hid his evil practices, including the molesting of young girls in his office then sending them back to class. 
He died aged 82 in a nursing home outside Irvinestown. While the years have passed the memories of his alleged depravity have not faded for some of his alleged victims.  
Kate (not her real name) was nine when she says the abuse began in 1973 after her family had suffered a bereavement. She says he took advantage of her vulnerability after she lost a close relative.  
“He started calling me into the office, telling me if I was ever upset that his door was always open. The abuse started with hugs and his hands would move around my chest area,” she said.
In the years that followed the abuse continued she says, claiming McElholm summoned her and about five other Camogie team members to his office where they “were all abused”.
“The girls were called into the office, no matter if we did well in the team or not. He lined us up in order of size and groped the five of us. He touched our breasts and put his hand up our skirts. If we wore tights he put his hand up our skirt to our bottom,” said Kate, now 55.
She believes other teachers at the school knew what was going on and claims one member of the teaching staff “regularly stepped into his office when the Camogie team was lined up”.
“If a teacher walked in when we were all there, he would shout that he was busy and the teacher would say ‘oh, I see’. The teacher seemed afraid and maybe knew not to say anything.”
Maureen (not her real name) has been haunted by what she says she experienced in the 70s at the hands of McElholm and claims her sister was also abused by him. She came forward this week.
“I ask myself a question that has been haunting me for years. Why did I wait so long? Now in my fifties I kept that secret for over 40 years. 
“You may ask why I told no one. I was living in a world where you respected your elders and in particular teachers, priests and the police. I thought no one would believe me as he was a pillar of the community and I felt it would be his word against mine,” she told The Impartial Reporter.
Maureen says she was in P4 when the abuse started after being called to McElholm’s office where he closed the door and told her to face the wall. 
“The room was rather dark as the blinds were tilted. He then stood behind me and pushed himself into me. He then proceeded to put his hands down my shirt and into the waistband of my skirt and into my pants. “I was terrified and had no idea what was happening. The abuse that followed over the next four years had no pattern and was sporadic and random,” she said.
Maureen, now 55, claims she was often called out of class to run an errand; on other occasions he would have spotted her in the corridor and asked her to go to his office. 
“When I was called, I felt sick and always trembled when he touched me. I can also remember recoiling from his touch and I think this irritated him as often the abuse would end with a caning.
“On numerous occasions he would call me and my best friend in together and stand behind us and have one hand on me and one hand on her. Such was the shame and fear that even as best friends we never spoke about it,” she recalled.
She says her last four years at school “were framed by a feeling of dread and fear every day never knowing what each new day would bring”.
“This was almost an unbearable burden for a child so young to carry,” she said. 
Maureen claims McElholm’s abuse was “prolific and that there are many victims yet to speak”.
“I also, with the benefit of age, believe that the other teachers must have known. Due to a cloak of silence within the school, many children lost their innocence prematurely and have carried the burden of guilt and disgust with them throughout the years. 
“Whilst I was a victim of sexual abuse, this has not defined me as a human being. He was the one who did everything wrong by abusing his position of power to prey on children who should have been safe in the care of his school.
“But who instead were subject to the worst betrayal of trust imaginable at the hands of a man who thought he was untouchable.”
Another alleged victim previously shared her story. Lynn (not her real name) should have been safe in primary school among her friends, in the town she lived in, dropped off at the gate each day by her parents. But she says instead she was summoned to the principal’s office several times a week where he’d close the door, tilt his venetian window blinds so that nobody could see in and sexually abuse her. Then he’d send her back to class. She was about eight years old. 
“He rubbed my shoulders, then he worked down under my clothes and chest area, then proceeded to place his hands under my underwear. He molested me, again and again,” she said.
And the abuse, she claims, did not remain within his small, dark office but at the Lakeland Forum where he allegedly abused her under the water while teaching her to swim.
“He would have held you on top of the water so you were learning to swim but when he did this he always, always put his hands on your private area, under my bathing costume. I was no older than nine or 10.”
Previously Caroline (not her real name) in an interview with this newspaper recalled what his office looked like recalling the dull mustard coloured paint on the walls, the large desk opposite the door facing a window which was opposite the front gates of the school.
The 56-year-old still remembers the alleged abuse taking place saying McElholm hands “were like an octopus because they were always moving”.
“He was always trying to get one hand down a waistband in under pants and the other hand groping the breast area. When there were two of us, he had one arm around one girl and the other arm around the other girl tight together side by side. It was so frightening.”
Caroline claims her alleged abuser’s attitude towards her and others “was that he was above us”.
“He was a superior and not to be challenged or questioned, he was untouchable.” She recalled how one of the other male teachers used to call her “headmaster’s pet” while she ate her lunch.
“This upset me so much, the fear and shame of it all,” she said.
And she added: “Hopefully someday this ‘pillar of society’ will be remembered for what he really was – a paedophile.”
McElholm began teaching at Irvinestown Boys Primary School (IBPS) in Mill Street on April 1, 1938 and later became principal. Shortly afterwards he got married.
After 27 years at IBPS, he became principal of the amalgamated St. Paul’s Primary School in 1966 where he remained until his retirement in 1978. 
For many years he was the local branch secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, later rising to the post of Chairman. He also served as secretary of the Northern Ireland Retired Teachers Union. 
In September 1943 he became involved in the local St. Vincent de Paul Society where he worked for the poor and sick. In 1962 he became President of the local society, a position he held until the period before his death. But it was through his involvement in the GAA that he was known all over Ireland. In his youth he played for Trillick and was on the team which won the Tyrone championship in 1937.
An avid fan of the game he became chairman of the St. Molaise club and the County Board in the same year 1959, the year Fermanagh won the all-Ireland junior title. He held the County Board seat until 1985 and was elected life president of the Board the same year. He was selected to serve on the first and highly controversial GAA Rules Revision Committee in the early 1970s and was a member of the Central Council. He served on the Arts Council under the auspices of Fermanagh County Council and was involved in drama and Fermanagh Feis. He also taught Irish dancing at one stage and was a member of the Sports Council. Along with his wife he was involved in the make-up department of Mount Lourdes operatic productions. He also helped out in Ballyshannon and was regarded as a leading light in the St. Maolaise Amateur Dramatic Society in the 1940s where he performed on stage as an actor. He was an officer of Irvinestown accordion band and the year he retired from St. Paul’s Primary School he served as President of Irvinestown Chamber of Commerce. 
Disturbing claims that McElholm abused his position of trust appear to have been backed up by a fifth source who contacted this newspaper on Monday claiming he witnessed abuse.
He said: “This was going on for years in St Paul’s. He was always very touchy feely with the girls. One of his traits was to take the girls to teach them Irish dancing in that classroom he was notorious for putting his hand down the waistband of their skirts.”
The source claims when he told his parents about what he claims to have seen he was told “in no uncertain terms not to say anything like that about the Master”.
“In those days Masters and Priests were treated like Gods; I blame his work colleagues for not making this public,” he said.
Finding out precisely what was known all those years ago is difficult.
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) was established in 1989 and as a consequence has no records or information available covering the period for which the allegations have been made. 
A spokesman said “We appreciate that this can be a very difficult process for the alleged victims and would recommend the advice and help that could be provided by our statutory partners such as Social Services, the PSNI or the CPSSS.”
A spokesman for the Clogher Diocese says it “was never made aware of any allegations against the Principal of St Paul’s Primary School, Mr. Mc Elholm, at any time”.
“The Diocese received no reports of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Mr. Mc Elholm, during his time as Principal, nor following his retirement,” he said.
In a statement the spokesman added: “The Diocese feels that the abuse of children is a horrific crime, and more so when perpetrated by someone in a privileged and responsible position, whose role should be to protect children in their care”.
“We encourage anyone who has concerns about the welfare and safety of children, or anyone who has been a victim of abuse to approach the PSNI and other State authorities. It is diocesan policy to report all allegations to the police and other Statutory Authorities,” he said.
Yesterday (Wednesday) a spokeswoman for the PSNI said: “Police cannot comment on the detail of specific cases however, the public should be assured that detectives in Public Protection Branch treat every allegation of child sexual abuse seriously, whether it happened recently or many years ago. 
“Public Protection Branch continue to offer to meet with any victim of historical sexual abuse, whether or not previously reported.”
When McElholm retired he received a Parker pen as a gift from his pupils and later told this newspaper it was a “privilege” to teach the children. But if these serious allegations of sexual abuse are correct, those who lost their innocence at his hands over many years would say his practices were anything but a joy.


Do you have information relating to the alleged abuse by John McElholm?
If you feel strong enough to share your story or information e-mail or phone 02866324422. All conversations and correspondence will be treated in the strictest of confidence. You can send a letter (remember to include a contact number) to: 
Rodney Edwards
The Impartial Reporter
BT74 7BT
Do you need help? 
The 24hr Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline – 0808 802 1414.
Nexus NI - 028 9032 6803.
The Rowan, a specialist regional Centre for victims of sexual violence and abuse that offers support - 0800 399 4424.
To report sex abuse to the PSNI:
Contact Police on 101 or through the dedicated email address at where you will be put in contact with a specially trained officer.