12 women have now named John McElholm – the former principal of St. Paul’s Primary School in Irvinestown and former chairman of Fermanagh GAA – as the man who allegedly sexually abused them when they were children over 30 years ago.   Specialist detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch investigating historical sex abuse claims in Fermanagh have spent part of the past week interviewing new McElholm victims following an investigation by The Impartial Reporter.

The so-called pillar of the community who died in 1995 was lauded as a “God-like figure” but it is claimed Fermanagh’s longest serving Gael abused his position as principal by preying on innocent girls as young as nine-years-old and sexually abusing them before sending them back to class.

In last week’s newspaper, four alleged victims made serious allegations against McElholm and now one week later eight more have spoken out. It’s claimed there may be many more victims who fell victim to what was known as Irvinestown’s “open secret”.

Questions are still 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?

Helen (not her real name) is one of several victims to approach this newspaper.

Now 52, she says not only was she abused by McElholm but witnessed him abusing other schoolgirls too and claims she alerted one of the teaching staff to what was going on more than once.

“He was a scary, slithery man, you would never hear him coming but he’d be there, always wearing his desert boots.

“He would squeeze my shoulder and only once do I remember him actually putting his hand down the front of my pants. I did tell one of the teachers that I was afraid and he told me when it was my turn to collect the camogie sticks to throw them at the door and run.”

On another occasion Helen had to watch as a school girl was sexually molested in front of her by McElholm in his office prompting her to run off and tell a teacher.

“I was to his left, she was to his right. He abused her, he had his hands all over the place on her, I left the office before he put his hands down her pants, I remember thinking this was wrong.

“I went to down to [names teacher]. I said ‘she is in the office and Mr. McElholm is doing things that he shouldn’t be doing. I remember the veins on his neck were bulging he was that cross. He said ‘stay here, you haven’t done anything wrong’ and brought that girl back and she was never touched again.”

When Helen told her mother later that evening she was “slapped” for speaking ill of Master McElholm.

“She said ‘how dare you take that man’s name in your mouth, he is a saint. You don’t ever talk about that again’ and she slapped me for it. She slapped me for defaming a saint’s name. That’s what he was to her and others; a saint.

“I could name three girls who I witnessed being abused by him, two of them were constantly abused. He was untouchable, who was ever going to confront him?”

“It was definitely Irvinestown’s best kept secret,” she said.

McElholm was also 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.  Pauline (not her real name) still remembers McElholm’s “smiling face” and says seeing his grin now on the pages of this newspaper makes her “feel sick”.

“He’d walk around me in his office, I was the only girl wearing a bra. He’d come behind me and would start pulling my bra out and letting it go again,” recalled Pauline, now 58.

“I used to wear a wee watch, I got it from a nurse. I used to wear it on my uniform. He would come over and look at the watch to see what time it was even though there was a clock in his office. All he had to do was turn around to look at it.”

But he didn’t, instead he used this opportunity, says Pauline, to sexually molest her.

“Each time he look ed at my watch he would run around the top part of my breasts, I was just a child,” she said, her voice quivering. “I was in the chair, glued to it. But even if I was in the corridor on my own he’d come over to me and lift the watch, touching my breasts as he did it. That went on until I left the school in P7,” she said.

Looking back, Pauline says there was “no point” in her telling anyone what had happened.

“Who would have believed me? He was menacing, he had that grin on his face. I can still see it to this day. He was John McElholm, GAA and all this, who would have listened to me?”

Years later Pauline would find herself standing in a garden in Enniskillen when she’d hear McElholm’s voice reverberating over the hill. He was speaking at a Gaelic match in his capacity as Chairman of Fermanagh’s County Board, a position he held for 26 years.

“When I heard his voice it echoed because he was talking through a megaphone. If I was in the garden and heard his voice I would break down and cry. It was like I was a girl again; it was like I was back in that room with him, it was like he was in my garden but he wasn’t – he was in the Gaelic pitch.”

She says those childhood experiences have “stayed with me my whole life” and wishes that the former principal had been prosecuted for the alleged crimes.

“If we all had the guts to speak up years ago maybe he would have been brought to justice,” she said.

Pauline has confirmed she will now speak to detectives investigating McElholm so specialist detectives can build up a picture of what he was like.

“I will speak to police, even though now he’s dead I think what good will it do? But if it brought someone forward, another victim, who could share the pain I feel then yes, I will do it. Every time I see that smirk he makes me sick, he reminds me of Jimmy Saville,” she said.

“John McElhom was not this pillar of the community, he was nothing but a ba****d because he took children’s childhoods away from them,” she said.

Sinead was nine-years-old when she was first allegedly abused by McElholm after being asked to bring a book to his office. She remembers the encounter vividly.

“He’d close over the door; the office would be dark. I remember he’d stand behind me and thrust himself against me. He’d put his hands on my shoulders, then down the front of whatever I was wearing. Then he’d try to get inside in another time, down my waistband.”

The 58-year-old can still recall the very many Irish dancing classes she had to attend which were taken by McElholm whom, she says, would use the opportunity to molest her.

“If I didn’t lift my legs high enough to his satisfaction he would have come over and slapped me on the bottom. It was awful.

“On other occasions he’d be waiting for you by his office, the abuse happened every day of week; five times a week,” she said.

Sinead has explained that mother worked in the school when she was a pupil there, a fact she says McElholm used against her if he thought she was about to raise the alarm.

“He did say to me, ‘remember there are four mouths to feed in your house and I’m paying those wages’. Looking back I think he thought I was going to tell mummy, and he’d make it worse for me. Because of that I was afraid, we were a poor family, we had nothing so I couldn’t say anything,” she said.

Fighting back tears, Sinead has said she too will go the PSNI to report how her principal stole her childhood like so many others.

“I do hope McElholm is burning in hell because he has no legacy in Fermanagh and every picture of him hanging up on walls in this county should be burned. I know one place where his picture is hanging and if nobody takes it down I’ll take it down,” she said.