It took the court two days to hear all the horror stories that the 23 men had to tell and a third day to send John McClean to jail, 47 years after he abused the first child.

Man after man, victim after victim, came into Court 13 to bear witness to what was done to them. Some were alone, some came with their wives and partners. They sat quietly in the body of the court until it was their turn to reveal the shocking extent of what they had endured.

The 76-year-old prolific and dedicated paedophile sat slightly slumped in the dock with his head down and his right hand covering his face. He would not look at those he had violated. The men are now in their late 40s, 50s and 60s but they remember what happened to them as children as if it only happened yesterday.

Only one man felt able to take the stand to speak, choking up and in tears over what was done to him so long ago. The others listened quietly, some weeping as the prosecuting counsel Paul Murray read their victim impact statements into the record after the detective inspector in charge of the case, Jason Miley, had detailed the brutal, depraved facts.

It is, as one victim pointed out, "the subject that no one wants to talk about and no one wants to hear".

John McClean was 21 when he started teaching English in Terenure College in 1966. He admitted sexually abusing his first child there seven years later, in 1973. He was a big, strong, fit young man who also became the rugby coach.

In the eyes of those children, he was a forceful, formidable and frightening character. For the next 17 years, he continued to sexually abuse children aged 12 to 16 at the south Dublin secondary school.

McClean prowled the school corridors in search of victims. When he found a boy who had been put out of class for misbehaving, standing outside a door, he saw his opportunity. The victim would be taken away to be emotionally tortured, physically beaten and sexually abused.

McClean's abuse still haunts the lives of his victims. When he saw him almost 50 years later, one of the men remarked how McClean still retained "the evil stare, just the same as how he would intimidate you as a child".

A classic depraved recidivist paedophile, McClean manoeuvred himself into a position of trust and authority in the school. It enabled him to manipulate his colleagues, the school authorities and the parents so that he could get to the children.   

His crimes were both pre-planned and opportunistic. He gave the appearance of being dedicated to the development and progression of young people - but in reality he dedicated himself to destroying their lives.

McClean chose his targets carefully. He identified as victims the children who were meek, gentle and unlikely to resist. He also targeted those with stronger personalities, identifying a vulnerability in minor indiscretions such as smoking or talking in class and using these as leverage against them.

McClean prowled the school corridors in search of victims. When he found a boy who had been put out of class for misbehaving, standing outside a door, he saw his opportunity. The victim would be taken away to be emotionally tortured, physically beaten and sexually abused.

He engaged some of his victims on the pretext of getting them to help him, grooming them with bars of chocolate. Some children were abused several times, one boy 36 times. He also spoke to victims during the abuse, discussing warped and criminal fantasies and further confusing the children in the most disturbing and damaging manner.

He damaged relationships between parents and children in the most disgusting way, in one case utterly perverting the bond between father and son.

McClean knew where in the college he could bring children to be abused. He identified quiet and secure places - offices, classrooms, the sixth floor smoking room, under the stage, in the exercise hall, all places where he could lock the door.

He abused children during class, sport and drama practice. When he was finished he disdainfully dismissed them with the words "you can go".

He created situations that allowed him to be alone with children. Those injured during rugby sessions or gym classes found themselves faced with a man pretending to be concerned about various injuries only so that he could get his hands on them.

Others who chose to participate in the school play found themselves alone with this man for a so-called "costume fitting" during which they would invariably be instructed to strip before McClean first pretended to check the suitability of outfits while in reality engaging in sexual abuse.

Even today, the men still vividly remember John McClean's bulk, the smell of his aftershave, the navy pin stripe suit and the gown he wore, a symbol of his elevated position which he used to quite literally cloak the children and conceal his crimes.

McClean identified and targeted children who were particularly vulnerable. Children who had lost a parent, those dealing with difficult situations at home and those who had been sexually abused before.

At least two of his victims had been sexually abused in Terenure primary school, the feeder school for the second level college.

How did McClean know that these were children he could also abuse? Was there a connection between the paedophile in the primary school and the paedophile in Terenure College? A sharing of information akin to a paedophile ring? McClean has not said. His fellow paedophile in the primary school is dead.

Many of the children he targeted did not even know him. He wasn’t one of their teachers. But he knew them. He used a combination of friendship and fear to abuse the children, on the one hand threatening them with discipline or their parents, on the other falsely praising them or reassuring them if they felt they were in trouble.

He used his physical strength to restrain, torture and sexually abuse young boys. He remained coldly unmoved by his victims’ distress, oblivious to anything other than his own deviant sexual gratification.

His cruelty was casual. He even took an expensive hard back copy book from one of the 12-year-old boys which was precious to him because his father had given it to him. McClean never gave it back.

Even today, the men still vividly remember John McClean’s bulk, the smell of his aftershave, the navy pin stripe suit and the gown he wore, a symbol of his elevated position which he used to quite literally cloak the children and conceal his crimes. As one of his victims succinctly put it: "He hid behind a mask of authority and a cloak of respectability."

McClean operated in plain sight as he searched for victims. He didn’t hide. He was relentless in his pursuit of children. Even when the school was on holidays, he could still be found in the empty building.

What should have been seen as the actions of a dedicated teacher devoted to the preparation of schoolwork even in his downtime, was in reality the act of a sexual predator on the hunt for victims.

And he found them. Children who lived locally and hung around the deserted school yard or played rugby and football in the fields during the holidays. Such children were targeted. If he spotted them smoking, he knew he had a hold over them by threatening them with their parents or even expulsion.

He offered extra tuition to other boys so that he could hold them back after school to sexually abuse them. On one occasion two female cleaners happened upon him one day with a child in a classroom in the near deserted college. They could see the boy was upset as he left but McClean still got away with it and continued to abuse.

He sent messages to other teachers to have children in other classes sent to him under various pretexts but, in reality, to abuse them. One victim recalled having to leave Geography class after being told by the teacher that McClean wanted to see him.

He also had a strategy to deal with any miscalculations he may have made in relation to the selection of his victims. If a child succeeded in resisting or escaping, he simply ignored and avoided them in future. He moved onto his next victim.

On another occasion, McClean walked in to an Irish class and took a boy away. The teacher tried to stop him and told him the boy had to stay because was behind in his work. Her protestations, however, were to no avail. McClean gave her a look, said something to her and she backed down. He was aware of his own power and not afraid to use it.

If he brought a boy to an office and another teacher was there, he would calmly wait until the teacher left before locking the door and sexually abusing the child. One victim remembers the pressure McClean’s presence put on another teacher, so much so that he hurried up and left the room quickly.

He also had a strategy to deal with any miscalculations he may have made in relation to the selection of his victims. If a child succeeded in resisting or escaping, he simply ignored and avoided them in future. He moved on as if nothing happened. He moved on to his next victim.

One of his older victims, a 16-year-old rugby player, big and strong for his age, asked him what he was doing. They were in a locked room and McClean put his hand on the teenager under the guise of examining an injury. "Nothing," McClean calmly replied before unlocking the door and allowing the boy to leave.

He could also be vindictive and vengeful. Some of his victims found they were either not selected for or dropped from the school rugby team, no matter how good they were, as punishment for challenging him over his sexual abuse of them.

One such boy who left Terenure College after the abuse went to another school where he went on to play rugby again at a very high level. Others who stayed in the school found themselves further victimised as they were picked on by other teachers. One victim, later in life, was unable to go to rugby matches with his own children because of what McClean did.

As time went on, McClean became even more arrogant and brazen. He befriended the parents of his victims and inveigled his way into their homes. His ability as a rugby coach gave him a status which brought with it an aura of supremacy that proved a peril for children.

He knew - as do many paedophiles in positions of authority - how to abuse the trust adults placed in him, a trust which enabled him to abuse their children.

"It was galling to see him welcomed in our family home," one victim said. "This man knew no shame."

After abusing one child in one family he then moved on to abuse the younger brother. His status also prevented the children from telling anyone what was going on.

The survivors suffered psychological and psychiatric damage, anxiety and depression, a lack of self-confidence, failed relationships, post traumatic stress, broken down families and addictions to drugs and alcohol.

Already violated, shamed and confused by what had happened, most of the victims also knew what they were up against and didn’t think they would be believed. Sadly, they were right.

McClean faced down any and all suspicions and simply carried on. A Carmelite father was informed about the abuse in 1979 but in spite of a meeting with the victim and his parents - who supported and believed their child - the priest firmly dismissed the allegations. He told another boy they were not true, adding "that is to be the end of the matter".   

Another victim said he still very much regretted that he, too, was ignored by the school when he brought it to their attention. He wrote to Terenure College when he was an adult many years after the abuse had taken place. He never got a reply.

Some victims left the school and moved to other schools where they continued to suffer. Others did not complete State examinations, left school early with their education and future prospects already permanently damaged. One engineered his own expulsion by calling other teachers names.

"I was determined to get out of Terenure College, I couldn’t take it any more," he said. "I was free and I couldn’t be abused by John McClean again."

The survivors suffered psychological and psychiatric damage, anxiety and depression, a lack of self-confidence, failed relationships, post-traumatic stress, broken down families and addictions to drugs and alcohol.

They spoke of hospitalisations and suicide attempts, being on prescribed medications, ending up homeless on the streets of London, getting involved in criminality and serving time in prison.

One man said he impeded the development, later in life, of his own son who has special needs. The child could not get individual tuition because his father could not allow him to be alone in a room with a teacher after what he had suffered.

Another worried about being alone with his son and avoided such a situation throughout his childhood. His son was 27 when he finally told him what had happened.

As children, the victims had been put in an impossible position by a predator who had total control over them. One retaliated by finding McClean’s home phone number in Harold’s Cross in Dublin. He rang from a phone box and told McClean’s mother "your son is a queer." It was an act of defiance from a 13-year-old boy. Most suffered on in silence.

McClean, however, prospered at Terenure College even after a complaint had been made. He was promoted to form master for the First Years, the youngest and among the most vulnerable cohort of children.

The promotion meant he was given his own private office with a door he could lock. Not surprisingly, he went on to continue to sexually abuse children at the school for years.

One man repeatedly abused as a child by the man he referred to as 'evil personified' said the abuse sent him down such a road of self-destruction that his mother would sometimes call him 'the devil'. It's only now in later life that he has come to realise 'I am not the devil ... I just crossed paths with the devil at Terenure College.'

McClean committed these crimes, that are known of, while aged in his 20s, 30s and 40s. Although he pleaded guilty to 27 charges, there was a total of 99 incidents of child abuse.

Terenure College was a fee paying school and it was not cheap, particularly in the economically challenging times of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Many parents scrimped and saved to send their children there.

"My father worked night and day to keep me in that school," one victim said. "I was not an example of an obnoxious rugger bugger type. I ended up with nothing. I can never forgive the abuse."

One boy was the first in his family to go to a fee paying school. His parents were very proud of him. He wanted to be a pilot. McClean robbed him of that opportunity.

Others told of watching their parents counting out the coins on the table on Sunday night so they could make the payments. Little did they know what they were sending their sons into.

"My parents fought hard in the 1980s but fed their son to a monster in disguise," another survivor said.

One man repeatedly abused as a child by the man he referred to as "evil personified" said that the abuse sent him down such a road of self-destruction and caused so much trouble in the family home that his mother would sometimes call him "the devil".

It’s only now in later life that he has come to realise that his mother was wrong all those years ago. "I am not the devil," he said. "I just crossed paths with the devil at Terenure College."

Even though his actions, in time, allegedly became common knowledge in some circles, McClean was able to evade detection for years. One of the victims said that "the dogs in the street were barking about this particular individual in the 30 years he was there".

The children who were fortunate enough not to become one of his victims didn’t really understand what was going on. They handled it as children do, the only way they could. They knew to avoid him and warned each other about the danger of ending up alone with 'the doc,’ the rugby coach who developed an interest in sporting injuries to gain more access to more children.

The lifelong consequences reverberate to this day for McClean’s victims, so many of whom might have been saved if someone else in a position of authority and trust had stepped up and stepped in.

At least one Carmelite priest knew about the abuse in 1979 but refused to believe it. The College did however stop ‘the producer and director’ of the school plays from fitting any more costumes following that complaint. The boys were told that in future this was to be done by their mothers.

In 1996 there was another complaint from a parent and this time McClean admitted it. The then head of the Carmelites, Fr Robert Kelly, had discussed "the problem" of McClean with others. The Carmelites took legal advice and McClean’s admission was contained in a note drawn up, later discovered by the gardaí.

Fr Kelly had a number of meetings with McClean over the summer of 1996. He made it clear to the then 51-year-old that under no circumstances would he be returning to Terenure College for the new term.

McClean had taught at the school for 30 years and had gone there as a boy. He was granted a three-year career break. Like so many paedophiles before him who had been discovered by the authorities Catholic Church, McClean was given a clean bill of health and quietly moved on.

It may have been the end of his secondary school teaching career which he "polluted" with child abuse but it was not the end of his career in education and sport. McClean went on to have a stellar career in rugby.

Much like the paedophiles in swimming, he was highly regarded for his coaching skills and ability to win trophies and praised by people who knew nothing of his criminal background.

McClean become the Director of Rugby at UCD and lectured in Sports Management at the university. He received a presentation at the club’s annual dinner when he retired in 2011 and was called "a foundation stone of the modern club."

UCD revised its assessment this week calling his crimes "abhorrent" and "the devastation his actions caused….unforgiveable."

McClean was involved in Leinster and Irish schools rugby and played a role in the development of some of Ireland’s most famous and successful rugby players.

Leinster Rugby said this week it is "appalled" by his "heinous crimes" and hopes the survivors "find some peace in the coming months and years."

McClean was also the assistant coach on Irish schools rugby team’s tour of Australia in the summer of 1996. The IRFU has said it is not aware of any allegations relating to McClean’s time in the sport but points out that complaints would and should be made to gardaí.

It also said it wanted to "commend" the men "who found the strength to seek justice" and hope "this brings them some closure."

When the names of his victims were put to him and when he was shown the grainy black and white pictures of the boys in the old school annuals, he claimed he didn't recognise or remember them.

The earliest recorded attempt to bring McClean to justice was a complaint to gardaí in 1996. The complaint went nowhere. Ten years later, another victim complained to gardaí. This time a file was sent to the DPP who directed McClean was not to be prosecuted.

Four years ago, a former journalist at Independent News and Media, Gemma O’Doherty, took an interest in the case and wrote two articles for Village magazine. She spoke to some of his victims and named McClean publicly as a child abuser.

It emboldened some of the men to come forward and make statements which led to a fresh Garda investigation.

One victim described how his father rang him up after he read about McClean and Terenure College. The man said he had never told his father what happened and yet, on that phone call, his father said to him "I think they got him."

The survivors came forward, gave statements to gardaí and their evidence was collated in groups; first nine men, followed by four more and then ten more victims. Two of McClean’s victims who spoke to gardaí have since passed away.

"They are here with us in spirit," one of the other men said in court.

McClean was 73-years-old when the truth of what he had done was finally put to him in garda interviews. He continued to deny the abuse, with his solicitor beside him.

When the names of his victims were put to him and when he was shown the grainy black and white pictures of the boys in the old school annuals, he claimed he didn’t recognise or remember them.

His replies were characteristic of the man. The names of his victims, he said, "mean nothing to me". Those he abused had become nameless, faceless and dispensable. He even accused some of them of "fabricating" - making the abuse up.

"No, I don’t think I did any of those things, nothing is familiar" he told the detectives before turning to his solicitor and providing the more definite answer. "I didn’t do those things."

McClean was lying and he knew it. He had lived a life of crime and deceit and if he presumed he could continue to get away with it, he was wrong. He was arrested, charged and brought before the courts.

When the time came on 2 November 2020, for him to say whether the victims’ stories were true or not, he capitulated, pleaded guilty and finally acknowledged what he had done.

At 3.26pm that afternoon, Terenure College and the Carmelite Order issued a statement of apology but only by email to past pupils of the college. It was marked "confidential" and "intended only for the named addressee."

The victims were not impressed. One pointed out the statement was "well worded" but did not appear on the Terenure College website. "If you are truly sorry you own it," he said, "you put it on your website."

Others said the college should make a gesture to demonstrate its remorse. It could, they said, refund people’s fees or place a landmark monument to the survivors in the school grounds.

Only one of the 23 men who had been abused by McClean had anything positive to say about Terenure College. "I hope the school will recover from the activities of John McClean and grow stronger," he said.

John McClean knew he was going to be sent to jail but last Thursday made a last-ditch attempt to stay out of prison. He had not been vaccinated against Covid-19 and pointed out he has underlying medical conditions.

He is an elderly man in the vulnerable age group and his immunity is impaired through cancer treatment and Addison’s disease. He even submitted a letter from his GP to the court highlighting the "great risk to his life and health" in prison from coronavirus.

Judge Pauline Codd rejected his application and praised the victims for their "immense courage and strength". She said McClean acted with impunity and exploited the culture of the time, a culture and educational system that silenced the child. "Today, however," the judge said, "his victims have found their voice".

Terenure College and the Carmelites issued another statement on Thursday afternoon and this one is on the school website.

The principal, Fr Éanna Ó hÓbáin, and the Provincial of the Carmelite Order in Ireland, Fr Michael Troy, apologised to the victims and their families for failing in their duty to protect them. They said the college would provide them with effective and meaningful support.

They also said they are fully co-operating with gardaí and all relevant authorities in child protection matters.

The Garda investigation is not yet finished. They are continuing to investigate fresh abuse allegations as more of McClean’s victims come forward. Civil actions have also been filed against McClean and the college, with the Carmelite Order listed in a number of legal cases.

John McClean was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment with three years suspended for his crimes, a jail sentence of eight years. He can appeal but it will cost him even more money than he has already spent on his defence.

The gardaí successfully objected to him receiving free legal aid. He owns a house on Casimir Avenue in Harold’s Cross and has a comfortable pension.

"I will never forgive or forget what he did," one survivor said, reflecting the feelings of so many others. "He ruined my life when he was supposed to be protecting me."