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Former housekeeper speaks of her disgust at flagrant behaviour of paedophile priest


By Francesca Ryan

The housekeeper of a former West Belfast priest jailed for sex abuse says he reacted angrily when she had asked him to stop bringing children to the  parochial house in the 1980s. James Martin Donaghy, 53, from Lady Wallace Drive in Lisburn, was convicted of 23 sex abuse charges against a young adult and two teenage altar boys.  On Friday past he was handed a 10-year sentence at Belfast Crown Court.

The trial, which ended in December, saw the three victims give evidence against the priest, describing him as “domineering and controlling”. Now his housekeeper, who does not wish to be named, paints a similar picture of a man she calls “a manipulator”.


The woman lived in the parochial house at St Michael the Archangel church on Finaghy Road North in the mid-1980s where she cared for ailing priest Fr Charlie Agnew. Donaghy, who stepped down from the priesthood in 2004, was also living in the house at the time.

“This story has made me physically sick,” she said.  “I knew he was arrogant and ignorant but this is sickening.

“I lived in the house with him in 1984 to look after Fr Agnew who was ill. Fr Donaghy was there but it was Fr Agnew who employed me.

“Fr Donaghy always had kids in the house and I remember saying to him about it because Fr Agnew was a diabetic and he had a bad heart, he wouldn’t have been fit for all that.  I asked that man to stop bringing kids to the house and he snapped back that he was there before me and just walked out and slammed the door.  He was so ignorant to me from then on.”

The woman recalled how Donaghy never let her into his bedroom to clean up.

“I looked after Fr Agnew and that… thing,” she said.  “I fed him and cleaned his clothes but I was never allowed into his bedroom, he never let me clean it, he always said he would do it himself. With what I now know, I can’t even begin to imagine what was in there.”

Alarmingly, the housekeeper says the shamed  priest was constantly involved in projects with local schoolchildren.

“There were boys in the house two or three times a week, always boys, never girls.  I never saw girls at the parochial house,” she said.  “He was always working with children and was never out of the school [St John the Baptist]. The day Fr Agnew died, the nurse rang the parochial house looking for Fr Donaghy to tell him the news. He was at the school, of course. If there was anything to do with the kids, he was there, scouts and everything.”

She described the several different personalities of Donaghy that she encountered during her time at St Michael’s parochial house.

“He was very immature and used to wear a scout’s tie around the house, but there was also a really arrogant side to him and he thought he was above everyone else.

“He never liked to be told he was wrong, he would be quite moody and was always slamming doors. He made me feel like dirt on the bottom of his shoe. He had a thing about women, he would be quite rude to them, it was only boys he was interested in. But there was one lady who used to buy him gifts and he totally led

her on. This man was a total manipulator and I think he would’ve charmed those kids. It’s disgusting.”

On the death of Fr Agnew in 1985, the woman moved out of the house, leaving Fr Donaghy alone. She was visibly upset to think about what may have taken place not only while she was there, but after she left.

“I left when Fr Agnew died and he would have had the house to himself for about six weeks. I dread to think what was going on. I’m glad Fr Agnew didn’t hear about this when he was alive because it would have killed him. There is no way this is about three children,” she adds.  “There were kids coming and going all the time so I feel there will be more cases coming out of the woodwork. It’s sickening to think I looked after that bastard. I would love to face him now and tell him that he is something from the bottom of my shoe.”

As well as the 10-year jail term, the judge ordered that Donaghy remain on the sex offenders register for the rest of his life and he also imposed a 15-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order, barring him from being alone with children, working with children, or living in accommodation without approval.

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