'IT'S whatever you are used to. You know nothing different, so to you… it's normal."
How do you summarise a childhood destroyed by sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of alcoholic parents? How do you explain survival in a world without loving care, or the most basic human needs?

Sipping on a Coke in a random bar in a random town somewhere near the home dubbed 'the House of Horrors', it is remarkable that Paul (not his real name), an abused child who blew the whistle on his own parents, can even begin to attempt answers to such simplistic questions.

"I just remember them beating the heads off each other. There was a lot that didn't come out in the trial."

Both trials – one of a mother accused of incest and neglect and one of a father accused of rape, each against their own offspring – were among the most disturbing tales of domestic abuse in modern Ireland.

Separated by a year, they detailed an array of disturbing deeds in a remote country home where six children suffered unthinkable crimes.

Earlier this month, the father was sentenced to 14 years in prison for a total of 47 charges of rape, oral rape and sexual assault against his son over a three-year period. In January last year, the mother was given seven years for incest, sexual assault and neglect. Many charges never made it to court.

When social workers entered the home, they felt everything was fine and there was no major cause for concern. They were badly wrong.

Paul, now 20, told the Sunday Tribune that, while testifying against his father may have been somewhat cathartic for him, his younger siblings will never get the full weight of justice they had desired.

"They are getting on well [but] they were very disappointed that their own charges [against their parents] were dropped," he said. "They will find it a lot harder to move on."

Asked to reflect on the stories that never came out, Paul flashes a look that suggests he does not know where to begin.

"There was one time when my younger brother had done something bad and she poured boiling oil over his head. He had no hair for a long time and he still has a scar," he said.

"I was very disappointed when some of the charges were dropped. That he had broken both of my hands. The charges were dropped because it wasn't written down properly on the indictment."

Paul was a boy aged between 10 and 12 years old when his father crushed his hands together until they broke. First he took him to one hospital which in turn referred him to another. Despite his son's pain and obvious need of medical attention, he stopped in a pub along the way.

Paul uses the words 'he' and 'she' while discussing his parents, but the disgust and lack of connection with them is telling. And yet he is a surprisingly well-adjusted man given his life experience.

"I was delighted with the verdict [against his father] because I didn't know what way it was going to go. Everything went through my mind: that after so many years there was finally some sort of justice.

"I suppose that he is known in prison now and everyone will know that he is a paedophile which isn't what he was saying around the place.

"You mightn't think during the trial that it's worth it. You kind of doubt it but it is worth it. It's bad in the witness box because they make you feel like you are the one who has done something wrong."

The four youngest children – now aged between 11 and 17 – are in foster care in an unknown part of Ireland. All six meet up regularly and in spite of a shared experience that many would wish to forget, they remain very close. But there are unanswered questions that will continue to haunt each of them.

Why were charges dropped? Why does their father continue to deny his crimes? Why were they forced to share their nightmare in court?

"He might only serve 10 years. I would have liked him to have gotten life because he took our six lives," Paul said.

"It was his last chance to apologise. It was hard to take. At least my mother admitted it and she didn't make any of us go through being put in the box.

"Giving evidence was the hardest thing. It was awfully hard to talk about it. There is so much going through your head.

"You have to try and give answers and get it over with. Any time before that when I had to talk about it, it might have been one on one.

"Then in court it might have been 30 people. And at the end of the day it was down to 12 strangers to make a decision even though in this case it was the right decision. But they had either him to believe or me."

Further abuse charges never made it to court. Paul says this was never explained by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), giving voice to a common grievance with the criminal justice system. Victims and family members of victims often express dismay at the lack of transparency.

"I don't think it should just be no. I think there should be some sort of reason. We were only told when all the charges were read out. That was when we found out about it."

As previously revealed in this newspaper, other charges relating to the father's treatment of his children were dropped because HSE inspection reports noted that everything was ok.

It later emerged that the parents kept one room in the house relatively tidy – at least tidier than the rest of the home – and this is where the social workers were brought, seemingly falling for the illusion of domestic wellbeing.

"That was the only room the social workers would ever go into. They wouldn't walk around the place," Paul said.

"It was hard to hear them when they came out saying everything was alright but they wouldn't walk around [the other rooms] and they wouldn't talk to any of the kids.

"I would go to bed and there would be mice at the back of the beds. There would be no sheets. There was rubbish everywhere. There would be a track into the bed and that was it.

"There wasn't clean clothes or anything and we would be washed maybe once a week when the home help would come in. It was very embarrassing going to school and you would get bullied because of it."

A?HSE report on its handling of the case is ongoing. It had been 'monitoring' the family for six years before the gardaí became involved. For the eldest sibling, who was the only one in care in September 2004, making the reality of their lives known was a terrifying decision.

"I just thought that I was safe but the others were not and I had to get them out of the house," he said.

"I told two of the care workers in school what had happened in general. It was very difficult because I thought that they wouldn't believe me and that he would find out about it and I might be going back home. But they believed me and they rang the guards."

That move led to the children being placed in care and, eventually, to the investigation and prosecution of both parents, led by Sergeant John Hynes. He would later describe the case as "the most distasteful" he had ever been involved in.

Hynes has also suggested that some form of counseling should be offered, not just to those who are involved in an investigation of such nature, but also to jury members who must digest disturbing detail.

The children are also angry at Mína Bean Uí Chribín, the ultra-rightist Catholic who assisted their mother in a High Court action to maintain custody. The move resulted in four further years of abuse.

Social workers told the court during the mother's trial they believed Ui Chribin and her organisation had funded the High Court injunction.

"She funded the High Court action and the accommodation and the travel," he said.

"I remember being driven around by her. I was about 11 or 12. I don't think they should have any right to interfere. She was saying that what we needed was financial support, not intrusive action."

Now somewhat free of his past, Paul is making a fresh start with his life. In the immediate aftermath of his father's conviction, he took time off work to recover from the proceedings. But recovery from years of abuse is a longer, more complex scenario.

He plans to live in another country for a year, and his positive and constructive outlook to the future is an encouraging sign of what life might hold for the six abused children. Paul looks towards the future but says you cannot forget your past. "At the end of the day your two parents are still in jail. I hate them but they are still your parents."