By Jim Smith
BOSTON — Damien Brennan and his father, John, are back in Boston for Damien’s annual skin grafts at the Shriners Burns Institute, a pediatric hospital for burn victims affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
"When we first came here over three years ago, we didn’t know a single person in Boston," Brennan said during a recent interview with the Echo. "Now everybody seems to know Damien. The people back home helped us a lot, but the people over here have been unbelievable.
Residents of Boston first heard of Damien’s plight in April 1996 when former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle spent a couple of hours with the Brennan family and then wrote about the September 1992 savage attack on Damien by three older boys who called him "a Fenian bastard" before dousing him with paint thinner and setting him on fire at a Portadown, Co. Armagh, playground.
Barnicle’s account of the story was challenged by local British officials but eventually confirmed by Northern Ireland authorities.
According to Brennan, Damien will receive a substantial settlement in criminal damages from the Northern Ireland Office once he turns 18.
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Damien, who was 5 years old during the attack, suffered burns over 60 percent of his body and severe scarring of his face, back and shoulders.
"He goes through a lot of pain for a few days after the grafts, but his spirit is amazing," Brennan said. "He loves coming here. Most people here treat him like their own son."
Damien, who is now 12, has been receiving counseling monthly since the attack seven years ago, along with his father, his mother, Jean, and Vickie, his older sister.
"It’s been tough emotionally and financially for the whole family," Brennan said. "Damien still has nightmares, and he gets frustrated at times. Even I need someone to talk to now and then, and whenever I’m over here there’s always somebody to turn to."
Damien, who enjoys swimming and horseback riding, will be entering his second year at the Lismore Comprehensive Intermediate School this fall, where, his father said, the boys get along with him well and the girls love him.
In October 1996 hundreds attended a fund-raiser for Damien in West Roxbury, organized by Jack Meehan of the AOH and other friends of Damien Brennan. Thousands of dollars were raised to pay for transportation expenses. Damien’s skin grafts at Shriners, where medical care is free, are expected to continue for about another eight years.
Damien is an honorary member of the AOH in Watertown, and he has marched in a recent South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade.
"When we looked up and saw those banners hanging from the windows and the placards that said, ‘Welcome Damien to South Boston,’ I swear to God it was very touching," Brennan said.
Damien and his father have been staying with family friends Mike Heffernan and Mary Devlin in Dedham. Persons wishing to make contact with the Brennans can reach them through Devlin’s A Taste of Ireland shop at 1898 Centre St., West Roxbury, MA 02132.