Tuesday 17 July 2018

Children's tales from their own private hell

Victims' memories reveal the nightmare of abuse suffered at the hands of the nation's religious orders, writes Maeve Sheehan

SHOWING SOLIDARITY: Lord Mayor of Dublin, Eibhlin Byrne, looks on as people sign a Book of Solidarity for those who suffered abuse, in The Mansion House, yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin
SHOWING SOLIDARITY: Lord Mayor of Dublin, Eibhlin Byrne, looks on as people sign a Book of Solidarity for those who suffered abuse, in The Mansion House, yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin

THE shocking memories from blighted childhoods of the former residents of religious-run institutions have inspired shame and revulsion. These are some of the stories victims and members of the religious orders told the Commission on Child Abuse.

"The Justice said: 'I will give him three months in an industrial school. The Garda Sergeant said, no, they won't take him for that. He says, I will give him 6 months, and he said they won't take him for that. He said, how long will they take him for? At least two years. Right, he says, I will give him 2 years', and that was it."

An ex-resident of Letterfrack, who was sent there in January 1971 and remained there until January 1973.

"Me Dad died and we were that poor me mam went off to England to get a living, you couldn't get a living around there . . .(local area) I was with an aunt, we were at school but you had to buy everything and there wasn't the money. I was working in the fields, trying to help out, that's what I was mostly doing. A priest came by and he said I wasn't doing good at school and he said he would find me a good place. He rang my mother up in England and she was delighted, you know, a convent . . crying . . . she was grateful. My mother agreed to it, she said the nuns were so holy, that they done good in there, that I would get a good education and be well looked after."

An ex-resident of an unnamed residential institution.

"I had three visits in five years in (a named school) . . . my mother came to collect a borrowed coat I had worn in court (on the day of admission) . . . a cousin came to tell me my mother had died; and my sister came to tell me the whole family were moving to England and would send for me when they could. I was allowed out to attend my brother's funeral."

An ex-resident of an unnamed residential institution.

"The only way I knew I had a brother was they used to serve Mass on a Sunday morning and that was our only chance of getting to see them. We would all see them, but they were not allowed speak to us. We were proud of them, one was very handsome . . . Later, when they were older, they were allowed over on a Sunday but they were not allowed in, they had to stand at the door, we could talk to them there. Usually visitors were allowed into the parlour, they weren't."

An ex-resident of an unnamed residential institution.

"The nuns' bins would be lovely, you would eat the bread out of their buckets, you would get it as you were walking along the path in the garden going down to the work in the fields, you'd pick out the bread."

An ex-resident on how she foraged for food.

"Night times were the worst; if you weren't taken out of bed and beaten, you were listening to it happening to someone else. You could hear the screams all over the whole building at night. Up to four Brothers would come and take a boy out of bed on some pretext and give him a hammering . . . they would do what they wanted. They were like a pack of hunting animals."

anonymous.

"I remember sitting at the table and, excuse me now, but being forced to eat my own vomit because you were not allowed leave the table until you eat, if you didn't eat it. I would get a slap for retching . . . They used to hit with the ring they had on their finger or with the knuckles, on the head or with a steel comb. The food would be there the next day and it would be left there until you eat it, you would be days without eating and there would be mould on it."

anonymous.

"The nuns told me my mother was dead, they said: 'do you see that star up there, well she is up there'. Then, a few years ago, I got a phone call to say my mother was dead (had just died) . . . I'm in such shock, I can't believe it. I asked some questions and then said, 'it's got to be my mother'. If only I had been given a chance to see her, to say goodbye and to say 'look mum, I understand and I forgive'."

anonymous.

"He sat me down, made me a cup of tea, well, poured a cup of tea, and then he took his penis out . . And he pushed my head down on to his lap, and I had to give him oral sex . . . I got back up, sat up straight and he started opening my trousers then, but I wouldn't, so I resisted him. He got angry with me then and he smacked me with a teapot."

An ex-resident of Letterfrack in the Sixties.

"Well the . . . thing has haunted me all my life. It should never have happened. Actually, he didn't eat the excrement, he spat it into the basin, that doesn't matter, it was wrong, totally wrong, and I accept that. I accept full responsibility for it. It was cruel . . . A few days before I mentioned this to some of the staff, 'what will I do', I couldn't get any help from anybody. One of them quite cynically said, 'make him eat his own shit'. When I think now on this particular morning, he did it right out in the floor in front of everybody and I saw red, I saw anger, I thought he was doing it purposefully to ridicule me."

A Christian Brother in Letterfrack admits making a child eat his own excrement.

"That Mr X, local inspector of the Nspcc, was having boys committed exactly one year under their true age. When this complaint was made to me, I enquired what interest this gentleman had in this falsification of documents and found that the bursar had asked himself the same question earlier in the year, especially when he was asked to sign a cheque for £9 for X's 'expenses'. On being asked a third time for the cheque, the bursar told him he felt compelled to protest against this payment as it seemed to him to be a bribe, or like a bribe, to induce X to bring boys to the school."

A Christian Brother reports on how inspectors for the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children were paid "expenses" to bring children to St Joseph's Industrial School in Tralee.

"We started tittering laughing. I think Br Laurent 52 thought we were laughing at him. He asked him again. Poor John kept guessing and always getting the wrong one. Eventually, Br Laurent just blew his top. He hit that lad and got his head and smashed it . . . on the bench. The ink wells went up, he was covered in ink, snots, blood, everything. He spent the entire half hour, three quarters of an hour, beating this lad, until John eventually had a run of luck and picked this out three times in a row. With that, when the bell went or the whistle, Br Laurent just slumped down exhausted from beating this lad. While we were, in the beginning, tittering, some of the lads were crying, we were frightened that he was going to kill him. We made way for him at the door. It was ghastly.

"The Brother at the other end, one class faced that way and the other faced that way, never intervened once to come down. That wasn't like Br Laurent but he just lost it that day. He battered this poor lad, he was in bits. So don't tell me there it was isolated cases, that Brother at the other end should have done something about it but he didn't."

An ex-resident of Artane.

"There are three and possibly four cases there where I would say yes, there was certainly very severe punishment administered. I am not saying that is the totality of it, I am saying that is what I can work out of on record. I would say the discipline was quite strict and corporal punishment was used and so on. What I am saying is I don't think that, even in relation to physical punishment, that it was an abusive institution by the standards of the time."

Brother Michael Reynolds, a Christian Brother, on Artane.

"The kindest thing that ever happened to me was a nurse, she was called . . .Ms X . . . we were all around saying the Rosary and she put a sweet in my hand, one sweet. I didn't want to eat the sweet, I wanted to hold on to it; somebody gave me something, somebody was kind. It became a regular thing about once a week, one sweet. I began to look forward to it . . ."

An ex-resident offering a "positive" memory from an institution.

"I would love to have said the word 'mum' . . . When my daughter says it and I hear my grandchildren say it, it's lovely."

An ex-resident who is now a loving grandmother

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