Tuesday 23 July 2019

Virtually everyone believed in violence against the boys

Kevin Myers

THE report of the Child Abuse Commission ends nothing and solves nothing. No doubt such a trawl through history is justified. But it was no more than an archaeological dig through one seam -- defined by genuine victims and self-styled victims -- rather than an open and wide-ranging look at the times in which the abuse occurred. And that is impossible.

I do not make light of the sufferings of children in the past.

But the truth is that the State had surrendered power over the schools that it financed to autonomous bodies (mostly Catholic churches) which were not answerable to it.

Quite the reverse. The political power of the Catholic Church, with the support of the vast majority of the Irish people, was one of the defining features of Irish life.

Anyone who did anything to diminish the status of that Church, or made allegations against its clergy, would have been ruined in the courts.

Up until relatively recently it was not possible to tell the truth.

In the early 1980s I interviewed a man who told me of physical abuse he had received at the hands of the Christian Brothers.

I wrote it up. My 'Irish Times' page editor, Bruce Williamson, called me in and said: "Are you trying to get us closed down? If the Christian Brothers sued us -- and they would -- they'd certainly win, and they'd make off with our printing presses."

That was Ireland. We were a backward, introverted, unenlightened, superstitious society. We beatified and conferred power on the unelected. Irish society, through the melancholy convolutions of Irish history, was intellectually barren, conformist and timid.

We have now flipped that society on its head, and we have a new conformism, with another priesthood in place of the old one. A left-liberal dogmatic secularism now prevails, especially in our schools of journalism and in most of its manifestations it is as intolerant as that which it has supplanted.

THE liberal-left lynch mob that went after poor Nora Wall a decade ago was prepared to destroy her life on the basis of lies. No one was imprisoned for those falsehoods. No doubt some of the 2,500 people who gave evidence before the tribunal were similarly lying. That's inevitable.

Moreover, we have created a sick fantasy about the past, a caricature-society which was run by violent, cruel and deviant priests and nuns, who were apparently parachuted in from outer space.

And all the selflessness and the sacrifices of thousands of religious (many of whom, as teenagers, had been forced into the clerical life by their parents) have just about been forgotten.

Look. Violence was a cultural norm once upon a time -- and not just here.

At the boarding school I attended in Leicestershire, I was beaten twice: once (aged 13) for reading 'Biggles in Borneo' in Latin class, and next (aged 15) for taking part in a pillow fight. The 'cane' used was known as the 'swish'.

Neither word does justice to the implement. It was made of thick bamboo, was polished, and had a leather handle and a brass ring at the top. In other words, people actually made a living from manufacturing and selling such instruments. Think about it.

Punishment consisted of four strokes across the buttocks. For the first caning I was wearing trousers, the next, pyjamas.

The pain was astoundingly all-consuming. Not merely did my bottom feel as it had been violently struck by red-hot iron rods, but my brain nearly exploded in agony.

Yet my over-riding emotion was not one of injustice at what was happening to me, but a determination that I should not cry out. At the conclusion of each beating, my assailant shook my hand and congratulated me on my stoicism.

I later examined myself in the mirror. Across my buttocks were four livid, black, red and purple welts. These were swollen and oozed blood. My underpants and pyjamas looked like used-bandages.

I could not sit comfortably for a week, and for that time, my underwear and sheets were regularly bloodied. By today's standards, this was a criminal assault. By the standards of the time, it was perfectly normal and the ability to take one's punishment without complaint was a test of manhood.

I don't compare what happened to me with what happened to so many children in so many schools, especially those who were sexually abused. I am merely saying that virtually everyone believed in the use of violence against children. Had not my parents -- kind, loving people -- sent me to that school, knowing that corporal punishment was part of the regimen?

Sexual interference by members of staff was of course not part of the authorised regimen. But on the very few occasions when it happened, everything was hushed up and though many boys were aware of these scandals, they didn't report them to their parents or the police. One didn't tell tales, no matter what.

The past is another country.

The greater truth of that mysterious land perishes soon after the train leaves the station, and thenceforth, it is largely a question of travellers' tales -- of griffons, dragons, mermaids and unicorns. Not just about child abuse, but about everything.

kymers@independent.ie

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