In those times and in those places our clergy gaolers singled out certain people for their brand of “religious” invective. On many occasions this fell on a particular ethnic group within our Child Detention Centre. Travellers. I remember with horror the treatment meted out to Traveller children.
The nuns had a particularly nasty hatred for Travellers. I’m sure it was to do with their own attitude to their bodies. Whereas the Travellers had no problem with their nakedness during bathtime or bedtime. The nuns used to be horrified at this, and would beat these little children quite mercilessly in the bath-house with switches, canes – whatever was to hand really. The effect this had on the rest of us was to makes us extremely frightened of anyone seeing our bodies.
On Sundays the nuns took us for walks outside the Detention Centre. On occasions we would turn left and walk us up to the very outskirts of Kilkenny City, in pairs holding hands all of us being warned to keep our eyes on the ground in front of us, and then the nuns would turn us around without entering the city and march us back. On other occasions we would turn right and take a walk in the country. On this country walk we would sometimes encounter Travellers parked along the road. The nun would warn us of the dire consequences if we dared take a peek at this exotic sight. Of course some of us did and we were walloped.
Myself, I thought the Travellers had an ideal life. The aroma of the food was mouth-watering, the sight of the campfire was romantic, their caravans, those old ones with the green arced roofs, were magic looking. The nun had no problem in shouting vicious insults at the Traveller families at the side of the road, calling them evil, filthy pigs. The Travellers ignored the nun and this made her even madder.
Naturally we would look then as it was plain to us that she was going to “fly off the handle”. When she did it was to us that she vented her spleen. So much for “country walks”. I remember once “absconding” from that place and heading through the fields towards a Traveller family parked alongside the road. They took me in and fed me. I have never since tasted such fresh bread, or tastier rasher and sausage and their mug of tea was MAGIC. Even I could tell that these people were SPECIAL. They had NO FEAR of the nuns, and they bent the knee to no one but God. They WERE very religious but it seemed to me, and I was only about 8 years old, that their religion was a HAPPY faith.
In any event they took me all the way into Kilkenny City where I was hoping to get to my family who actually lived only 17 miles from me, but I was hopelessly lost and some man from a butchers’ shop grabbed me and handed me back to the nuns. Later on in another Detention Centre a guy called Ward saved me from a rape and for a time (until he left) I had a protector. This actually taught me the value of family – I learned Family Values and Friendship from Irish Travellers.
I learned about HUMANITY from people who these BLACK-GARBED CHRISTIANS NUNS denigrated. I learned more about LOVE and FAMILY and BELONGING from people who were called PIGS by the same BLACK-GARBED NUNS.