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A DAY IN THE LIFE 1958 : There is nothing these nuns hate more than the insolence of a child. Over their CHILD GULAG they had a Latin phrase which translated meant: I WILL TEACH YOU THE FEAR OF THE LORD. Of course all that Latin bullshit was beyond me as a five year old – well most of it – the bit that I could grasp told me that this Lord was a bullshit artist. I mean how could a child be expected to say a prayer before a meal which consisted of slop – green mash, GREEN FUCKING MASH!!! and these fucking nuns wanted me to say THANKS TO THE LORD for it!!!

NO WAY – I’d quickly say PRAYERS for the food them fucking nuns were having but not for the slimy slop THEY were dishing up to me. At my first opportunity I broke into their kitchens (yes kitchens) and stole a huge can of beans – now we’re talking huge here because this can was of catering size and by God a catering can of beans in the hands of a five year old is some big bazooka of a bean feast. Being five of course I didn’t have the sense to also steal a fucking TIN OPENER; So I went from hero to zero in about 10 seconds flat in the eyes of me other starving chum – but necessity being the mammy of intervention we took turns in jumping on this can until it was almost squashed as flat as a pancake – not really true that but you know what I mean. The can was all crumpled and was actually beginning to leak out some of it’s luscious tomato sauce. We sucked away at it till one of us had the really brill idea of dropping the can from the top of the fire-escape stairs.

By gum that worked a treat for the can exploded magnificently. Beans explode all around the place and DID WE FEAST? You bet WE DID. Of course our little adventure didn’t go unnoticed by the nuns and when we heard one of them screaming at us we took off to hide. But me being me I wanted as much of the beans as I could fit into me little belly (I mean I might not get another chance at such exotic food for a long time) and I continued to stuff the beans into me mouth and me pockets, me socks and wherever I could fit them. Naturally the nun caught me and asked WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING? I replied honestly (I did, I did) that I was EATING and as I said earlier Nuns just don’t like insolence in a child so she battered me to Hell and gone, I was laid up in bed for about a month after that.

What the fuck did these nuns expect from someone they called the spawn of the devil?

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To Freedom

Autumn was the time of the year when we’d be marshalled to take in the harvest from the fields attached to the Institution, in our boots with leather laces; I remember the head of the Religious Order being asked at the Child Abuse Commission whether the children had “wet weather gear” and he was unable to provide an answer. That’s a puzzle as it would be very easy to find out from the records of the Order. The truth is we didn’t have anything as fancy as “wet weather gear”.

We’d start marching to the fields in pairs at 9:30am and would arrive at the fields at 10:00am or so.  We’d be in the fields sometimes until 8:00 pm, depending on how much was to be harvested.  Most days we finished at 4:30pm and we’d be marched back for our “tea” of Skinners – two slices of bread, spread with dripping and a mug of watery tea.  During our days in the field we would sometimes get skinners and dripping and other times we’d get “Oxtail” soup.  The soup was basically dark brown stock with a thick coating of grease but after being working in the fields of “Ferryhouse Farms” it tasted much much better than the raw spud, or beet, or turnips which we supplemented our diet.

“Ferryhouse Farms” consisted 80 acres, not all of it tilled as they had fruit trees, tomatoes, salad crops and a modern dairy farm with cattle. If memory serves me I believe in my time the dairy farm had 120 cattle. The cattle were regularly washed after leaving the milking parlours.  The place was scrubbed from top to bottom literally and hosed down daily. The cattle looked spic-and-span.

Some of us felt that getting out of the workshops or classes, to work in the fields, for a few weeks was okay as it was a change from the drudgery of knitting, sewing, stitching etc., even though the work in the fields was back-breaking and dirty. Some of even looked forward to the “shnagging” of the turnips because we used them as a “supplement” to our usual “food”.  And at the time of the year there were plenty of blackberries, haws, elderberries  and Devils Berries in the hedges. We’d nominate a few of us to sneak off into the hedges to “acquire” our real harvest.

I don’t want to paint a romantic picture of this work but each fistful of blackberries we could “acquire” was a victory for us against “Them”, we’d have “feasts” in the fields and still have plenty over for our return. Some nights we’d have ‘feasts’ in the dormitory with the fruits and vegetables we were able to cadge. There were many of us who had an almost permanent purple colour around our mouths.  The Devils Berries had almost the same effect as watery cider as it would lift our spirits and make us more cheerful.  These berries were fairly rare and that’s probably a good thing as we always, always vomited after scoffing them.  The vomit was very white and thick and I’ve heard since that they’re supposed to be poisonous but we probably built up a resistance to them!

On the walk to the fields the sides of the roads would be covered with leaves of all colours and we used to drag one leg as we walked, this let us gather up huge mounds of leaves where we could then kick them and scatter them some more. It was just a childish thing with no harm and I’m sure we’ve all done it but Father Barry took exception to myself and my chum as we seemed to be having a riot of a time. So he detailed the both of us to stay back and gather all the leaves around the front of Ferryhouse and bring them to the furnace to be burned.  That meant we’d have no “diet supplements” that day and that we miss our meal of bread and dripping!

Anyway we made a game of it and gathered a few huge mounds of leaves on the road outside Ferryhouse, eventually we gathered them into one gigantic mound and played “cowboys & Indians”, or “King of the castle”. Most of the time though we just dived into the leaves and burrowed our way through the mound.  The job of “bagging” the leaves and taking them to the furnace was forgotten and we eventually had moved all the leaves down to the banks of the River Suir where we proceeded to scatter them into the river.

The sight of all these multicoloured leaves flowing down a fast flowing river is something I’ve never forgotten. The leaves were, in a way, heading to freedom – speeding away from us, never to be seen again. The length of this carpet of leaves flowing down the river was at least 500 yards long and I’m sure plenty of people downstream got sight of it.  I’ve always wondered what they thought of this almost endless carpet of leaves as it sped by them.

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The IMPACT of abuse is IMMEDIATE. You don’t feel good about your self, you don’t speak up for yourself, you let people walk over you, trample on your feelings, your emotions, your self-esteem. You find it hard to actually look at yourself eye-to-eye in the mirror. You distrust your instincts. You are fearful of the past catching up with your present. You minimise the abuse you suffered. You isolate yourself from the community. You become overprotective of your own family. As a child you haven’t, of course, read all the “Coping Strategies” books and you certainly haven’t attended any seminars on child abuse. You’re only a child, but you’re also a child in captivity so there is no Mum or Dad or Auntie or Uncle you can run to for comfort or help. You are alone as are all the other children you are in captivity with.

I remember once dirtying my knees when I was around 6 or 7 [] years old while I was under the “tender” dominion of the Sisters of Charity. One of their nuns went ballistic – absolutely ballistic on seeing the dirt on my knees. Now a nun going ballistic near a group of small children can be hilarious but we knew this was just a prelude to something more terrible. I just stood there as she vented her rage – name calling was only the least of it, if people are confused about what a HATE-FILLED RANT is need only ask me or any of us – it’s very obvious, in hindsight, that this particular nun was not happy at all in her job.

The spittle that gather around her mouth was an awesome sight, no matter how often you witnessed it, her eyes were popping and her face was contorted. All well and good of course because it’s just a HATE-FILLED RANT and when she’s finished I’ll get a few wallops and she’ll move on to some other thing that’s annoying her. But this White Garbed-Monster (she was a novice nun and dressed completely in white) was wielding a hurley stick and she swung it better than Christy Ring. Right across my legs. She just kept bashing me on the legs and knees with the hurley until blood started squirting out of my left knee. I ran into the toilets to hide, and sat down on one of the toilets seats and the squirting turned into a flow of blood. I remember feeling quite hot and sweaty, I remember looking at one of the panels on the door, it was like a mirror. I could see this little child, his face was sweating and he had incredibly sad crying eyes. When I think of the abuse visited on ALL of us in those …places I see that little child’s face.

I don’t see the blood gushing from his knee, I don’t feel the physical pain he is feeling, I just see those sad crying eyes. This was the first time I had seen myself. I’m sure there were mirrors in that…place but they would have been too high for little children. So all the other children knew what I looked like except me. I remember a photograph was taken of a group of us once before this and it took the other children to point me out.

I carry the IMPACT of this HATE-FILLED RANTING NUN to this day in the shape of LIVID SCARS on my knee. But the memory of it is ALWAYS those SAD CRYING EYES of a helpless child. Today when I look into a mirror I see it all again. For years I avoided mirrors, but today I am not afraid to look into a mirror and I feel that I am reaching out to that child, and I feel I am no longer helpless….. nor is that child.

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When I was recently asked about punishments in those places by someone who was never in those places I think she expected an answer like: “well they used they’re hands or fists to box us or clatter us, their feet to boot us and they used blackthorn sticks or big leather belts for more formal punishments.” Sounds like an answer that couldn’t be denied, even she could relate to those types of punishments. She was around 40 years old and she was from the era of corporal punishment. But that wasn’t the answer I gave her.

In those places EVERYTHING was part of your punishment. Mealtimes were a PUNISHMENT. Our food was vile, it really would have been illegal AND cruel to feed pigs on what we “survived” on. Our main food really was bread and dripping. And the dripping wasn’t the nice white strained stuff you’d see on the shelves of Tesco’s all nicely wrapped, nope it was a funny yellow colour.

Funny isn’t the right word there – it was a kind of OFF-YELLOW/KHAKI colour. Having that spread on your skinner (slice of bread) in the morning at 7:00am was meant to sustain until 12:30 in the afternoon. I remember getting “porridge” too, note the quotes as when I became an adult and was given porridge I hesitated because what I was being served as an adult didn’t look or didn’t taste anything like what I got as porridge in those places. I firmly believe that this “porridge” we were given was something that the pigs had refused to eat.

Dinners were another PUNISHMENT. Let me describe a STEW in those places. Imagine a gravy, not too thick now, with soft watery lumps, 3 strands of meat – these strands are THINNER than your laces and about the length of your thumb (this is the thumb of a 10 year old child), 2 slices of carrot and 1 spud (green tinged of course). But wait now we also got desserts sometimes, really we did. How ever so posh. May I describe the dessert? OK. Well it was a bread pudding. That’s not very posh I hear you say – but hold on now – our bread pudding was also green-tinged AND had that OFF-YELLOW/KHAKI colour. Beat that.

Tea/Supper was the old reliable: Bread and Dripping again but THEY did try to vary our Tea/Supper because we’d get “Oxtail Soup” sometimes. Well THEY called it “Oxtail Soup” and I’ve watched, with something approaching jealousy, my own children having Oxtail Soup and let me tell you my children’s Oxtail Soup is nothing like the “Oxtail Soup” dished up to us in those places. We’ll never know what kind of dish it was as the Government of the day didn’t have the right to demand from these orders the diet that we were fed on. I’m just talking about our diets in those places being used as way to PUNISH us. But really everything about those places was a PUNISHMENT.

From the isolation from society, to the regimentation of little children – being forced to march from one place to another, children being forced to stand to attention in the yard semi-naked while the “nurse” inspected us OR, if the notion took her, have a good few of us scrubbed down with purple or brown iodine. Being forced to say rosaries was a PUNISHMENT, being forced violently to run around the yard with a lighted candle at night in the rain was a PUNISHMENT. Being forced violently to scrub toilets with your own toothbrush was a PUNISHMENT.

Being forced violently to learn how to darn a sock was a PUNISHMENT. Being physically separated from your brother or sister was a PUNISHMENT. Being forced to listen to those black-garbed monsters denigrate you Mum and Dad was a PUNISHMENT. Being violently forced to become right-handed was a PUNISHMENT. And most of these PUNISHMENTS you became inured to, they became part of your everyday existence. You didn’t think much of the rights and wrongs of them after a while, you let them lie in your sub-conscious mind until, as an adult, a certain aroma or sound or sight would bring them into focus and you’d rage against those black-garbed monsters. These black-garbed child haters are STILL working with vulnerable communities in this country, they’ve spread their particular poison around the world.

I believe their PUNISHMENT should be the immediate closure of these orders in this country, their properties and their riches should be taken from them and these orders should be banished from this country. My goal is to prevent them from working with vulnerable communities in this country ever again.

PERSPECTIVE

As a former detainee from Ferryhouse I’d like to state here that child detainees who wet their beds were punished…… Firstly they were segregated in the Dormitories. Secondly they were given a Special Name: SAILORS. Thirdly they were severely thrashed. Fourthly they were forced to wash their sheets with carbolic soap. Fifth they were separated from the rest of the boys for verbal and psychological humiliation. Sixth they were disallowed from washing themselves forcing them to go around all day smelling of urine – this meant that they received more physical punishments from those who were teachers or workshop managers.

At the farce they called the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse on September 8 2004 the current representative of the child-gaolers from Ferryhouse, stated that boys who wet their beds at night were not punished. He said he asked those older members of his “celibate” organisation whether there were punishments for bed-wetting and they stated that there were no punishments. They are LIARS. Or is what I stated a fantasy?

Another this representative said was that punishments were mostly spontaneous and not formal. That is another lie. Punishments were formal.

You were hit for Belching (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having a hole in your sock (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having a button missing from your shirt (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having a button missing from your trousers (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having a hole in your jumper (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for basically growing out of your shoes (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having dirt in your nails and this after spending the whole day picking spuds. (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having a “tideline” after washing in the morning (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having soiled underwear – one of their obsessions (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for whispering in the chapel (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for walking when you should have been running (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for running when you should have been walking (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for turning left when you should have turned right (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for turning right when you should have turned left (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for not joining your hands in the chapel (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for getting a spelling wrong (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for not standing to attention when a Brother entered the room (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for not knowing your catechism (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for dropping a stitch in the knitting shop (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having dirty knees after being digging in the fields (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for being dirty after working in the pigsty (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for refusing to play hurling (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for refusing to play Gaelic football or hurling (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for being insolent – that’s when you ask why you are being battered (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for snoring (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having your hands and arms under the blanket at night (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having a runny nose (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having scabies (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for not asking permission to go to the toilet – this involved you having to raise your right-hand in the air and placing your left hand over your scrotum if you wanted to have a pee or placing your left hand on your anus if you wanted to have a shite (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for reading the Bunty or the Judy comic – these were deemed “corrupting” (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for looking sideways at a Brother or priest (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for making noises at night when you went to the toilet (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for not writing what was on the board when you got to write a letter to your mum or dad (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for scratching your head (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for vomiting during mealtimes (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for vomiting at anytime (this was entered in a book)
You were punished for having nits in your hair (this was entered in a book)
You were punished if you cried for your mum or dad (this was entered in a book)

You were punished for having a broken heart (this was NOT entered in a book).

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