Thursday, March 8, 2012

The 5 Myths Surrounding the Industrial School Movement

What you need to know about the Industrial School Movement in Ireland is that it was fueled by an intense competition between several Catholic religious orders and the Protestant Church. The Catholic Church used their influence with police and judges to "enslave" as many children as possible in their Industrial Schools so their "souls could be saved" and they could be raised as good Catholics. But what has happened instead is that many in Ireland today are no longer "good" Catholics and there is a deep-seated bitterness and anger against the Catholic Church of Ireland. Most Irish know or have relatives who were incarcerated into the Industrial Schools where they were treated as "free" slave labor and in most instances, treated worse than farm animals.

In an attempt to rewrite Irish history, the Irish Catholic Church has stated that if it were not for their Industrial Schools, thousands of Irish children would've starved and gone without any education. In reality, most of those in the Catholic Industrial Schools were subjected to real starvation and most received little if any education.

Here are some myths that have been perpetuated by the religious orders which ran these Industrial Schools (from the book: "Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland's Industrial Schools by Mary Raftery"):

  1. The first and most pervasive myth was that the children within the system were objects of charity, cared for by the Catholic Church of Ireland when no one else would do so. The children themselves were repeatedly told by their religious keepers that were it not for the charity of the Catholic Church, they would have been left on the side of the road, abandoned and starving

The Artane Industrial School

However, it was a fallacy. Even though these Industrial Schools received funding from State-funding to clothe and feed and educate each child, most children suffered material deprivation. The charity myth was useful because it served to explain away the thin and ragged appearance of the children in industrial schools.

  1. The second myth is that these institutions were orphanages. The reality is that thousands of children were detained in a State-funded system, essentially because their parents were poor. In Ireland, it was the state policy to remove children from their families under the guise of providing a more loving, caring environment. The reality is that these children provided free slave labor and in most cases were starved, beaten, even to the point of death by nuns and priests.

  1. The third myth is that these schools were populated mostly with children who were on the path to becoming criminals. In reality, only a small proportion of these children had any criminal conviction, and even then, in most cases, their criminal conviction consisted of stealing a couple of apples because of hunger. The vast number of boys and girls in these Catholic schools were there because their parents were poor.

  1. Another myth that persists even to this day is that nobody knew about the suffering of the children in these institutions. There is evidence that there was clear popular knowledge of the existence of a punitive and incarceral system for children. In every part of Ireland, people remember how as children, they were threatened with specific industrial schools. The threat was made in the knowledge that these were highly unpleasant places to be. Many Irish people knew that Irish children could be and often were locked up and punished.

  1. The final myth is the "bad apple" theory. This holds that in every group of people, there will always be one or two who behave reprehensibly, and that this should in no way detract from the good works undertaken by others. Furthermore, it is argued that the Catholic Church is no different than any other area of life.

While this is true, most of the religious orders in Ireland which were supposed to represent Christ and his tender love and compassion--you had men and women who represented Jesus in caring for these children, and it was under their religious care that these children were savagely beaten with extraordinary levels of cruelty. Very large numbers of the boys in particular were sexually abused and raped by male members of these Catholic orders.

It is undoubtedly the case that by no means all nuns or Brothers within these Catholic institutions were cruel to the child detainees. However, it is also true that those who did not either beat or abuse children did not stand in the way of the often sadistic excesses of their fellow religious.

In my next post, some stories of survivors from the Industrial Schools. I'll warn you ahead of time, this post will be R-rated.

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