Monday, March 12, 2012

Ireland's Industrial Schools: In many cases, the farm animals ate better than the children

The more you read about the Irish Industrial Schools, the more you realize that the state was complicit along with the Catholic Church in the torture and abuse of thousands of boys and girls. Also, even though some of what took place behind the walls of these institutions was known by the local citizens, there was a deafening silence. No one said or did anything. No one spoke up on behalf of these children. Many of the industrial schools were nothing more than forced labor camps. Here are some recollections from former students at these industrial schools, and what you read here is not even the most horrific of stories offered by survivors.

Here is Marion's story. She was at the Sisters of Mercy (St. Joseph's Industrial School) in Athlone from 1937-1954:
"I remember a girl who had to get her appendix out. When she came back from the hospital, she was supposed to rest. But the nuns made her get up to do work. This was before antibiotics or anything to keep the infection away. A few days after they forced her to get up, she died. She was a lovely girl, and she was only fifteen years old."
Margaret's story from the same school run by Sisters of Mercy:
"From the time we were four or five, we had to work on the farm. During the summer, they took our shoes off us and we went barefoot...we had to go into fields, walking on the stubble in our bare feet, to turn hay with our hands. And our feet used to get cut to ribbons. When we got back to the convent, the floor would be covered in blood from our feet. The nun would pick out some of us to beat, saying it was our fault. I remember the hunger. We were always starved. When we were out for walks, we'd eat weeds...we'd fight over these weeds, we were so hungry."
Several survivors recall that Christmas and Easter were the only times that anything was different. The children were given presents, but they had to give them back the next day.

If an orphanage had a farm, the priests and nuns would have eggs and bacon for breakfast while the children were forced to eat out of the pig's bucket. One survivor noted that the pigs and farm animals ate better than the children.

A common theme is that these industrial schools would take in brothers and sisters and separate them so that they may go for the next twelve years or longer and never have any contact with their family members. It was forbidden. If they passed one another in the hall, they would receive a beating if they even tried to communicate with one another. Often, they were given numbers and in many cases, didn't even remember their birth name because all they knew was a number. Most didn't even know when their birthday was because it was never celebrated.

Martin McMahon (St. Joseph's Industrial School) in Ferryhouse, Clonmel from 1955-1966 recalls:
"They beat me for wetting the bed (a common theme)--They'd hit me with a stick or a strap and force me under cold showers, every single morning for six years. They'd never let me see the film (movies) on Saturdays as punishment--I'd get a cold shower and be sent to bed. At least fifty of us wet the bed. If your clothes were torn or dirty, you'd be beaten. In the dormitories, if one lad did something, like if they found a book under a mattress, they'd beat every boy in the dormitory. It was just endless--beating, beating, all the time."
When boys or girls would age out at 16 or 18 yrs of age, they often had little or no education, in many cases could not even read or write and did not know anything about their rights. Very often, under an arrangement between the school and local farmers, many were under-fed and had to work from dawn to dusk and then were forced to sleep in the barn at nights. In many situations, they received no pay at all. What many of them experienced was virtual slavery in some cases, working from 6am until midnight.

Some girls who were fortunate enough to be sent to a school for secondary education, were forced at the end of the day to clean all the classrooms, required to mop all the floors, clean all the toilets, every day, and for no pay, along with trying to study for classes and get homework done.

I'll finish up this series on Friday with a few closing thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. This is so horrific it's almost beyond belief. You're right, the people of Ireland need to know about the love and mercy of God - they've never heard about it!