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Chapter 13 — St. Patrick’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of physical abuse


A complainant who was in St Patrick’s in the 1940s recalled the Institution before it was divided into the group system: It was a kind of a – it was a real institution, like. You know, like an orphanage, that’s how I felt. It was a very harsh regime as regards discipline ... I remember we were in the – it was like an auditorium that we were in. First thing in the morning before school we would do our catechism. We had to learn our catechism ... I remember one little boy ... he forgot his catechism. He couldn’t remember what it was and the sister that was doing the catechism – I can’t remember, I wouldn’t be sure of her name. It could have been Sr Tyra.1 She gave him, like, a beating in front of all of the boys. We were all sort of sitting there. She said "I am going to make an example of this boy and this is what you will get if you don’t remember your catechism". She beat him with a billiard cue ... Full length billiard cue, yes. That was the one major incident I can remember at that school.


He said the beating took place in the front of a large hall where all the boys could see it: He was brought down to the front where everyone could see him and the nun got this billiard cue. She made him bend over and she gave him a hell of a beating. Obviously we were terrified of seeing this.


The witness believed the boy was about seven or eight when this happened: ‘We were ever so small. We were really tiny in size’.


This incident stood out in his mind: Well, I could still hear, even still today I can still hear the swish of a billiard cue. She swung it around with all her might. You could hear the wind going through the billiard cue and the little fellow screaming. It’s sort of something you wouldn’t forget.


That was the most severe beating he remembered in St Patrick’s. Lesser physical punishment was administered for failure at lessons. It was, he said, ‘Less severe, they would get the back of the ruler’.


This complainant recalled being fearful during his time in St Patrick’s: Well, it was a very harsh regime. The discipline was, you know, they were very – you were just frightened. You were just frightened because you would get a belt for any little thing. If you stepped out of line on anything or you were in the wrong place you would have to explain yourself. Just like, an atmosphere of fear, really, prevailed in the place, you know.


He recalled being punished: Oh, yes, you would get plenty of slaps. You would be slapped any time you stepped out of line. I don’t know what we would do to get it. I can’t recall why I would be slapped. You had to toe the line. It was a very strict regime.


He said that all the nuns were not bad and he recalled some good ones. Overall, there was strict discipline: The Reverend Mothers, they were generally austere people. You saw them just fleetingly. Of course, these places were run almost, you would say, military lines. You could feel that there was a chain of command. They were very organised, very precision running places; you know. Apart from there wasn’t much stimulation or there wasn’t – I wouldn’t say there was happy memories there, really. You were just there and that was it, like. Up against maybe the remaining orphanages we were probably living in heaven. That’s all I can say.


A witness who was there in the 1940s and 1950s differentiated between the lay teachers and the nuns: You see, the teachers didn’t used to really punish you. They were pretty good, the teachers were. The nuns used to come and repeatedly hit you if you stood out of line.


He said that this punishment was hard and frequent.


A complainant, who spent seven years in St Patrick’s until he was transferred to another industrial school in the mid-1960s, described the punishment he received for bed-wetting: I suppose what I would like to talk about was the punishments I received as a child when I wet the bed ... It happened for most of my time when I was in St Patrick’s. The punishment I received for wetting the bed was I was put into a galvanised bath down near the toilets, this was full of Jeyes Fluid, and a bucket was put into the bath and the water poured over my head and I was made sit there for five minutes. As I got out of the bath I was beaten on the behind.


He said that this cold bath and physical punishment continued daily, from the age of five to the age of 10: I suppose every morning when I got up it was something I knew I would have to face, this punishment for wetting the bed. There was nights where I did get up and I was terrified to go to the toilets, it was easier just to wet the bed.


During his time there, corporal punishment was administered for misbehaviour: I received severe beatings when I was, as they say, bold. One of the things the nuns sort of enmeshed into the boys, into me, when I go to [another industrial school] to the Christian Brothers, they would teach me manners. By the time it did come to the stage when we would be going to [another industrial school] we were terrified of [another industrial school] before we ever went there.


Another complainant, who was in St Patrick’s in the 1960s, was committed by the courts for stealing when he was eight years old. He was brought down handcuffed by two Gardaí. He described what happened to him: When I went out first I was frightened, I was nervous, I was crying for several nights wanting to go home and that and I started wetting the bed. The nun used to come and stick my face in it. Then she would start calling me two and three times a night to go to the toilet. That went on for quite some time there.


He explained that he had not suffered from this problem before coming to St Patrick’s, apart from once or twice. In St Patrick’s it was a regular problem. He said that he was called out regularly during the night, and that meant he did not wet every night. On one occasion, a nun tied him up with a towel because he was wetting so much: If I couldn’t stay in the bed without wetting it then she would put me in a place where I could wet all I wanted and it wouldn’t make any difference. That was the kind of attitude that was taken ... I went out to the toilet after the one gave me a belt on the back of the neck to get me out of the bed. She followed me out to the toilet, I was lying on the floor and she pulled my legs up on the rails and tied my legs to the rails, I was upside down. She went out and closed the door. I thought I was going to be left there all night. That was it. It could have been five minutes or five hours, I don’t know. She came back in then and put me back in the bed.

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  8. February 1943: the Cavan Industrial School fire – 35 children died.
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