Bishop regrets using corporal punishment on pupils

A bishop has spoken of his regret at the use of corporal punishment during his time at a teacher.

Clonfert Bishop John Kirby talks about the “tough regime” at one of the country’s most celebrated boarding schools in the late 1960s in a revealing new radio documentary.

Bishop Kirby was maths teacher Fr Kirby to the Leaving Cert class of 1969 at Garbally College, Ballinasloe — the subject of the documentary by Saw Doctors manager Ollie Jennings, which will be broadcast on Galway Bay FM later this week.

A number of contributors to the documentary who were pupils in 1969 speak of the harsh environment in which they were taught — one says he turned away from the Church because of the behaviour of some priests.

However, tributes are also paid to the educational work of Bishop Kirby and the late Bishop Joseph Cassidy, who taught English at the school.

The boys had to rise for daily Mass at 7am and anyone who was late was severely dealt with.

Former pupil Michael Jennings recalled: “People who were late were caned on the stairs. On the one hand, you’d have the Latin hymn ‘Kyrie Eleison’, and then, swish, swish, crack — guys getting caned at 7.35am.”

Said Bishop Kirby: “Corporal punishment was still the order of the day. I regret that at this stage.

“But that was the way it was at the time. That was phased out around the late 1960s or early 1970s. It was a tough regime.”

Bishop Kirby recalled that there were 20 teachers for the class of 1969, 12 of whom were priests. Six of the others were laymen and only two were women.

Jeanette Ryan (née Glynn) taught French. Initially, she had difficulty getting the pupils on her side and she tells the documentary about them being more interested in writing comments about her on the blackboard and placing thumb tacks on her chair.

“I wasn’t in a position to hit anybody, nor would I want to,” she says. “It was a cruel practice. I think it was totally unnecessary.”

The class included former Irish and Lions rugby captain Ciaran Fitzgerald, former government minister Noel Treacy, novelist Desmond Hogan, Galway All Ireland hurling winner Sean Silke, and Mr Jennings himself.


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