“Unfortunately, we cannot undo the wrongs of the past,” the education minister explained in a statement. “However, as a responsible and caring society we must fully face up to the fact that wrong was done, and we must learn from the mistakes of the past.”
How were they facing up to those wrongs – by running away?
“No one from Government was available to us this morning,” Richard Downes announced on Morning Ireland, “and no one is available to explain what the Government’s response will be.”
The programme was to witness the fastest U-turn yet. Before the hour was out Micheál Martin was in the studio defending his tenure as minister for education. One wonders if this was actually the first shot in a coming struggle for the leadership of Fianna Fáil.
Listening to the catalogue of horrors in the commission’s report reminded me of the Bloody Sunday killings in 1972.
I was in Texas at the time, working on my doctorate in history. As the only one from Ireland among a student population of more than 15,000, some of the professors stopped me to express their horror. All felt that partition would have to be ended immediately, but I surprised them by saying this was not on because of the one million Protestants in Northern Ireland who were determined not to be ruled by Irish Catholics.
I deplored what happened in Derry but could understand the attitude of the Northern unionists in relation to being ruled by Catholics. In the light of the latest report into the abuse in schools, I wonder how many people who bothered to read even the news reports have any difficulty in understanding why people in the North would have reservations about being associated with a people who cravenly crawled before those vile posturing fundamentalists responsible for the outrageous evil being highlighted this week.
“Every person living in the area at the time was guilty because they knew what was going on,” John Prior argued on RTÉ’s States of Fear a decade ago. ‘‘Deep down I knew that these brothers were still abusing people years after I left the school and I did nothing about it.” He was talking about the Christian Brothers in Tralee where I grew up. I attended the CBS from second class in primary school right through the Leaving Certificate. Watching an RTÉ programme on sex abuse in Ireland one night, I was shocked to hear that 20% of Irish boys had been sexually abused. That was one in every five boys, yet I never heard of any of my contemporaries being sexually abused. The programme went on to explain that levels of sexual abuse extended from the mildest form, which was kissing or touching short of fondling.
Suddenly I realised I did not know anyone who had not been sexually abused in school. Even before I was old enough to attend the CBS, I had heard the older boys talk about “Snakey Dan,” a particular Christian Brother with a proclivity for putting his hand up the leg of boys’ pants. Of course, that was when boys wore short pants.
He would put his hand up the leg of your pants and feel your rear end and ask why you did not come around to his office more often. One day a boy was sent to Snakey’s office for misbehaving. He sauntered back to class not looking like someone who had just been flogged.
“What happened?” one of the lads asked. “He kissed me and told me to be a good boy in future,” the lad replied.
Nobody who got caught alone with Snakey Dan – and just about all of us did at some stage – had any problem believing the story. One pupil who was about six years behind me told me a horrific story some years ago. He was caught stealing food in school by Snakey Dan, who called the gardaí. To his credit, he felt it was unnatural for a boy to steal food and he asked the garda to investigate the boy’s background.
The boy was being kept in an outhouse away from the family and was essentially left to fend for himself. It was only when the gardaí intervened that he learned that the people he thought were his parents were not even related to him.
He was moved that night to the local industrial school, which we called “The Monastery”. He only spent a night there before being moved elsewhere, but that night the boys told him the Christian Brothers were a law unto themselves. He was told the story of Joseph Pyke, who was savagely beaten in the dinning hall because he was not eating. At the time he was suffering from double pneumonia.
Pyke died in hospital a few days later on February 9, 1958. The boys were convinced the Christian Brother got away with murder. There was no postmortem. His death certificate gave the cause of death as “Bilateral Pleural Effusion. Senility. Certified”. The boy was 15-years-old and he had certified senility! This was later changed to “Septicaemia Certified”.
John Prior, who witnessed the beating, campaigned vigorously for a proper investigation into Joe Pyke’s death. During the beating the brother burst a carbuncle on the boy’s neck and Prior was convinced this caused the septicaemia. Pyke could have been murdered for all anyone on the outside cared.
We will never know the cause of his death for sure because he was buried in a mass grave. He had no known relatives so DNA cannot be used to identify his remains.
MOST people had no way of actually knowing what went on in The Monastery. The boys there had practically no contact with other children in Tralee. They never even played any of the other schools in football.
They could be seen, once or twice a week, out walking with a Christian Brother. They always walked in regimental fashion, two by two. One never noticed any kind of spontaneity or playing around. It was as if they were on some kind of route march.
Irish Christian Buggers were involved in major sexual scandals in Australia and Canada. A drama documentary on the abuses in Canada prompted the television documentary on the activities of Fr Brendan Smyth which, in turn, generated the heat and excitement that brought down Albert Reynolds in 1994.
The huge numbers of people who had vocations to serve humanity as priests, brothers and nuns were a magnificent expression of Irish idealism in the early decades of our independence. The vast majority were good, decent people, but they were betrayed by their own leaders tolerating and even facilitating the most evil behaviour in their midst.
This is a warning about the dangers of bad leadership. Over the years our politicians betrayed the republic into the hands of clerical and episcopal fascists masquerading as men of God. But even those groveling politicians never passed a blasphemy law. The Government’s timing in that regard is further evidence of their insensitivity and blinding incompetence.