Days In The Life

Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Robin Redbreast

I expect we all have a Robin Redbreast in our gardens or around our homes. but particularly in our gardens. I've lived in the same house for nearly 32 years now and we've always had a Robin bobbing around the place. A regular sight in my garden in the Autumn and Springtime is a Robin perching on the handle of my shovel. Have we had the SAME Robin for all those years - probably not. But I've never seen this Robin hatching from an egg and I've never ever seen a dead Robin, so why not the SAME ROBIN for all those years ? Why not? I remember as a child my Mum leaving scraps out for the birds and I particularly remember the Robin visiting the windowsill - I remember too my Mum telling me of the story of how the Robin got its Redbreast - something to do with keeping the last embers of life in the world alight. Maybe it was a metaphor for something or other? But things changed and when Mum moved away there wasn't anything on our windowsill for the Robin or any other bird for that matter. Indeed the hunger in us was so bad that I used to "raid" other windowsills just for food for myself and my brother. I remember chasing these birds away so I could get at the rasher rinds and the crusts of bread. That's hunger for you.

Naturally the "authorities" got to hear of this and we were all carted off to Court and placed into the tender mercies of the Sisters of Charity. You'd think that things would improve a bit because of this but no, they didn't. Many of the beatings I got in my early days with the Sisters of Charity was to do with "food raids" - there was many a time I chased birds from the windowsills of the convents kitchens to get at the scraps left out for those birds. Sometimes I would lie quietly under the windowsill so as to be first to grab the delights being placed there. A few of those times a Robin would actually perch on my shoulder so he/she would be first in the queue ! Of course when I made my grab for the food the poor Rubin would fly away. I've always felt a bit guilty of depriving this Robin of his chance at the feast - I've never forgotten the awe I felt that a bird would perch on me. Amazing feeling really. And now I have a Robin in my garden just like I've had a Robin in the back of my mind for years. Like us all, I'm sure, I put food out for the birds, particularly during hard frosts and maybe throughout the year .... I have four bird feeders placed around the garden and in winter these are kept topped up. And these are visited regularly by all kinds of birds .... only recently I saw a Heron at the bottom of the garden - - there is a swamp/bog behind us so Herons are occasional visitors in the area.

But the Robin is the constant in my garden. So last week I was bringing a fistful of muesli down to one of the feeders when I noticed the Robin perched on the hose - I offered the Robin my open palm with some of the muesli in it. The Robin alighted onto my hand and proceeded to feed. I went into some kind of hypnotic state and basically froze while the Robin cleared my hand of the muesli. I'm a bit of a camera buff and an opportunity like this would be something I would pray for BUT that is not what went through my mind. I felt that this Robin was forgiving me for all those many many times that I had take food from them when I was a child. I have tried since to repeat this but with a camera - but to no avail.

Maybe forgiveness is given once - because once is enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 23rd, 1925

September 23rd, 1925

A Poor Relief Commission in 1925 heard conflicting evidence over whether industrial schools or “boarding out” with families was better for “destitute” children. The manager of Artane Industrial School and secretary of the Industrial Schools Association, Brother P O’Ryan, put their case.

BROTHER O’RYAN, referring to authoritative statements on the work of industrial schools since their establishment in 1868, mentioned the late Cardinal Logue said there was no doubt Irish industrial schools were doing good work, and, as the work extended, the reformatories became almost depopulated. The witness went on to say that in the industrial school the moral tone of the children was kept high, and they were safeguarded from the evils of the times. Those who advocated the boarded-out system claimed it was more natural. No one would dispute the advantage of life in ideal homes, but the people who took children under the boarded-out system did so because it added to their income. These children were known from the beginning and were often shunned in school and used as drudges in the houses. Were [they] all to gravitate to swell the agricultural labour market, and were they to have no chance of advancement in life? [. . .]

Giving some particulars about Artane School, he said 96 boys were disposed of and sent out to trades and other occupations. Ex-pupils of Artane held lucrative positions at home and abroad; three or four were Colonels or Captains in the Free State Army, and 42 were in Colonel Brase’s famous band [Army No. 1 Band]. Replying to the Chairman [civil servant Charles O’Connor] as to the distinction between reformatories and industrial schools, he said children sent to reformatories had committed crime, but those sent to industrial schools had not, but were sent on account of destitution or not having proper guardianship. There was no reflection on a child sent to an industrial school. There were 52 industrial schools in the Free State now, since Northern Ireland was knocked out. Between 4,000 and 5,000 children were in industrial schools. At one time before the great trouble there were about 8,000. A great reduction had taken place, and at Artane they were working at a great loss, and were doing it at their own expense for the last four or five years, and that was owing to the fewness of committals from Dublin. The expense of working the institution was practically the same for the small as for the larger number. [. . .] There might be an odd child in the school under three years of age, but the general minimum age was six. He saw no objection to having very young children given to foster-mothers.

In answer to Sir Joseph Glynn, the witness said he did not think that a boy would get as good a training with a foster-mother as in an industrial school. At the present moment they had in Artane Industrial School seventy applications for farm boys that they were not able to supply.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Jersey: Island of Secrets (BBC Panorama)

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