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, July 31, 2005

Dear Mammy and Daddy

The things I remember from those places, what stands out now from the distances of time are the ludicrous things. Does anyone remember getting Epson Salts? Remember how they used to give it to every inmate of the Institution, never individually? And then how much everyone spent the next few days running backwards and forwards to the toilets!

Even the application of Iodine was administered "globally" so to speak. If anyone had nits in their hair everyone had their head shaved by the nuns or if an outbreak of scabies happened - an outbreak of scabies in one of those places would be two boys scratching - everyone would be stripped naked and calamine lotion (I think) would be painted all over our bodies.

Even the process of writing to your relatives was ludicrous. We were all seated in the classroom and the Brother would write onto the blackboard a generic letter:

Dear Mammy and Daddy,

I hope you are fine and in the best of health as I am T.G. The
weather here is not too bad.

This week I learned three new prayers and one new hymn. I took
part in a Feis and in the Irish dancing I was praised. Next week
we are visiting Mooncoin for another Feis.

I am doing very well at my lessons and I am behaving myself.

I close now with best wishes to you.

I am

Your ever loving son

Of course it didn't matter at all whether you had, or even knew, a Mum or Dad. In my case I had no memory of my parents yet I had to write this absolutely meaningless letter every month. In fact the process of writing these letters only compounded the loneliness I felt as I no one to write to and I wasn't allowed to write to my brother or sister who were in ....other places themselves .

But most of us had to endure these things. Eventually the Powers-that-be "alloted" children like me to people on the outside, members of the Catholic God-Parents Guild, who we could be pen-pals with. Yet, and this is the really ludicrous thing about it all, we STILL had to write that SAME generic letter to our pen-pals, even the opening and closing of the letter had to be exactly like the Brother had written on the blackboard.

So I was writing to pen-pals as "Dear Mammy and Daddy" and signing off on the letter as: "Your ever loving son" .... !!! How LUDICROUS was THAT?

Naturally in my life I've always been able to see ludicrousness in everyday situations and I've been able to have a good laugh at apparently serious situations. In a way I find most of life to be almost like a Monty Python Sketch! And, on the reverse of that, I've been able to see the serious side in very funny situations. As an example I find the Dead Parrot sketch in Monty Python as a serious lesson in assertiveness.

But the letters I had to write in those places, letters to imaginary parents and signing off as an imaginary son,ALWAYS did make me wish I did have a Mammy and Daddy to write letters to. I used to make up letters in my mind to them asking them to come and take me away from where I was. Eventually I would actually put my letter onto paper with all my thoughts and wishes and carefully hide the letter in a hole in the wall of the yard. I must have placed a few dozen letters into that hole. I used to check to see if the letters were taken but they never were.

And well into my adult life I returned to THAT place and found they'd demolished it completely, my letters and all.

I've alway wondered if my letters were ever found amongst the debris.

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