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.

Monday, June 05, 2006

My Blood on the Daisies

Blood on the Daisies
Originally uploaded by The Knitter.
In St. Patrick's in Kilkenny there was a game a nun used to play using a hurley stick and a sliothar. Sometimes us children were allowed to play in a green area, called the Parade, at the back of the Institution. The Parade contained swings, climbing frames, a see-saw, and benches; and woe betide any child who dared to use these. Mostly we played in the grass making chains from the daisies or clover flowers that fairly carpeted the Parade, some sat on the benches. I liked to sit on one of the concrete posts attached to the climbing frame and pretend I was driving a tractor - I always faced my "tractor" away from the Institution and I "drove" like mad to get away over the fields and to whatever lay beyond.

Anyway this nun used to hit the sliothar up the Parade and boys would chase after it and whoever got it and brought it back to the nun would get a "treat" in the shape of one of those Nice biscuits with the sprinkling of sugar on one side of it. I never took part in this game mainly because I was much younger and smaller than those boys who did take part.

When it was time to line up in our group I got down from my "tractor" and ran towards my group. The nun with the hurley then noticed my knees were dirty. One thing these nuns could NOT abide was DIRT and she started to punch me with the hand holding the sliothar - I was rigid with shock and fright, but to the nun I was obviously being sullen. She began to whack me across the legs with the hurley stick.

Such was the force of these blows that I fell onto the grass and blood spurted from my knee and covered a clump of daisies. In panic I ran from the Parade and ended up in the only sanctuary us boys had in St. Patrick's: the toilets. I went into a cubicle and sat down but more blood gushed out and I began to feel the pain in my bloodied knee and I went towards one of the exits doors. There was a trail of blood in the toilets where I had run around in panic. On the door, about head height, there was a reflective protection panel and in the reflection I could see the face of an ashen faced boy with tears rolling down his face - and very very sad eyes. I wished then I could help that boy but I couldn't. The next thing I remember is lying in bed in the dormitory and my left knee was throbbing and heavily bandaged. How long I was in that bed I don't know but soon another boy was put into the bed next to me. His leg was in plaster. Over the next (I really don't know how long) weeks I had to teach this boy the responses to the Latin mass - each day a nun would come into the dormitory and quiz him and if he failed her test I was deprived of my dinner: some green substance with carrots ot greasy cabbage added. And I did go hungry for a while - but really we were ALWAYS hungry in ....those Places.

So when Sister Una O'Neill replies to a specific allegation that a former resident saw another child being beaten "with an instrument" [ a hurley stick] : "...she accept[s] that it was what was in the memory of the man who made the allegation .... but that the sisters had no memory of it."

Let me say to her: "I've never forgotten the eyes of that little child reflected back at me in the toilets; That was actually the FIRST EVER time that I saw what I looked like. I hold the memory of teaching Latin mass responses to a boy with a broken leg deep within me - and each time I see daisies I see blood spatters on them."

So don't fucking patronise me Sister Una, you had your fucking chance to challenge me when I sat in the witness box for over an hour and gave my sworn testimony -each time the Judges went back to your legal team and offered you the chance to question me and EACH FUCKING TIME you declined to ask me any questions.

Is it strange (or instructive) the things you remember of CERTAIN incidents from such a childhood?