From top: Greenmount Industrial School, Cork run by the Christian Brothers; Dan Boyle
These were children apart, not thought suitable for polite, moral society.
Dan Boyle writes:
Once upon a time in I undertook a course in child care. I was hoping it could improve my opportunities in my chosen area of youth work.
Others on the course were involved in residential care centres. Most of these centres continued to be managed by religious communities. In describing their work conditions they shared their frustration, that the spiritual needs of the children they cared for, were considered more important than any physical or emotional needs they may have had.
One course participant told of a practice that had happened at her centre, up to a few years previously. Each Sunday the children of this care home were marched down to their local church. They walked in file, all dressed in a drab, grey uniform, to be sat in allocated seats. These were children apart, not thought suitable for polite, moral society.
Earlier my schooling had been provided by the Presentation Brothers. Ours was the GAA rather than the Rugby playing school. Class context being important.
Other than the then still legal practice of corporal punishment, which lay teachers practiced with as much enthusiasm as their religious counterparts, my education was relatively benign.
A generation earlier the Brothers had also been responsible for the management of the nearby Greenmount Industrial School. In my parents’ generation their good behaviour was sometimes encouraged with the threat of their being sent there, if they didn’t behave appropriately.
The implication being clear. This was a place where children suffered. Where society insisted they suffer.
A number of years later, when I had been elected a city councillor, I learned of the existence of an unmarked mass grave at a local cemetery. In this grave were interred the remains of thirty eight boys who had died while confined at the industrial school.
I campaigned to have a headstone erected to acknowledge these shamefully long forgotten boys. I did receive co-operation from the Presentation Brothers, even though the co-operation given they preferred wouldn’t be seen as being so public.
A parallel campaign, I hadn’t been involved with, convinced the Good Shepherd Sisters to similarly acknowledge children who had died under their ironic care.
As a councillor I once was officiating, on behalf of the Lord Mayor of Cork, at an event at Bessboro, a now infamous Mother and Baby Home. I mentioned that someone important in my life had been born there.
It seems I misspoke. Implying pride on any person associated with a Mother and Baby Home was not to be encouraged it seemed.
None of these events can be compared to the horror of Tuam, or to the scale or intensity of what happened there. What they do speak to is the extent to which Irish society colluded with a definition of children being tainted, solely on the basis of the circumstances of their births.
A definition defined through a hateful religious dogma.