The Irish Lay Teacher And The Leather



Were you knocked about in the classroom?

By people other than brothers or nuns?

In a punishing week for teachers, Sean appeared on RTE R1’s Liveline on Wednesday to raise some outstanding matters with their unions.

Joe Duffy: “Sean is in Dublin 7. Sean, a different topic… what’s, what’s your issue with the teacher unions, go ahead.”

Sean: “Joe, I was listening to your program yesterday and I heard you talking about different skills we need and so on and it just struck me that we never heard from the teachers’ unions any apology for the way the lay teachers used to beat us up in school in primary and secondary school. Like all the other bodies like the priests, the Christian brothers, the nuns, they publicly apologised over, you know, stuff that happened over the years but I’ve never heard anything from any of the teachers ‘unions, I’m sure some of them would be only recently retired that used to be doing this stuff.”

Joe Duffy: “It’s a most dreadful line Sean unfortunately but what is ,what is your own experience?”

Sean: “Well, it just got me thinking, I mean it’s always been on my mind, I do remember like, just a particular, I’m not going to name the school obviously as a ten year old we used to get leathered by teachers, a lay teacher in particular for not knowing what the gospel was about yesterday so you had the whole class of 10 year olds crying, stuff that wouldn’t be tolerated, you’d get dusters thrown at your head…”

Joe Duffy: “Hang on, you say the whole class was disciplined?”

Sean: “Well anyone who didn’t know what it was about.”

Joe Duffy: “And what was the form of leather, you were leathered, will you explain to people that don’t remember the leather what that was?”

Sean: “A leather strap, you’d get four lashes two on each hand, you’d be crying, from the lay teachers now not the brothers, they’ll all had their own thing this was lay teachers for separate things now like not knowing what the gospel was the day before that always struck in my mind as one particular feature in the primary school, then in the secondary school, it was a CBS school but it was the lay teachers that were the big problem, everything from being hit with the hurl of the person in front of you, to have a hurl for training and one of the teachers would pick it up, I remember getting a belt of that across the back, other teachers would be grabbing people up by the hair and blood would come up from their head, this was all going on all the time but you see it was probably seen as normal, you know what I mean, even though some of the incidents were reported, I remember me ma reported one incident, and she was nearly you know ran out from the Department of Education,you know for deciding to bring it up.”

Joe Duffy: “And why did she go into the Department of Education?”

Sean: “She got no joy from the school itself.”

Joe Duffy: “And do you remember what the general incident was?”

Sean: “Well that one would have been hit with a hurl across the back by one of the teachers in the class.”

Joe Duffy: “And what was the context of that?”

Sean: “Well it was a mechanical drawing class, and just remember there would have been small things, even like cracking a joke or whatever, I’m not being smart, I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been wholly disruptive, but as a 13 year old getting a smack of the hurl from the fellow in front of you, from the teacher grabbing it from the fellow in front of you, his bag, this wouldn’t have been seen out of the ordinary in that particular school. These were lay teachers, again the point I was making was that all the other bodies eventually come along and said sorry for the way things were done but I’ve heard nothing from any teacher’s union over the years about what they did and what they classed as acceptable at the time, there’s other things I can remember, one fellow getting his head pulled up by the hair, and a whole patch came out of his head, the blood was coming out of his head, you know, and that was from a geography teacher like for not knowing what mountain range was somewhere or whatever, but it just got me thinking and the way they’re talking about the way they’re currently trained and all that, I mean these people were trained, it’s just a veil of silence, the Department of Education, they all must have known it was going on, I mean the principals knew, knew all about it…”

Joe Duffy: “But surely your ire is misdirected, but surely it should be the Dept of Education and the State you know who apologised for the abuse in the industrial schools, but surely it should be the Department of Education who should apologise not the teacher unions, what have the teacher unions got to do with it it?”

Sean: “Well if it comes from the Department well and good, but these are the people on the ground who were doing it they saw it as acceptable at the time they didn’t think obviously they didn’t think of reporting one another over it either.”

Joe Duffy: “But your mother must have been very courageous and determined if she actually went in to the Department of Education, I mean most people didn’t go nigh next or near the Department, wouldn’t know how to go to it.”

Sean: “I know what you mean but it was like a veil of silence came over the place. Yesterday when I was listening to it, I’ve listened to different shows over the years and I was listening to the Brothers and so on coming back on and making the statements they did, I just thought it would be nice if something came from one of the teachers’ unions.”

Joe Duffy: “And would you, I don’t want names but would you remember the teacher who attacked you with the hurl?”

Sean: “Yeah. Oh yeah. No problem whatsoever and I’m gone thirty years from school.”

Joe Duffy: “And would you remember the teacher who pulled the patch of hair from the bloodied head?”

Sean: “Yeah and if I mention his name a lot of your listeners in that area would probably know so I’m not going to do it.”

Joe Duffy: “Yeah don’t do it, no.”

Sean: “No, no, yeah, it was seen as acceptable that’s what I mean, it was seen as the norm. It wasn’t like if it happened now you’d have two programmes on it about it, I mean. With all child protection and stuff on now, which is rife, right across the board.”

Joe Duffy: “So on the one hand you remember Bertie Ahern’s apology in 2007 wasn’t it, to people who have been in industrial schools, you’re saying you’d want a wider apology to people who were beaten?”

Sean: “No, it just got me thinking that I’d never heard anything on it, I mean, I’m not in a position to demand anything but just saying, it got me thinking about it, you know, of all these things that have happened there was never anything from them and again they classed that as acceptable behaviour at the time. A lot of these people are still alive, some of them might be still teaching, they might be near retirement, but they didn’t think anything different of it at the time.”

Previously: Christian Brothers Stories

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