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The Leader Interview..with Tom Wall, Glin Industrial School survivor
Published on Thursday 28 May 2009 13:03
THEY stole his childhood. They stole his innocence. They even stole his dreams.
Tom committed no crime, not even a misdemeanor. He was just three years old when he was sent to Glin in 1952, committed by the courts for reasons he still hasn't been able to ascertain.. All he does know is that his mother couldn't manage. Yet this innocent, this small tousle-haired toddler, was cast into an institution where for the next 13 years, he endured fear, terror, cold and hunger and was routinely beaten and abused.
Tom's story would make the very stones weep. Yet he is one of the lucky ones.
Unlike many other survivors of Glin and other institutions, he is neither homeless nor friendless. He has a life, he is always busy, his eyes can still twinkle and his open, friendly face is transformed by a still-boyish smile. He has a lovely, substantial home and, ironically, he is the owner of the statue of St Joseph and the Holy Child which used to stand at the end of the long avenue into Glin Industrial School. He salvaged it when the building was being demolished.
But he freely admits that a shadow has followed him all the days of his life.
"I think everybody who went through the Institutional system is affected.It affects you for life. It isn't something you can shake off. I think we were all psychologically damaged," he says calmly.
Other lads, he is all too painfully aware, dealt with their experience in different ways. Alcoholism, homelessness, addiction, aggression, suicide are, for many, their only legacy. And for each and every one of them, there is the pain that won't go away.
For Tom, 40 years on, the nights are still difficult.
There is too, the legacy of shame.
"What we tended to do for years is hide the fact we were in institutions. It was like we were second-class citizens.What you have to understand, if you put innocent people into any type of institution, you can be sure people will say, they couldn't end up there for nothing. Once you got in, you had to have done something."
The single, most important aspect of the Child Abuse report, Tom says, is that what he and others have been saying for years has, at last, been confirmed and believed."Up to now people were inclined to say it was exaggerated." His fear was that nobody could possibly believe the extent of the brutality meted out to the children.
But he is clear about the position of the religious orders who were involved. "They bought themselves out of it."
As a result of the deal agreed between the orders and the Government in 2002, Tom explains, Judge Ryan was working under restriction and could not name names. And, he fears, the perpetrators may forever escape sanction. As things stand, he says, they don't have any criminal record . "The evidence collected on the investigation side cannot be used in a court of law. Now it seems that the files collected in the investigation side are meant to be destroyed."
"We are great in Ireland for drawing up reports. But at the end of the day, everybody seems to walk away and no further justice is done."
That those who dispensed brutality and inflicted harm on a daily basis have not had to answer for their past is hard to accept. ." In the beginning, they denied there was any abuse. Then they said it was of small proportions. It was systematic. The entire institution was run on fear of punishment."
"The Provincial of the Christian Brothers came on TV and offered an unreserved apology for the hurt, the suffering, the damage caused to everybody. Yet, when the Redress Board was set up and you went with your case, you named the Brother and the type of abuse, whether it was physical or sexual abuse, you would have expected at the time you would get an apology from that Brother. Instead, you got a letter sent to the Commission saying he could not understand how such false accusations could be laid against him. No Brother, nobody, turned up to answer questions you would like to ask. What good was the public apology, what was the point? None of them appeared at the Redress Board. They denied everything."
The Brothers were "most unhelpful all through Redress", Tom says. In some cases, they denied some boys were even at the school and Tom had to swear they were. Then too, there was the questioning, trying to trip up men giving their evidence, trying to undermine them.
Boys came from all over to Glin, Tom explains. They came from the city, from the county. Some were transferred to Glin from another institution in Dublin.
"I am convinced that all the money given to them wasn't spent in Glin at all," Tom says. That money, he believes, was used to subsidise day-schools and novitiates. "The Brothers would be, as it were, educating them for free but it was money from the institutions that was educating them."
Meanwhile, the boys in Glin went hungry and lived in terror. "We were constantly hungry. Where we slept, the dormitories were freezing. There was totally inadequate clothing. The wash area was dreadful."
Supper was two cuts of bread dipped in dripping with a panny, a tin cup of sugarless tea. Easter came with the "treat" of a boiled egg and Christmas was the one day in the year they ate sausages.
For the Brothers, life on their side of the house was very different. They had heating, good food, a kitchen of their own where Tom worked for a while.
The boys, he recalls, used to raid the bins from the Brothers' kitchen for scraps. Some even scavenged for the left-over "cake bread" that was thrown out to the hens – until somebody wised up to it and made a mush out of it instead.
And around everything, there was secrecy – and the knowledge that anything and everything could be denied, covered up, explained away.
"We were never allowed to mix," Tom says. The one time he went to the local church was for his Confirmation. And even when they went in lines down through the village to swim in the Shannon, they had a separate area. He recalls however the processions, when the school band played and the boys carried banners.
"The people of Glin were totally excluded. Some just worked there. They weren't allowed in. They used to come in for concerts once a year but apart from that, they would have had very little knowledge."
Tom spent the first five years of his life in Glin in the Infirmary. "At eight years of age, I was transferred from the Infirmary and moved out into the senior dormitory. The dormitories were open-plan, there were no divisions between the beds, which were about 18 inches apart. About 40 or 50 boys slept in each dormitory.You went to bed at eight o'clock. They were very strict on time. At nine o'clock, the lights were put out and only a dull light was left on all night. A very dim light. The night-watchman wouldn't come on duty until 10. He would do a round of the dormitory every hour to check if any boys were missing."
It was at night the sexual abuse began. "A brother would sit on your bed. They could pick any boy. We didn't have pyjamas. All we had were nightshirts down to our knees. They would put the hand into your bed, pull up the nightshirt and interfere with you. If you said a word, you knew you would get a terrible beating."
Later in the night, the older boys would sexually abuse the younger boys. "But if you reported one of them, then you got a terrible hiding from them afterwards."
"They were allowed by law, for corporal punishment, to use a leather and allowed to slap you on the hand. But there were Brothers who were out of control and they wouldn't stick to the slap."
He named one Brother who had a "most violent temper" and who set on him. "One day after dinner, he dropped the leather, came down and pulled me out of my seat and gave me a belt. He banged my head off the desk and split my forehead open. There was blood pumping from me." As he was being brought by the same Brother to the infirmary, they met the Brother Superior who asked: "What did you do to upset Brother L.?"
Tom still has the scar on his forehead.
He recalls another occasion when they were doing boxing-training. The Brother in charge was not happy with their boxing and "gave a strict warning". But then, when the boxing resumed and he was still not happy, he stepped in and hit Tom a punch that knocked him out. "I woke up in the infirmary."
And he remembers too the beatings he witnessed– one of the worst being a lad caught stealing apples from a neighbouring orchard. He was stripped to the waist, placed over a seat and belted, in full view of the entire school. When, about ten years ago, Tom travelled to Dublin to confront the Brother who inflicted that savage beating, the Brother made excuses and slid away from him.
"The nicer Brothers never interfered to stop the others, to say that is enough. That never happened. There are Brothers who never carried a strap themselves and wouldn't report you. But for some reason, they never seemed to be able to control the others. I am convinced we got a lot of the Brothers who became problems in the day-schools. Children there would go home and tell their parents. They sent him to a place like Glin and when he got out of hand, they just shipped him to the next industrial school."
"When Brothers came from day-schools in the summertime, they were never near as strict. They were far easier-going. You could relax a bit."
At 14, their very basic formal education over, the boys were put to work in the school's workshops or on the farm. But at 16, Tom stayed on, working at the school "because I was asked". Besides, he says, he didn't know anywhere else. Dreams had been beaten out of him. " It was about what was going to happen next. Nothing could change. It was just a question of surviving. You couldn't plan. You never knew what was going to happen next."
He was paid 3 a week – the first money he had ever handled. By then, 1966, the numbers had dropped dramatically, the school was closed and the last 40 boys were transferred to Tralee. The Brothers, Tom explains, spent a lot of money then doing up the building as a novitiate, but that too closed in 1968. Eventually, the building was handed back to the Health Board and later demolished and some of the land was sold on. "It was part of history disappearing. It was the only home I knew." Tom got a job at Glin Castle and moved into the gate lodge. " It was a complete change."
Around that time too, he met his mother, just before she died from cancer. "I was anxious to meet her. I never harboured any bitter feelings against her. I understood the situation. She just couldn't manage."
But Tom found it "very hard to mix when I was outside" but he reckons he was very fortunate. He was not homeless and he coped." I went to London one time and I thought, if only I had come over here I could have done much, much better for myself.
When you are institutionalised for so long, your boundaries are very limited. You are afraid to move outside those boundaries. That is the effect it has on you. You are lost when you go into a strange environment. When I went to London, I saw there were terrific opportunities, people working were being well-paid, conditions were better.
But wherever you go, you can't leave it. It is in later life it will haunt you."
Tom never married. " I often blamed being institutionalised, in not being able to form relationships. I think it was part of the upbringing, not being able to trust anybody."
But he keeps in touch with many of the lads he met and knew in Glin. For many of them, Redress, apologies, counselling and the idea of re-education have all come too late. Only with their own can they talk about what happened to them.
But for them, and even still for Tom, the questions remain: why was it allowed to happen? What made those Brothers do what they did? Why?
And the pain never goes away.
Government Allowed. Irish State Allowed. Society Allowed.
everyone on the Planet needs a sense of place >they even stole that.
as if they had the right
Dear tom i was there the same time as you
"None of the survivors from Glin had any input into the Ryan Report because Justice Ryan couldn't accommodate them as he had up to 2,500 people to interview, he revealed."