The Shame of Ireland

The Shame of Ireland

No one cried stop to Ireland’s Catholic institutions

Gerry O’Shea


April 04, 2017 03:30 AM

Young boys, inmates of an Irish industrial school.

Young boys, inmates of an Irish industrial school.

Editor's note: The text that follows appeared in the Irish Voice on March 29th 2017 as a letter to the Editor.

I recall clearly a shocking conversation that I had about 20 years ago, with a fine man from Tralee, Co. Kerry about the Christian Brothers Industrial School in that town. He recalled that some of the boys confined in the industrial school attended classes with him in The Green, the brothers' local high school. He remembered that when the final bell rang to end the school day they would bolt for their living quarters because if they tarried at all they claimed they would be beaten.

My other memory of that conversation is much more disturbing. He told me that local people would sometimes hear screams at night from the school.  As a teenager, he was surprised by this and asked his father, who worked as a laborer in the town, what was going on to cause such nocturnal cries.

His father replied that such matters were beyond his ability to deal with and that his son was better not talking about them -- a very understandable response in those times. 

The scene of boys crying out for help to a deaf and seemingly uncaring community in my own county 50 or so years ago, is seared in my memory.  The men in clerical robes were paid by the state and honored for their work by the local clergy and dignitaries.

Completely disregarded was the clear admonition of the 1916 leaders that the country they fought and died for must "treat all the children of the nation equally." Poor, marginalized kids who had nobody to speak for them cried out in pain and nobody answered -- the stuff of nightmares.

I was reminded of these poor boys by three recent related reports, one from the Vatican and one each from Australia and Ireland.

Three years ago, Pope Francis responded to the sordid stories from all over the world of children being sexually abused by priests and brothers by setting up a high-powered commission with a mandate to develop policies and recommendations to protect children. This distinguished group, led by papal favorite Cardinal Sean O'Malley from Boston, included two victims of clerical abuse, Peter Saunders, a Briton, and Marie Collins from Dublin.

Saunders, who was abused by two priests as a teenager, cast a cold eye on the commission, describing it as mainly a public relations exercise by church leaders, and he was outspoken in his criticism of senior curia officials, including Australian Cardinal George Pell.  He was removed from the committee last year. He berated the whole Vatican bureaucracy, including the Pope, for lack of urgency in dealing with the clerical abuse crisis.

Recently Collins, who was repeatedly sexually abused by a priest from age 13 in Dublin, resigned from the papal group for basically the same reasons as Saunders. She explained that she was tired of "constant setbacks" from the various curias who "thrive on silence and cover-up." She said that she doesn't doubt Francis' sincerity and commitment but that it is unacceptable that "men at this high level in the church do not see child protection as a priority."

It certainly doesn't augur well for the effectiveness and credibility of O’Malley’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors that the two members who could testify from bitter experience about the terrible effects of clerical child abuse have resigned.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in Australia reported a few weeks ago.  The Catholic community there is in shock because the results show that children assigned to Catholic institutions fared very poorly in this area of child protection.

The headline in many newspapers highlighted the finding that an astonishing 40 percent of St. John of God Brothers abused their young vulnerable clients. The results for the Irish Christian Brothers were better at 22 percent; Marists and De La Salles came in at about half of that and "only" one in 14 priests disgraced themselves by becoming predators instead of defenders of vulnerable children.

The third and most recent account which relates to the Bon Secours Home in Tuam, Co. Galway, was even more incredible and mind shattering than the Australian report.

Details emerged of about 796 bodies of dead children, buried in pits adjoining the sewerage system in Tuam in one of the nine Catholic mother and baby homes throughout Ireland. This "home" was under the care of the Bon Secours Sisters who are still active in Ireland.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke passionately in the Dail about "the chamber of horrors" in Tuam. He said, “We took their babies and gifted them, sold them, trafficked them, starved them, neglected them or denied them to the point of their disappearance from our hearts, our sight, our country."

Two big questions must be asked about what went on in these "homes" and "schools" in Ireland and Australia. How did priests and nuns and brothers, supposedly committed to high-level Christian living, trained in strict Catholic novitiates, perform such awful acts, including in some cases starving and buggering the children in their care?

Why did some of them not cry stop? How do you explain the group depravity and corruption pervading these awful Catholic institutions?

The second question relates to the public authorities because these religious orders were paid for their services out of the public purse. Inspectors visited the industrial schools but bought the lies of the men responsible for running them.

Ironically, boys in these so-called reformatories in Northern Ireland had a better chance of some level of humane treatment because the British inspectors were less likely to accept the palaver of the people in charge.

Famous Irish priest Father Flanagan of Boys Town fame visited Ireland in the forties and realized that there were major problems in the industrial schools. He addressed the issues, stressing the positive policies he followed in his program for similar troubled youth in Nebraska.  

No bishop spoke out in his favor, and he was rebuked publicly in the Dail as an outside troublemaker by the then Minister for Justice Gerard Boland.

Apart possibly from the Irish Civil War, the complete abandonment of humane and Christian principles in dealing with the most vulnerable young people is by far the biggest stain in the Irish people's story since the country achieved independence in 1922.

* Gerry O’Shea, Yonkers, New York.

Source -


Views: 147

Comment by pauline jackson on April 8, 2017 at 10:21

When complaints were made the governments sent the complaints back to the industriel schools head priests or nuns. I know this because my uncle complained to the government official and as it was about large bruises on my body. I was them shamed in front of the whole school and got another beating as punishment. So the children were afraid of complaints also. There was no help and its the fault of the then government.

Comment by Patrick Rice on April 8, 2017 at 14:01

In six months time on this day, 8 Oct 1947 seventy (70) years ago I experienced my first day of freedom on my released from Artane. I was totally unaware that it was my 16th birthday. Celebrating birthdays was something like many other customs I knew nothing of. Fourteen years in boys only Industrial Schools from the age of two made me a social misfit in the outside world. For eighteen months I was left to make my way alone in a strange new world. It was then time to escape my childhood past and so I left to join the RAF. Uneducated as I was I managed to be accepted at the lowest level as a Messing Orderly, (cleaning up after officers). With no home or family to return to in Ireland I spent my forty-eight hour passes and leave times travelling the UK to stay in B&Bs and YMCAs. Many a notice I was greeted with the sign: "No dogs or Irish." In all those years and since I have never made friends: always feared of letting slip by word or deed my ignorance of the conventional formal niceties to be followed. Although I never knew what it was to love or be loved I survived and made a career for myself. When I did discover love for the first time in the form of a young eighteen year old girl who's working life commenced in a clothing factory at the age of sixteen, I discovered anything was possible. Suffice to say I had a very successful career and retired in my mid fifties to a home in the countryside: a home I promised my wife when I proposed: "I have nothing to offer but a dream."

In my mid seventies I was rudely awakened from my state of denial of my early years with the advent of the 'Inquiry into Child Abuse' which I returned for a stop over to relate my experiences to the best of my recall. Then followed the Redress Board which I could not attend due to the fact I chose to care for my wife who suffered with Alzheimer's. It was my chose to care for her on my own 24/7 as I learned very early on not to trust anyone. There were no shortages of solicitors touting for business and so I had one act on my behalf. The answers I received from both the Nuns and Christian Brothers to my many questions came as a surprise. Some were total lies and my solicitors failed to research the true facts. Finally I gave up as my wife was dying and settled for a miserly sum which I gave to our son.

When I was diagnosed with stomach cancer I finally decided to do a proper research as to why and how I ended up in Industrial Schools. There are days I wish I'd never researched the facts as I now have problems coming to terms with what I have uncovered. My record are riddled with lies. The first lie: on my entry to St. Patrick's in Kilkenny they recorded I was 'Illegitimate' knowing it to be untrue. Another documents states: "The Father deserted the family and failed to support them. In a court of law he was found not guilty of the offences. He then spent years fighting to regain custody of me. It transpired I had a an older sister who was also sent to an Industrial school in Dublin. The Father manage to have her home on the Summer holidays as was the practice. However he refused to return her and a battle ensued between him and the authorities. Correspondence flowed between the school manager, the head of Industrial Schools and the Father in an attempt to have the child returned. He was even threatened with arrest, but the Garda refused to become involved, due to the faults allegation of him deserting his family.

The following is an example of the lengths these people when to the have the child returned:

This letter is from the Department of Education, 1, Hume St. Dublin. Dated 13 August 1937.

Mr. S. Rice,

With reference to your application of the 18th May last for the release of your son, Patrick Rice from St. Patrick's Industrial School in Kilkenny: I have to inform you that the question of his discharge cannot be considered until you have complied with the request of the Manager of Whitehall School for the return to the school of you daughter, Margaret Rice, released on licence in July 1936.

                                                                                                           Signed: Margaret McNeill.

What would anyone call that? Needless to say he refused to return the child. Instead he decided to fight a legal battle to obtain my release from State Custody. Like everyone else in the country his legal representatives were not prepared to challenge the Catholic Church State of the period because he refused to have his received religious education. Had I known years ago what I've now discovered I'd have sued the Government. The full story is even more shocking. Unfortunately it may never see the light of day.           

Comment by Patrick Rice on April 8, 2017 at 14:07

Thought I might add that picture looks like Artane refectory in the 1940s when there were in excess of 800 boys at the  'School'. Also I remember the visit of Father Flanagan to Artane, a number of us boys were given a special meal in the hall behind the classrooms. His talk of Boys Town sounded like a wonderful place to grow up. 

Comment by Úna Walsh on April 9, 2017 at 15:21

Patrick Rice, I am truly sorry for all that you have suffered. I feel that insufficient attention to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church educated all those, ( or very close to All) officials who enforced their rules and attitudes.

Comment by Úna Walsh on April 9, 2017 at 15:21

Patrick Rice, I am truly sorry for all that you have suffered. I feel that insufficient attention to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church educated all those, ( or very close to All) officials who enforced their rules and attitudes.

Comment by micheal on April 9, 2017 at 21:39
Hi Patrick thanks for sharing your story am truly sorry to hear of your troubles, someone needs to compile these stories into a book because they should never be forgotten which is what the church and gov would love to happen, it's still that same deluded attitude that is in play today.
Comment by Rob Northall on April 10, 2017 at 7:53

Hi Patrick

If you want  to Publish you Book in Chapters you can serialise it as a Blog here!

You can alos self publish it as an ebook

If you need any help message me!

Comment by Patrick Rice on April 10, 2017 at 14:18

Thank Rob, I would love to publish my story. As I mentioned earlier, I never whished to look back in anger and just got on with my life. From all the documents I now hold in my possession they're like fitting a jigsaw that fits together and a story emerges that's truly shocking. In may ways it can be viewed it as a part of Irish social history. There are so many aspects to the story that it would make a very long read. I have completed a few chapters to date. It begins with the parents I never got to know. Their marriage was doomed from the start, when a young Protestant man became involved with an older Catholic woman. He, a 19 year old Vehicle Mechanic became involved with a 24 year old housemaid in 1924. She became pregnant and was banished from her family home. Without his parents consent he married her, that's some story on it's own. Next there's the story of two sisters I never knew existed. The saddest part of that, was to receive a letter in Feb 1986 from a girl in Manchester. It stated:" I believe my Mother is your sister." As I had already tracked my eldest sister I arranged a meeting at my family home in the Herefordshire countryside. Neither of sister wished to speak of the past but were happy to find each other. That was one sorrowful get together. Only after all these years with the younger sister no longer alive and the older one at 92, is in a Dublin Nursing Home suffering with Alzheimer's, I can understand the torment they went through. My own story has many facets to it. Though I was uneducated I managed to make a successful career and retire in my mid fifties to the large  country home I promised the young factory girl I proposed to when neither of us had a penny. There was also my sporting career: I won two national titles and competed at international level, but that was just a side-line, always attempting to prove to myself I was the equal of the next man. There has also been a lot of heartache and pain: the sudden loss of a fifteen year old daughter: killed by a careless driver. Then my late wife suffered with Alzheimer's in her sixties. Now in my final years it's a struggle to live without a stomach: due to cancer it was totally removed. Guess I'm lucky as I understand the survival rate is very low. But then I've never taken notice of what so called experts say, I live life my way. Though I'm half way to my 86th birthday I keep up my morning half runs. Still attempting to discover what's possible. In spite of every thing I've had an amazing life in the forces and civilian life. I've spent time in Belgium, Holland, Germany, the Far East and between ten and fifteen years in countries of the Middle East.   

Comment by Patrick Rice on April 10, 2017 at 17:51

Una, I do not blame the Nuns and Christian Brothers, they were ill equipped to teach and care for very vulnerable children in an ill thought through system. Each child requires love, nurture and parental guidance in order to develop into good citizens that will in turn contribute to the benefit of society as a whole. Unfortunately many of the children ended up as dysfunctional adults with little to offer, whilst others left Ireland and made a success of their lives, they were Ireland's loss. Thanks Michael for your kind comments.    

Comment by micheal on April 10, 2017 at 18:03
Hi ,Patrick your life sounds intriguing please consider writing the book, you have a great way of looking at things, bags first Copy pal :-)

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