“The responsibility of the writer as a moral agent is to try to bring the truth about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them”. Noam Chomsky
The number of people who survived the Religious-run Institutions is sadly dwindling, and becomes smaller daily; most are all now old men and women. But the Religious- run Institutions carry a special importance for Ireland. We must ensure that the next generation knows, and does not forget, what happened in Catholic Ireland just a few decades ago. It is very important that first-hand memories of Survivors are passed down; the listing and reading of the names of those who didn’t survive is the only way to reclaim the dead from the anonymity of their brutal endings in burial pits and septic tanks. The power is in the name because we don't have much else left to remember them with, and remember them we must. When you connect one person to one name, it makes it easier for us all to understand the full horrors of what really happened in those Religious-run Institutions.
I believe strongly that those who lived in the Religious-run Institutions and know from experience what that was like, have a clear moral duty and responsibility to speak out. We need a shaft of light that illuminates the darkness that prevailed in the Religious-run Institutions in Ireland. Every Survivor says that these Institutions robbed them of their childhoods and even of their memories. This is very true. The Survivors’ childhood experiences have shaped their very existence to this day. It is imperative that Survivors are able to talk about their horrendous experiences. There are many, however, who have suppressed the cruelty and savagery that they experienced so fiercely that they still cannot tell their stories, but instead suffer in silence the trauma resulting from what they lived through decades ago.
Getting old is a particularly difficult time, as Survivors finally have the leisure to reflect on what they went through as children. An added nightmare and enemy can be Alzheimers, when Survivors lose their short term memory but maintain their long term one and so have a renewed focus on their horrendous childhoods. Most survivors today are living below the country’s poverty line and need assistance and support rather than empty apologies and insincere promises from their tormentors.
All Survivors of Religious run Institutions in Ireland have a lifetime of trauma, with a few of the Survivors now well into their 80’s, living in stark poverty and struggling daily to keep body and soul together.
Many Survivors have told me that when they were younger the present culture of openness and professional help didn’t exist. All Survivors have their personal nightmares and daily horrors, and an inability to speak about them prevents any meaningful treatment or professional help that can alleviate their vivid traumas and fears. Their traumas are often the result of an overwhelming amount of distress and emotion that exceeds their ability to cope or fully integrate with others. The reliving in their minds of the traumatic events experienced in childhood is overwhelming and can escalate over the days, weeks, years and decades while they struggle to cope also with challenging circumstances. This eventually leads to serious, long-term negative consequences and most Survivors are psychologically damaged. The trauma, however, differs between individuals according to their own experiences. Most develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the result of events experienced throughout their lives but always stemming from their wretched childhoods. This condition is nearly always insurmountable.
The experience of being incarcerated and abused in Religious-run Institutions isn’t therefore simply an event from the past, but still exists in the lives of tormented Survivors, with its many horrors relived, minute by minute. The horrors of their perverse childhoods have tapped away in their subconscious and will do so until the day they die. In old age they can’t escape, as bad memories start to break through failed attempts to forget. The most common early symptom for Survivors is difficulty in remembering recent events, but vivid, painful memories of the depravity of their severely distressing childhood will emerge.
I use the word “trauma” in every day language to mean a highly stressful event. There are no clear divisions between stress, trauma, and adaptation. But the key to understanding traumatic events is that it refers to extreme stress that continues to overwhelm a Survivor’s ability to cope and leaves the Survivor fearing death, annihilation, mutilation, or psychosis. It is also important to keep in mind that stress reactions are clearly physiological as well. Most Survivors feel emotionally, cognitively, and physically overwhelmed.
The experiences of their despairing childhood in the Religious-run Institutions include entrapment, abuse of power, betrayal of trust, an avalanche of helplessness, a deluge of pain, a torrent of confusion and a cascade of loss. Owen Felix O’Neill
Owen Felix O'Neill
Author of Child Laundering Secrets, 2017