At one time in Ireland there was 71Industrial Schools (the highest number of them) of the 61 which are in what is now the Republic of Ireland, 56 schools were Catholic run and five were Protestant run, of the 10 in what is now Northern Ireland 6 were Catholic run and 4 Protestant run. Of the 9 Protestant Industrial Schools in Ireland 5 were for girls and 4 for boys. The Catholic Church administered a massive system of over 250 Industrial Schools, Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries and Orphanages that stretched across the Republic of Ireland. The largest number of children were from unwed Mothers, but other children were arrested and imprisoned for a variety of reasons, petty theft, truancy, families unable to cope and look after their children. All the children and their mothers in these institutions were subjected to unimaginable terrors from the moment they arrived in these institutions, it was a dehumanising existence that involved a struggle for survival against a system designed to punish and humiliate and even to kill them. The work for the mothers and children were physically demanding tasks such as the workshops, in shoes, carpentry, tailoring, farming, domestic work, construction and laundries, iron works, catering.
Most of the work was physically exhausting, with meager rations, and extremely harsh treatment from the various Religious Orders that ran the institutions. The Catholic Religious Orders were, Priests, Brothers, Monks, and Sisters. Many children and their mothers worked very long days, many serving various other functions and duties such as cleaning within the institutions. Living conditions were harsh and extreme but varied greatly from institution to institution, but never changed.
6 or 7 a.m. Awakening;- You are awakened or beaten from you crumbled bed by the early duty Brother, or Sister or the Nightwatchman barking at you, normally with a stick as they beat you out of bed. Hurry up! You must raise, find your tattered cloths, dress quickly, a very fast wash. If you lay in bed you would be beaten till you ran from the bed to the overflowing cesspool of human waste flowing from the toilets and you washed in cold water, you only had a couple of minutes for both washing and the toilet. Mandatory Mass for all children of the institutions, was a daily obligation, no excuses, Mandatory Mass would be the first port of call followed by Breakfast which was just coloured, tasteless tea or water, watery milk, sometimes, burnt porridge in the winter, a hunk of stale bread, with sugar or syrup, if you are lucky some butter or even some margarine, which most mornings you fought for and if you could manage to steal an egg or trade with a farm boy, well good luck. Sometimes there might be some jam or marmalade, a real treat. All the children were then lined up in the yard in rows of ten across, or ten down. All the children must be at the roll call. The Brothers or Sisters then started to read and call out names of the boys or girls, and you had to answer, “yes sir” or “yes Sister” A mistake during the counting and everything must start again, making the Brothers and Sisters very angry, nervous and dangerous. During the roll call, you must stand at attention, even if it is raining or snowing. It is forbidden to move or to talk during the roll call. Your cloths you wore everyday, does not protect you against the cold weather. Many children had or caught colds during the roll call specially in the blowing wind and rain. A few children were too weak to stand at attention in the yard, maybe for an hour or more. Then the duty Brother or Sister would assign the child to a work shop to a schoolroom always barking at you. In most cases instant punishment was melt out there and then, beatings, insults, barking at you, again and again.
Work or School;- Your day will be long, sometimes 10-12 hours of work, depending where you worked, the farm which would be bad, most of the year, it involved gruelling work, very long hours, and always back-breaking. School was a must from 9am till 3.30pm top heavy with religious study, and then there was the workshop you were assigned to earlier in the morning. Most of the shop work was always very hard, and often useless, unless the teacher, a civilian, normally an ex boy or girl of the institution, who took an interest in you and you had an interest in learning. Most of the time you would be defending off unwanted his or her sexual advances. If the teacher/instructor thinks you are not working fast enough, you'll be given a beating. Don't even think about stopping for a while or even slowing down, your life will be made hell, and you will live in fear, of the teacher/instructor’s instant violent lash outs.
The Lunch Break: Your main meal of the day, about noon, or slightly after noon depending. The yard angelus bell will ring out loud and you most stop what it is you are doing, stand perfectly still or kneel down and mumble a few prayers while the angelus bell rings out, announcing 12 noon, twelve strokes, with a pause between each ring out of the bell. After the angelus bell rings, then you line up for the lunch break, afterwards the playing yard till 2pm. Lunch would be maybe, meat, roasted or boiled depending, fatty beef, pork, mutton, bacon with unwashed potatoes and vegetables, mostly cabbages or carrots the main stable, boiled fish on Fridays and always a roast on Sunday. Sometimes a kind of “soup" or stew normally the powered type, with bits and pieces of the kitchen sink and floor droppings added as a flavouring. School Class would resume, after 2pm. if you are not in a work shop or farm, or kitchen. The work starts again, always at top speed. The afternoon seems harder because you are always hungry and you feel you are loosing strength, you can’t concentrate in your class lessons or work. if a child faints and the Brothers or Sisters in charge see, they will beat him/her up.
The Afternoon: after class, straight into your assigned work shop, for a few gruelling hours of dangerous work, or back-breaking work, like the farm, to stitch leather for shoes, plane woodwork, mend clothing, washout the commune toilets, sweep the playing yard or Kp in the Industrial Kitchen, or serve as a KP or domestic servant in the main housing, church or kitchens of either the Brothers or Sisters. Of course all this has an opportunity for extra curricular activities, with maybe older children or the Brother, or Priest or Nun who took a shine to you, sexually molesting you, or you trying to beat of unwanted, undesired sexual groping behaviour from an over active horny Religious person or older child. The Religious Elders had their favourites, be it boys or girls, in truth our lives were about surviving, without receiving a daily flogging or anal rape, or both.
Evening Tea;- about 5 or 6 pm depending what is on, again the angelus bell will ring out for 6pm. The same routine as the midday angelus bell, and then the yard for playing football or horsing around till about 9pm in the summer and 8.30 in the winter. The evening tea would be water, or watery teas, a bowl shared of either golden sticky syrup or a bowl of dripping, eaten hot or cold as a spread on bread or dipped with a hunk of stale bread, which you fought for, from the always older children. The fat or dripping that was cooked and melted from roasting meat, would be gathered over the few weeks, until enough dripping had gathered to feed a few hundred children, it maybe rancid, one in a while, but no matter, if you were hungry enough as we all were, we eat it. In season, maybe an apple, sometimes an orange, once in a while a bit of cheese, or a sausage, maybe a fried egg, or a boiled egg. In the summer, a leaf of lettuce or tomato, a slice of raw onion or a green scallion.
Evening Roll Call and Bed Time;- All children are lined up by rows of ten. The Brothers or Sisters are counting the children before they enter the vast dormitory with probably 100 or 150 cots in long oblong rooms, all the iron cots are maybe a foot apart from the next cot. The evening roll call is also the moment chosen by the Brothers and Sisters for the punishments and the rapes of selected children. Then the bathroom toilets which were were permanently filthy, disgustingly dirty and smelly with no sanitation, and constantly dripping rusty water from the many leaks in the lead piping from the dozen open toilets, with no toilet-seats, no door, no privacy, no toilet paper and wash basins, filled with filth and grime, no soap, nor toothpaste, no combs, all shared by a few hundred other children, with a few torn faecal towels shared among the children. No showers, only once a week or once a fortnight. The small iron cots with thin mattresses, with stained sheets, a pillow, and a thin mostly torn blanket is used by you till you leave the institution, the bedding is maybe washed every month or two, the grey blanket never. You are not allowed to leave the dormitory during the night. The nightwatchman or woman is watching or waiting for you to beat the hell out of you if you are found outside the dormitory. If you are know to the nightwatchman or woman as a child that wets the bed, then you would be woken every few hours by a stick, a beating, until you left the bed and ran to the toilet. The nightwatchman or woman would have the right to beat you if he or she chooses, as have the Brothers or Sisters. A daily to nightly ritual by either the duty Brother or Sister would be before you went to bed, or early in the morning, depending, the children who were known to wet the bed, would be required to parade around the dormitory in full view of all the other children, humiliated with their wet sheets on top of their heads, or forced to strip naked in rows, naked on all fours, their bums in the air, while the duty Brother or Sister would walk among them and beat their bare bums. And that my dear friends was a small sample of daily life in any Industrial School, Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundry or Orphanage in the Irish Republic, which was run by the Holy Irish Catholic Church. This sadly was my daily life for 15 years, yes I also was a chronic bed wetter, mostly out of fear, and to avoid going to the toilet on my own, where I knew if I went on my own I would be prey for the older children, oddly it was safer to wet the bed.
Owen Felix O’Neill
Owen Felix O'Neill
Author of Child Laundering Secrets, 2017