13th January, 2000
THE ONLY HOME I KNEW
Last year in Seen, Read
and Heard page I wrote about my memories of the Model School.
About being terrorised by an Afton smoking, half-sweeping brush
handle wielding physcopath who beat and terrorised children with
great enthusiasm. I'm told a lot of Douglas people suffered a
similar fate at the hands of the "Bull". About two
weeks after I wrote that piece a reader contacted me to ask if I
wished to hear his story. I told him I would and we agreed to
meet. When we met he told me the only way he could relate his
story was to go back to the scource of his story. On a bitterly
cold Saturday afternoon we drove to Upton. Me with my Dictaphone,
he with his memories. This is his story; (for obvious reasons we
are withholding all names)
The Only Home I Knew
St Philomena's Home in Stillorgan in Dublin was an adoption place. What happened there was, every so often we were lined up and people looking to adopt would walk down the line and pick out who they wanted. The rest were sent to Artane or St Joesph's in Clonmel and some, like me were sent to Upton. I don't know how long I was in St, Philomena's, but I was about nine years old at that time. It was 1948.
At that time there were 600 boys in Upton aged from about nine to fifteen. At sixteen they were sent out to work on farms, the lucky ones got into the army. Conditions were appalling, there were three or four of us brought in every evening and made cut up loads of bread and dip the pieces into a vat of lard, then two pieces at a time were clamped together and left over night. In the morning that was your breakfast. Once a week, as a weekend treat there was porridge, and then around Easter you got an egg, That was a rare privilege, to get an egg, even though they had a bloody chicken farm down there. We never, absolutely never got anything like chocolate. But we were hardy young fellows. So were the people in charge.
There was one a man who was from Kilkenny; he was a right demon. He would catch a boy by the ear and literally lift him off his feet then drag him the length of the church before letting go, all over some misdemeanour. There was another priest who was a gentleman but he was sent away to Africa. His replacement was a man from the North. He had a leather strap about a foot long, made up of two strips of leather with four half-crowns in between, he'd take down your pants make you bend over and wallop you - and that was severe. Then there was the priest who heard our confessions. He was also an alcoholic. My story with him was that when one of the Brothers tried to abuse me, I went to confession and told the priest. Some time later that particular brother called me into his office and claimed I had made an accusation against him. I denied it; I was looking stupid at him after all what is said in confession is sacrosanct. He made me take down my pants and hammered the daylights out of me. A year later the priest to whom I had gone to confession became very friendly towards me. It turned out he was also a sex abuser. At night he'd take you out of your bed and bring you upstairs to his room saying he wanted to talk, then he'd lie down on the bed and get you to masturbate him. That's as true as I'm here, that's they way it happened to me, and I couldn't tell anyone because I knew I was for it if I did. And I wasn't the only one, it was happening to others as well. About ten years ago I came back and met that priest and he apologised to me and said it was due to his alcoholism. If that is so then it's his problem. I believe he has since been transferred to Scotland, he's probably doing the same thing over there.
Then there was the cook, when he had finished the meals for the brothers and priests he'd call you into the pantry to help with some job and come up behind and start abusing you. And there was nothing you could do about it. There was no one to report it to. Anyway at that time who would have believed you back then in the 'fifties?
Whenever I go back I always visit the grave of John Curley. Nobody knew him properly. Between the two dormitories there were a couple of utility rooms and he was kept on one of them. I was asked to bring something to him one day, I don't remember what it was, but I can remember coming into the room and seeing him lying there in a bed on his stomach with his intestines out through his back passage. He was there for about nine months, then he died. There wasn't a word about it. No inquiry, he was an orphan and nobody asked any questions. He was left there to die alone and that's why I always visit his grave.
At night time a lame man used to go around with a walking stick, he lived over the kitchens beside the church, so the heat would come up through the floorboards. In the winter we went to bed at 8o'clock and in the summer it was ten. This man would come around every two hours and make us go to the toilet, if we were asleep he'd whack us with the stick to get up. There were only two toilets for the entire group. If anybody wet the bed he'd whip off the sheets and beat him with the stick, then report him for bed wetting, and he'd get another beating in the morning. The dormitory was segregated, the bedwetters at one end and the rest at the other. Then there were the rats. The place was infested with rats. Our night watchman used to go around killing them and they'd always be a few dead ones lying around every morning. I even remember killing a couple of them myself with a shovel.
As well as the night watchman, there were other laymen, but these were mostly farm labourers and odd job men. Then there were the Nuns. There were three Nuns in a separate building; they were very passionate people and the only ones that ever nursed us and looked after us. Then one morning they were gone, transferred to Bandon. No one knows what happened. There was some scandal going around but I don't know what it was. Maybe they found out what was going on; I don't know. Years later I met one of the Nuns and all she would say " I can' believe how the hell young fellows survived in that place"
To be continued
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