20th 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)
There were no showers. When you washed you washed in cold water from a tap. There was a communal bath, which was just a big pit. Thirty or forty of us went in at a time and washed ourselves. When we came out another group went in, into the same water it didn't matter about diseases. We were then inspected, hands, nails, teeth everything. As for hot water, there was no such thing.
Then there was the time we were all lined up for the Bishop. The priest, a right hard man, and I mean that in every sense of the word, lined us up and asked, "If the Bishop comes along what do you say?" Well all I ever saw were Priests, Brothers and Nuns, so when he asked me I told him I didn't know what a Bishop was. He hammered the hell out of me. I never got to see the Bishop and it was years after that, before I learned what a Bishop was.
There was another young lad from Stillorgan; we'll call him Joe. He was built like Mike Tyson and was learning boxing. The trainer taught Joe everything he knew. So one day when one of the Brothers picked on Joe he got the surprise of his life 'cause Joe beat him to a pulp and then ran away.
We were all taught different trades. Some learned farming, others tailoring or carpentry or how to be a waiter. I learned shoemaking. A lot went on to join the Army. But it was my voice got me into the army. I was a boy Soprano so they gave me music lessons. Then I was sent to the School of Music at Portobello Barracks in Dublin. It was my first time being out in the world, the first time ever having money in my hand. My first time wearing long pants. They gave me a stripped brown suit and socks; I had made my own shoes. But no underwear, we had no under wear in Upton. We didn't even get toilet paper, just newspaper. So there I was out in the world, almost sixteen years old and I didn't even know who I was. But I had a uniform and a pair of boots.
The following July we got three weeks leave. I had no place to go, so I came back down here to Upton. As far as they were concerned I was still part of the school and they treated me as such. Very few ever came back as there was always a guilt complex about the place. I can never remember a happy time here; it was a glorified concentration camp. What gets me is that a lot of well known Cork City people used to come here regularly, did any of them see or hear what was going on? One man used to come every week and take a car load of boys out for the day and bring them back in the evening. Did he know what was going on? Did the entertainers who came here know anything? Did parents who had children here know anything? And if they did why didn't somebody say something? We knew if we opened our mouths nobody would believe us and on top of that we'd get a hiding. Imagine saying to somebody that you were sexually abused by a priest, back in the 'fifties nobody would have believed such things were possible. Today is different, but I still don't go to church and I've no respect for Priests or Brothers. I'll talk to them, but when I see a collar that's it! End of story, Period!
I never found out who my own family was. One day in Dublin, I went along to the 'Queen Of Angels' where I was born, a Nun answered the door and I told her I was trying to find out about my mother. "You don't want to know" she said, and slammed the door in my face. I didn't bother anymore after that. I know my mother was from Galway. I don't know who my father was and I don't know where I got the name I have, but it haunts me.
I remember our summer holidays. We spent a month in Garrettstown every year. A local farmer drove the truck that was used for moving farm manure. We spent two or three days trying to clean it out, they put a canvas cover over it and we were all packed in like sheep, there was no such thing as sitting down, we had to stand all the way and it was the same coming back. Our clothes and bedding were sent ahead of us. Garrettstown House had a roof on it in those days but there were no beds, so we slept on the floor. The cooking was done in a hollow outside near the wooded area close to the house and we had to eat outside regardless of the weather. There were no toilets, one had to go out into the woods and there were two holes in the ground. That was the toilet. We were told when we could go for a swim, and we had to go whether we wanted to go or not. We were marched down the road, about two hundred and fifty of us in two columns, to the strand near what used to be Coakley's Hotel. Anyone stepping out of line would be corrected, but they'd be for it when we got back. We had no swimming trunks so we stripped off and went into the water naked. When we came out, there were no towels, so we just put our clothes back on regardless of how wet we were. If we didn't, we'd get a beating. And that was how we spent our summer holidays.
There were one or two success stories; occasionally I hear a familiar name on the radio. One individual who was sent to a farm, (and that was the worst because you could be put sleeping with the pigs), anyway, this lad got it rough for a while but then he was brought into the family, and when they died they left him the farm. Today he's a successful farmer. But those stories are few and far between.
We were always suffering, one way or another. There was one teacher who used to beat us with the window pole and he always had a cigarette in his mouth. Every time I see someone with a cigarette I 'm reminded of him. Then there were the rubbish bins. When the priests were finished their meals and the leftovers were thrown in the bins, we used to scavenge them and God help anyone who was caught. Another source of food was the farmyard. We would sneak into the shed where they kept the potatoes and eat them raw. They used to mince up mangles for the cattle and we'd eat them as well. It's not a pleasant memory, cruel conditions, savage beatings, sexual abuse, leftover food, raw potatoes and mangles, - but it's a fact!
do I keep coming back? Well these are my roots; this is where I
This is the only home I knew.
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