Society for the Prevention of Kindness

Jesus Christ. There is just no limit to human disgustingness, is there.

I am here to talk about her catastrophic childhood in an industrial school — a euphemism for workhouse — in Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s, and as anyone who survived this experience will confirm, it is a painful subject. There, incarcerated by 6ft walls and under the tutelage of the Sisters of Mercy nuns, Kathleen was beaten, starved and humiliated to a point where she felt worthless and wanted only to be invisible. Her education was scant; instead she was put to work scrubbing floors, in the laundry and, barefoot and dressed in rags, in the surrounding fields…Denied water between what passed for meals, she drank from toilets.

Denied water between meals. For what? For what purpose? For what monstrous purpose? Is it the Jane Eyre thing again, Catholic version instead of Protestant? You’re poor therefore you have to be given especially bad treatment, treatment that goes beyond mere neglect to outright sadism, so that – so that what? So that you’ll know ‘God’ hates poor people?

…the quality of their mother’s care counted for nothing when the NSPCC charged her with being “destitute” — ie, unmarried — and sent her daughters to St Vincent’s Goldenbridge, an Industrial School. Kathleen was 5. There she was put to work threading rosary beads on to wire that cut into her hands, and she was beaten…By the time Kathleen and her sister escaped a year later, they had scabies and ringworm and were painfully thin.

She was allowed to stay home for awhile but then she was raped by a neighbour and her mother tried to push for a prosecution –

unwittingly giving the NSPCC the proof it needed that she was an unfit mother and that her children needed “protection”. This time her daughters — there were now three — were committed to Mount Carmel Industrial School in Moate, Co Westmeath, until their 16th birthdays…But as she describes the eight years of persistent neglect and abuse that she endured, it is the emotional deprivation that is most disturbing. The girls were not allowed to talk to each other, which meant that there was no friendship or solidarity between them, no care for each other, no way of expressing how they felt — indeed they learnt not to express their feelings. Kathleen felt lost and alone and as she cried herself to sleep each night (and then invariably wet the bed), she could only conclude that she was a very bad girl.

It’s the NSPCC that got her sent there. Funny way to prevent cruelty to children.

We had no rights. We were fortunate that the nuns gave us a roof over our heads or we’d be walking the streets of Dublin. They had such power. When people visited we were threatened to within an inch of our lives. We had to say, ‘I’m very well, thank you, I’m very happy, thank you, we have lovely food, thank you’. You did it because you were within 6ft walls, there was no one to talk to and if you talked, you knew what you would get.

Sounds exactly, to the letter, like Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. If you haven’t read it – lose no time.

Thousands of children in Ireland were tortured, robbed of their childhoods, by the religious…How could they call themselves religious and treat children in this manner?…How could they have thought that they were doing good by beating us? Well, if you’re obsessed by the Devil, you need it beaten out of you, and that is what we were told. They were evil, sadistic people.

Also sounds exactly, to the letter, like that account of ‘exorcists’ and ‘witchcraft’ in small villages in Kinshasa. It seems safe to assume that immense numbers of children are treated this way around the globe.

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