I’m indebted to author Peter Mulholland for telling me about his analysis of physical abuse which – if my witnessing is anything to go by – seems have been especially prevalent in Catholic schools.
The title of his book is below and makes me feel quite emotional.
The Decline of Catholicism and Rise of New Religions in Ireland
First, a couple of general points.
There is an attitude that corporal punishment didn’t do children any harm and they deserved it. That’s noticeably lacking from accounts on this site. My theory is this is because so much violence went unrecorded and was so clearly out of control. And because it was often linked to far worse matters as past testimonies show. Notably testimonies against Brother James and Brother Solomon where their abuse was linked to sexual abuse.
One noticeable exception is Old Boy ‘Anonymous’ (see a past post) who recently wrote to tell me that certain pupils he knew well and clearly identified were delinquent or mentally unsound and thus provoked (!!) a teacher who wasn’t aware of a particular boy’s possible special needs. But in any event they all thoroughly deserved a thrashing. For obvious reasons I haven’t published Anon’s detailed critique, which I found quite upsetting, but I do think it is noteworthy as showing an alternative point of view to the one most of us will hold.
I used to try laughing the violence off at the time. It was always featured in comics and in the tv series Whacko! It made it all seem normal, although I always preferred St Trinian’s cartoons where the delinquent pupils hit back against authority. I even tried writing about the violence in fictional form in my stories.
But witnessing the truly vile and criminal physical abuse by Brother James left a lasting impression on me. Perhaps more so than being on the receiving end of it. So I wrote about it in my autobiography ‘Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!’, the Secret History of 2000AD and Judge Dredd.
Here’s the relevant excerpt:
James wore a long black robe, Himmler-style, steel-rimmed spectacles, and had aesthetic, angular features. He was as menacing as Brother Solomon, from whom he took over as Prefect of Discipline.
One day he entered my classroom to find a thirteen year old boy talking. A great kid with a surly punk attitude to life that reminds me of Mike McMahon. James seethed with anger and sucked air through his clenched Clint Eastwood teeth as he sent another boy to fetch a size ten plimsoll from the cloak room. I would later directly draw on this incident for the fury of the scene in The Cursed Earth when Dredd razes the town of Repentance (!!) to the ground.
Then, in full view of the rest of us, James went to work on his victim, who was the younger brother of our English teacher and the son of the school doctor. So no favouritism there. All are equal in the eyes of the Law.
He raised the slipper high above his head and took a spin-bowler’s long run-up towards his bent-over victim, whom he had carefully positioned at the far end of the raised wooden dais. His shoes thundered noisily across the bare floorboards, his black robes flapped wildly around him, before he administered a savage blow to the boy’s posterior, raising a cloud of dust at the point of impact. Returning to his starting point, he took several more high-speed, bowler’s run-ups to his victim, thrashing him without mercy, before the poor kid collapsed in a heap on the ground, whereupon—as we watched, quaking in fear—he stood over him and rained more ferocious blows onto his crouched and cringing, sobbing form.
In correspondence with this old classmate, he has confirmed my account and revealed his defiant, punk attitude eventually led to his expulsion. That doesn’t surprise me. Neither Brother James nor Judge Dredd would tolerate defiant punks.
We should have gone to our classmate’s defence, and I still feel bad that we didn’t. The Brothers relied on terror tactics to control us, and how often do the citizens of Mega-City rise up against the Judges and give them what they also richly deserve? The Brothers and the Judges are the Law.
A lifetime later, I guess that’s what I’m doing with this blog: going to my classmates’ defence, as well, of course, as dealing with my own experiences. Better late than never. The De La Salles thought they got away with their crimes because they had crushed our spirits and I aim to prove them wrong.
I’m aware of a limited investigation of DLS school St Williams but NOT sufficient. The laity abusers got away with it!
Similarly DLS approved school St Gilberts. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-hereford-worcester-30931421 Some (boys) were beaten and raped by brothers from the De La Salle order, which ran the institute under the direction of the Home Office.
I’ve been communicating with a survivor who says he has been fobbed off.
And so on. The list is endless.
All these matters relating to the De La Salles clearly require further investigation.
As I’ve said to Catholic Safeguarding, the WHOLE DLS order MUST be investigated.
Peter Mulholland wrote to tell me about his research for his book. He relates how an Irishman burnt himself to death in response to abuse.
I had similar experiences in a Christian Brother’s school in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. And, like yourself, I felt that nobody wanted to know.
So, having very happily failed O-Levels, I escaped the Brothers at the age of 16.
Decades later I went back to school and then to university in England. & Couple of years ago I wrote an academic book in which I traced the history of the 1950s-80s campaign against corporal punishment in Irish schools. Much of the rest of the book is about the origins and effects of that abusive system. Some open access reviews here: https://doi.org/10.3167/ajec.2020.290211
and here: https://doi.org/10.30664/ar.84859
PS – when researching I found a book by/about an Irishman who suffered even worse abuse and burned himself to death on Hampstead Heath. There were some who wanted to know – and many who didn’t want anyone to hear them.