The Humanity of the Christian Brothers
The Catholic Herald by Mary Kenny Dated March 2004 ?
There is now a website filled with hateful rant against the Christian Brothers: legal injunctions may be sought to close it down, as it seems to be libellous of named individuals. I would prefer take another course: why not set up a website, or publish a book, of the evidence of real people who recall a Christian Brothers education which is not hate- filled, but informed by a balanced description of how life was?
I had a touching account from an Irishman who looks back ,with honesty and humour, on his years with the Christian Brothers in Nass, County Kildare, from 1950-64. Three Christian Brothers certainly used the strap as punishment, as most boys schools did in the era.
But, Barry writes, in the rigid, punishing regimes that existed, the lay, married-with-family teachers were far more vindictive ,harsh and intolerant than the brothers (probably because they knew more about us in the local community).
My own elder brother had the same experience: the lay teachers were more brutal than the brothers. They were divided into two kinds. The ones that had nick-names and those that were called by their surnames. The latter were feared and never messed with. The former were the outlets for our pent- up tensions, laughed at, but never messed with. There were also many good teachers whose names now escapes him.
Among the nicknamed brothers were several comical eccentrics. Of those we were more familiar with, Woggy was the funniest . We always had to address him as the Master, the title he would always put on the blackboard at the start of every lesson.
Brother O'Reilly loved to play the violin, so at irregular moments the whole school would be summoned to the playground to hear a jig or a reel. The CB Principal probably knew when to humour him.
Snuffy (the late Br.O'Mahony) became principal at an early age. His history lessons always consisted of 50 minutes personal reminiscences(e.g . how he knew when D-day would take place before anybody else) and maybe five minutes of the history curriculum.
Barry recalls the range of nick-names and characters known to the pupils: There was Yallops ,Rhombus and the Laramie - after a popular film of the Fifties).
The Laramie was a big man and liked to pick fights with big pupils he took a dislike to for one reason or another. (The Laramie did get into a physical confrontation with a 15-year-old pupil, in which the pupil came out the victor, and put the The Laramie in sick bay for a few days!)
As regards sexual abuse-in the great outside world most young men would experience some sexual approach by men. The reaction was usually to run away as fast as one could. There is no way any such abuse in the CBs would have gone unnoticed or tolerated.
That said, there was one serious incident. When I was in sixth year the Brother called Yallops, or sometimes ˜Turps (as he drank turpentine and was been moved around from school to school as the drink problem got worse), had touched a 13 year old boy on the thigh during a lesson. After the incident, Yallops was moved again(the boy in question came to no harm).
The following year, a class friend of mine was in a pub in Dublin. Yallops or ˜Turps was there incognito ,drinking in extremely shabby ˜civvies.
He was out of the CBs.
My friend followed him out at closing time and walked behind to see where he was going.
The man was sleeping in a derelict car. Yallops grew up in a very poor family in my fathers home village in south Kildare.
He was a human being and not a monster. He was, in fact, known to my family. He had ended up skipping out of lessons to the science room for some turps to drink.
This is a poignant story of a person with human failings - now dead-and a picture of school life as it really was: the humour, the eccentricities and the colour. I would like to see more fully-rounded accounts of real life among the often very admirable CBs, in place of the clinched demonisation that has been the recent currency.
P.S. Terrorism works. That is one lesson that can be taken from the Spanish elections. If you blow enough people up, you can change the government quite democratically. The ancient Chinese adage "Kill one, frighten a thousand: kill a hundred, frighten 10 thousand" has proven to be exact . Terrorist bombs could be anywhere-and will be. May the Lord have mercy on us.
e:mail mary @mary-kenny.com.