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RESPONSE TO RYAN REPORT - Letters published in Irish Times

Irish Times, 2 June 2009

Madam, – No issue has received such publicity among the media and the public as the Ryan report on abuse among the clergy. One wonders if the massive reaction is not the response of a guilt-ridden society. Nobody denies the shame and sadness evoked by the perpetrators, but must we place the entire blame on the Catholic Church and its clergy? The blame must be shared by a much wider society. There were a few lonely voices who protested but they were largely ignored by parents, teachers, the Civil Service, government and any member of the public who bothered to think of our culture of neglect.

What will our successors think in 50 years time of our current society? Of the widespread corruption among our politicians, bushiness people and the professions, and of the tolerance of such corruption among an electorate who return proven corrupt candidates to our parliament? What will they think of the widespread criminality which has become part of our culture? The culture of crime and violence is the responsibility of our society and cannot be attributed to any particular group. It cannot change without a profound cultural change within ourselves.

I spent six uneventful years in a Christian Brothers’ secondary school. and I never heard a complaint about them. The belt was occasionally used but it did not seem inhumane to us. Nor did it apparently in any of the English public schools.

The Christian Brothers, like many other Catholic orders, were almost solely responsible for providing education and social services to the people of Ireland from the time of the Catholic emancipation, long before government and the rest of society adopted their proper responsibilities. I hope we do not have a witch hunt following the report. The great majority of our clergy have been moral, unselfish and steadfast citizens and it is impossible to forget their huge contribution to our country. – Yours, etc,


Roebuck Road,

Dublin 14.

Madam, – I cannot let Art Kavanagh’s letter (May 23rd) go unchallenged. Is a 13-month-old baby whose mother is unmarried a thug? Is a four-year-old boy whose mother has died a thug? What happened to me and my family does not amount to a hill of beans compared with the suffering of all the poor children in the Ryan report.

I write this merely as background information, for what it is worth.

My mother died suddenly in 1956 and left my father to rear seven small children. I was 10 at the time and the eldest of the seven.

Things were tough in our house and to tell the truth we went a little wild compared with the standards of the time.

Certain of the neighbours tut-tutted about the liberties we took when our father was absent and the leash was off.

About a year after my mother’s death my father disintegrated under the pressure and had to go into St Loman’s hospital for “treatment”. He had no income, except from a small farm. No dole, and as far as I can remember, a very small, if any, children’s allowance.

There was always, though, an abundance of religion. No shortage there.

We were at that time in the care of my grandfather – an invalid – who could walk only with the aid of two sticks, but who none-the-less was a very capable person.

When my father came out of hospital he was in a very fragile state and this was not helped by the arrival of “The Little Nun”.

Over several visits she put enormous pressure on my father to give us up to institutional care, “where we would be properly looked after”. This had a dreadful effect, especially on the younger members of my family. So much so that my sister Kathleen could not sleep at night.

Early one morning she came into the kitchen and asked my father straight out if he was going to send us away.

My father looked at her and said, “Not till the last cow is gone”. This was my father’s finest hour. Part of my reason for contacting you now is to honour him in death because I did not honour him in life. (He and I were like chalk and cheese and rarely saw eye to eye on any subject).

The next time “The Little Nun” called he “ran her like a redshank”. She did not meet her quota that week at least.

She left our yard berating him for being a selfish man.

Apart from my father’s and my grandfather’s courage the only thing that saved us – and I firmly believe this to this day – was the fact that we had a bit of land, albeit a small bit.

If we had come from a county council cottage we would not have stood a chance.

This was de Valera’s Ireland! – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Irish Times, 29 May 2009

Madam, – A recent correspondent suggested the residents of the institutions run by the Christian Brothers were the “thugs of their day”. My late father who was born profoundly deaf was placed in the school for the deaf, in Cabra run by the Brothers, at the age of six and remained there for 11 years (1911-1922). His abiding memory of the place and the experience was of constant hunger and a bleak and loveless atmosphere. I am aware that this was a common experience for orphans at the time, even more so if they had the additional stigma of poverty. To further punish these helpless children by suggesting that they were thugs is disgraceful. – Yours, etc,


Blackheath Park,



Madam, – I am a student at Maynooth College. It is a beautiful campus and I have hugely enjoyed my first year as a student. On the way to the library last Friday I walked past two old priests. One said to the other, “Bad week for the church”. “Aye”, said the second, with a nod.

They still don’t get it. Every week is a bad week for the victims. This is a good week for the church because they can now start to do something. We should rejoice when our sin is outed, because it leaves us free to leave it behind. But you have to be willing to own it first.

Art Kavanagh wrote in the Letters page (May 23rd) that it was “most appalling” to have to watch a good nun apologise on television for the sins of the Sisters of Mercy.

Perhaps there is a parallel universe where the Irish churches were filled with disciples of Jesus instead of just Catholics, Protestants, Presbyterians and so on. There we would see that the greatest moment of that nun’s whole life-long ministry would have come on Thursday evening. She had a chance to speak truth and grace and words of healing and repentance. This is the hope of all church leaders. And we are so broken as a church that we think that confession is a disgrace and consider out-sourcing it to a solicitor.

I am training to be a Presbyterian minister. When I consider the pain of the victims of this abuse, I wonder this week why anyone would ever listen to an Irish church again. But I hope once a church has been humbled, it can start to speak the truth. – Yours, etc,


Rockfield Square,


Co Kildare.

Madam, – I did voluntary work in a boys’ home in Belgium during the early 1970s. The ill-treatment I saw there haunts me to this day. Staff tormented the boys. The older boys tormented the younger ones. Even the few little pet animals kept there were not exempted from ill-treatment. When I reported the situation subsequently, I was ignored. This was not a religious-run institution. There was not a priest, nun or brother in sight.

So it’s not just Ireland. It’s not just the Catholic Church. The media here is on a witch hunt at present with the Catholic Church being made the scapegoat of every societal failing. The talk is about compensation to survivors. What about using the money to help children in care today who may not survive? We read harrowing stories of young people being found dead from drug overdoses.

I salute the religious – nuns, priests, brothers and lay people who are trying to help young people and remember with affection dear Sr Eugene who looked after me and many other children when there was little help from any other quarter. – Yours, etc,


St Ignatius Road,

Dublin 7.

Madam, – While Eilish Byrne (May 26th) is as deeply shocked and scandalised, as are all decent right-minded people, at the horrendous abuse of defenceless children in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages, she seems to be “cutting off her nose to spite her face” in her extremist reaction to the revelations of the report. Would she eschew attending all doctors, simply because a few were less than professional? Rejecting the church and her religion because of the appalling crimes of a few, is not the answer. – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Madam, – I attended Catholic schools, both in Ireland and South Africa, from 1997 to 2004.

Many letters in recent days have called for the complete removal of religion from the educational sphere. This might be termed an understandable product of legitimate public anger at the mystifying abuses perpetrated in the past. However, I do not believe that the execrable scale of what can only be called an organic culture of abuse in Ireland of that era reflects the present status quo. On the contrary, most decent and calm-headed people, among whom I count myself, recognise that Catholic schools are now excellent centres of learning.

From a personal viewpoint, my Catholic schools were wonderful communities of faith, where the school authorities combined delivery of a State-approved curriculum with enriching ethical instruction. Moreover, in 2009 we live in a society where the primary disciplinary duty is squarely devolved to the home and to parents. In extremis, the State has the duty of care. We do not live in the past and Catholic education today should not be put on trial.

Finally, what is more bewildering is that these calls invoke the separation of church and State as an ideological buttress. This is absurd. Even in the French Republic, which has a century-long framework of separation enshrined both in law and public conscience, nobody would challenge the right of all independent confessional authorities to operate schools, including the church. What these calls are supporting – if they are serious – is a secular dictatorship. Respectfully, I suggest these people review previous historical attempts to strip religion from society. The results were just as brutal as many of the instances of abuse in some institutions. – Yours, etc,


Edward Square, Galway.

Madam, – Just to put the record straight, I unreservedly condemn the abuse suffered by children in the many institutions where they were housed in this country from the time of their foundation.

I mistakenly stated that the majority of the boys so incarcerated were the thugs of their era (May 23rd). I apologise to anyone who took offence from my statement. According to the commission document the majority of the children were there because of destitution, poverty, broken families and neglect.

With regard to compensation, I wholly endorse the concept of monetary compensation being made to the surviving victims of abuse by the religious institutions involved. – Yours, etc,


Emerald Cottages,

Dublin 4.

Irish Times, 27 May 2009

Madam, – A brutal letter from Art Kavanagh surfaced in your columns on Saturday (May 23rd).

He wrote: “I do know, and I’m sure many other people know, that the majority of the boys who were sent to these institutions were the thugs of their era”.

The certitude of this perhaps practising Christian who presumes to mug a generation is symptomatic of a moral blindness and effrontery that have given rise to these problems in the first instance. – Yours, etc,



The Lilliput Press,

Arbour Hill,

Dublin 7.

Irish Times, 26 May 2009

Madam, – I am a lady of 76 years and I strongly object to the comment by Art Kavanagh (May 23rd). I was placed in Goldenbridge at less than two years old. I was taken to a District Court in Clane in Co Kildare in 1935 and charged and sentenced to 14 years. I had committed no crime. To this day I still have this criminal record. I was deprived of all human and Constitutional rights when I was handed over to the nuns at Golden Bridge.

I was deprived of a family and did not know I had sisters and a brother till 1989. In 2003 I received some letters written by my mother in the 1940s.

Most of the children placed with the nuns were infants. – Yours, etc,


St James Road,



Irish Times 23 May 2009

Madam, – In the wake of the report concerning the child abuse suffered by many in the industrial schools and similar institutions run by Christian Brothers and nuns, much opprobrium has been heaped on the various religious orders because of their alleged involvement in abuse.

Granted, there was abuse, but please spare a thought for the countless thousands of honourable decent Brothers and nuns who are now being tarred with the same brush.

No one knows what really happened in those institutions. Many of those accused (though unnamed) are now dead and they cannot defend themselves.

I do know, and I’m sure many other people know, that the majority of the boys who were sent to those institutions were the thugs of their era. That is why they ended up there. In many cases they were from broken homes and the trauma they suffered probably resulted in their anti-social behaviour. I am not attempting to make a case for the few religious or lay thugs who took advantage of their vulnerability, but I amening to see the religious orders beiequally stating that it is quite sickng pilloried today.

The sight of the congregational leader of the Sisters of Mercy, almost in tears, having to apologise on national television for the sins of a few of her order (probably all deceased) was most appalling. That good lady was in no way responsible for any wrongdoing and I feel a solicitor might have been employed to make such a statement.


Emerald Cottages,

Dublin 4.