In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as INJUSTICE. Charles Dickens. - Great Expectations
Something I soon discovered in St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Tralee, for 6 years I was there. That there were a very small group of boys who were known as Travellers, who were always singled out for further punishment and other abuses by the Christian Brothers. At that time at least in my eyes we were all the same, friends, playmates, brothers, enemies, children. I didn’t know the difference, Oh sure, all the boys were different, some with red hair, blond hair, brown hair, curly hair. Many had also different eye colourings, blue, grey, brown, pain as a colour, sadness, and for many, oceans of tears and fears. There was a smorgasbord of boys, who came in all shapes and sizes, tall boys, small boys, fat boys, thin boys, all with a variety of different Irish accents.
But Two boys stood out because they were black in colour, it was to us white boys, exotic, they had more friends because of this. They too endured their share of personal pain because they were different. We didn’t really discriminate against them, yes we may have if we had a fight with them like most boys do, calling them N….s, but only because we heard others do so, or the Christian Brothers using the word, often. We did the same with the Traveller boys, but in most cases they could take care of themselves. I have to admit I didn’t see anything different about them, the Travellers boys. They too were the same as me, in colour, hair, size, and with different accents, but then I came from Dublin, I was called a Jackeen and they were Culchies as I learned. I didn’t fully understand what it meant, except I knew it was bad if thrown at me, the same I though, as me shouting “N….r,” or monkey at a black boy or me shouting “Pavee” at the top of my lungs at a boy I thought was a Traveller, in most cases the boy I shouted “Pavee” at, was just a common Culchie. How stupid was I, I couldn’t tell the difference.
Shouting “Pavee” at a boy, whether he was a Traveller or not, would more likely get you a swift smack across the mouth, if you called them, “Pavee” or any mean names. We learned to avoid entanglements if possible, to avoid a black eye, or a cut lip. We didn’t of course know that name calling was hurtful, yes we could see the reaction, the tears in the eye, the doleful look but we were stupid boys. One day in the play yard one of the Christian Brother’s, pulled me aside, inviting me to walk with him as he wanted to have a quiet word with me. I looked puzzled, and fearful, I expected a beating from this particular cruel Brother. I fell in beside him, my eyes darting, here and there, like a spooked rabbit. I walked around the busy yard of boys with him. He leaned over to me and asked me why I was a friend with that boy, pointed to Patsy, the boy I was playing with.
I blundered out to this sadistic Brother, I like him, we are friends. The Brother stopped and I stopped, he looked me over from head to foot, as if I had taken leave of my senses. Honestly I was expecting a smack across my face from him, he was known as a brutal Brother among the boys with a very short fuse. Do you know who that boy is, he thundered at me. I replied yes I do, his name is Patsy, no he whispered to me like a conspirator, his yellow teeth, and decaying breath is all I saw and smelled, I pulled slightly away, but his whispers was dripping with spit, contempt and hatred, he is a filthy, filthy tinker, I looked again puzzled. I never heard of the word “tinker” I asked him ``Sir what is a “tinker”.. with a raised voice he roared at me, (Carthy) a “tinker” is him, and him and him over there, and a few more around the schoolyard. I looked very confused, I saw boys the same as me, playing in the yard, but all with different colour hair, and boys in all shapes and sizes. I thought to myself, filthy, as I’m dirty too, but so is Patsy as are all the other boys. He looked at me, wiping his cruel, snarling mouth with the back of his hand, get away from me, (Carthy), he sneered at me, kicking me in the gut, you’re probably one of them yourself he shouted, in anger and disgust, I painfully ran as I saw his changing red face.
But I ran away frightened and confused back to Patsy to play, Patsy asked- what did he want;- I said .. he said you are a “tinker”, black haired Patsy, stopped to think, knitted his eyebrows together for split second, roaring with laughter, turning away, shouting at me —your a “tinker” your a “tinker” he sang, shouting at me as he further moved away, doing a little jig around me, laughing. His open face was flushed with happiness as I watched him dancing away, laughing. I ran after him laughing and shouting at him, No!! No!! ….your the “tinker”, We both ran and danced around the yard full of other boys, a few times shouting out to each other “tinker” Of course we both didn’t know what the word meant nor understood its true meaning, after all we were both 9 years of age. Patsy was one of my oldest friend in the Industrial school for 6 years, I called him “tinker” Patsy and he called me “tinker” Carthy, we both said it with great affection. If Pasty wanted to be called a “tinker” so did I. We backed each other up in many a fight over the years against all comers, with ridiculous arguments, fist fights, imaginary fights amid floods of tears.
You see to me Travellers as children, like every other boy or boys, also shared pain, shared clothing, shared towels, shared food, tears, fights, laughter, more importantly shared friendships. Some I got along with, some I didn’t, but that also applied to all the boys, not just the Traveller boys. We all knew with instinct that it was about our individual survival. Dehumanisation and dehumanised perception did occur as a result of the language used to describe groups of boys, it was something the Religious Orders knew how to use and did. In the Religious run Institutions all the women and children suffered violence on a daily basis. The Nuns and the Clerics that ran Religious Institutions, dehumanised the women and children as either animals or objects of desire to be raped, sexually harassed and beaten, daily. Dehumanisation was viewed as a central component by all the Religious Orders that ran the Religious Institutions in Ireland. It was a way of brutal control. What now is shocking for me and many other Survivors, is that the Nuns, the Christian Brothers and other Religious Orders, -
“it’s that they were very, very ordinary human beings”-
The Religious Orders that ran the Religious Institutions began an orgy of rape, torture and death. They were encouraged by the Irish Catholic Church itself and to a lesser extent the Irish Government and State. Gratuitous violence was used for example in the Magdalene Asylum/Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, Industrial Schools, and Orphanages as a ploy to extend the Religious Orders sense of power over another human being, the hapless women and vulnerable children. The Nuns and Christian Brothers used to roar, “ These aren’t human, these are animals” Dehumanisation is on the list of the “Ten Stages of Genocide”
“When the Nuns or other religious Orders dehumanise others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures, thus allowing them to inflict humiliation on them. The Catholic Church as Slave owners throughout history considered their slaves, the unwed women and children as subhuman creatures. Thus allowed then the Religious Orders to opens the door for cruelty and genocide, in the Religious run Institutions, like the Magdalene Asylums/Laundries.
To the Religious way of thinking, and especially the Religious Order of Nuns these wretched women and their offsprings were not individuals at all. They came in wholesale lots and were to be treated worse than animals. The Nuns were explicit about the status of their victims. They were subhumans — and as such were excluded from the system of moral rights and obligations that bind humankind together. The Nuns and other Religious Orders know it was wrong to kill a person, just like the Nazis did, but to their way of thinking it was permissible to exterminate a rat. To the Religious Orders, all the unwed women and their children, specially Travellers, were degraded as Pavees or Mincéirí, in most case theses Travellers, the women and their children were singled out for worse treatment, nothing short of vermin or parasites, according to all the Religious Orders and the Irish Catholic Church. In fact the Nuns, the Christian Brothers, in fact all Religious Orders treated the Travelling Community in their Gulags as less than human.
You only have to ask any Traveller who was in any of these Religious Institutions. It was truly the marginalisation of a group of Irish people known as Travellers Community by the Irish Catholic Church itself, The Irish Government and the wider Irish Society. I know as a Survivor of 18 years in these Religious run Institutions how badly the Travellers Community of boys and girls were treated. By stigmatising Traveller children, as "less human" and more like animals, within the Religious run Institutions, the brutality by the Religious orders was far worse for them, purely because they came from the Travellers Community. One cannot do serious injury to another without first dehumanising him or her in one's mind, this I heard from a few Nuns and Christian Brothers as a child when talking about the Travellers Community, it was ingrained to everybody in the Religious run Institutions in Ireland.
Humiliation is something that is brought upon us by others. Ritual humiliation was a common form of punishment, abuse, and oppression, used in all the Religious run Institutions, in Ireland. The great German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant famously argued that, by virtue of their free will, human beings are not means-to-an-end but ends-in- themselves, with a moral dimension that invests them with dignity and the right to ethical treatment. To humiliate people, that is, to treat them as anything less than ends-in-themselves, is therefore to deny them their very humanity.
Many Survivors never recovered from their humiliations at the hands of the Religious Orders, their overburdened hearts shrivelled. For many years, the Survivors were and are preoccupied and obsessed by their humiliation and its real or imagined perpetrators, myself included. Many reacted with anger, with fantasies of revenge, sadism, delinquency. Survivors couldn’t internalise their trauma, leading many to fear and constant anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, sleeplessness, suspicion and paranoia, solidly isolation, apathy, depression, and suicidal thoughts. For many Survivors, their humiliation is a fate worse even than death. Owen Felix O’Neill