The stories of abuse contained in the ‘Child Abuse’ report would make a stone weep but while we pour condemnation on the perpetrators we should not lose sight of the fact that the general population of the day must also shoulder some of the blame. It has now become clear that many people knew or strongly suspected what was going on but did nothing about it. And every morally indignant ‘respectable’ person who shunned and looked down on any girl who got pregnant outside marriage played their own small part in the abuse, albeit at arms’ length.
One of the stories from the report that I find both fascinating and heartbreaking concerns a City Councillor in Limerick who tried to highlight abuse that occurred in St. Joseph’s Industrial school in Glin in 1945. But he got nowhere and was told by the Minister of the day that he was interfering in something that wasn’t his business. Imagine!
The public representative in question was the late Councillor Martin McGuire whose efforts are highlighted in a chapter on the school in the Report. His daughter, Patrica Dempsey, now living in Quilty, County Clare, said her father had been an honourable man and she was proud of the role he played in such a dark period of our history.
A series of letters between Councillor McGuire and the Department of Education were unearthed in 1999. The correspondence was found in the archive of a Fr. Flanagan of The Boys Town organisation in the United States. Fr. Flanagan had publicly denounced industrial schools during a visit to this country in 1946.
The child in question was Gerard Fogarty who died two years ago at the age of 77. As a fourteen year old, Mr. Fogarty was stripped naked and flogged with a leather-thonged stick after he had tried to escape from the school. That night he escaped again and walked 32 miles back to his mother in Limerick city. The child was so badly beaten and cut-up that the Fogartys and about one-hundred of their neighbours went to see Councillor McGuire who owned a mill and bakery business.
He was so shocked that he immediately complained bitterly to the Minister of Education, Thomas Derrig, about a matter he described as being ‘of paramount public importance’. Councillor McGuire received a reply telling him it was none of his business but he wrote back insisting that it was his business.
In the end, the child’s mother received a letter in October 1945 informing her that the Minister had granted the discharge of her son from St. Jospeh’s School. In April 1946, Councillor McGuire received a letter from Minister Derrig dismissing his calls for an enquiry. He wrote back to say that the ‘purpose of an enquiry would be to put the public in possession of the facts’.
Unfortunately, Councillor McGuire never got his enquiry and he remained in public life for only a short period afterwards. He died in 1964 while addressing a business meeting in Dublin.
Death of distinguished songwriter
It was with deep regret that I learned of the death of my friend, the songwriter and writer, Mai O’Higgins. Mai is probably best known for her songs, ‘Dungarvan My Home Town’, ‘My Dublin Bay’ and ‘Moonlight on the Shannon’ but she wrote much more including a theme for a television series and a call-sign for a mid European radio station! She was at the height of her fame in the 1950s and early 1960s but, in recent years, many of her excellent songs were revived on CD by country music artistes.
I first got to know Mai in the early 1970s and she always came to visit us in The Munster Express when she visited Waterford city and that was usually several times a year. And every Christmas there was always the card and letter in her distinctive handwriting bearing all her latest news. Some years ago, she moved from Dublin to retire in Youghal which she considered to be convenient for Cork Airport but close enough to her beloved Dungarvan.
On one of my early encounters with Mai, she introduced me to a small, dapper, elderly man whom she referred to as ‘Jimmy’. He was very friendly and totally unassuming and I didn’t realise until afterwards that I had been chatting to the famous Irish/American Jimmy Kennedy who was a legend in Tin Pan Alley and had written such classic songs as ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘South of the Border’.
Gorilla up a tree in Avondale
A man living in Avondale, whom we shall call Raymond, woke up one morning last week and, when he looked out his window, he saw a gorilla sitting in a tree opposite his house. When the gorilla saw Raymond looking at him he went berserk. He roared loudly, beat his chest violently with his fists and his mad, red eyes never wavered in their gaze of pure venom.
“Feck this”, said Raymond to himself, “there’s no way I’m leaving this house while that gorilla is up the tree.” So he looked up the Useful Services section of The Munster Express and, to his relief, found an advertisement that said: ‘Gorilla Catcher. Satisfaction Guaranteed. Reasonable Rates.’
His hands trembling, Raymond rang the number given on the advertisement and the phone was answered immediately. “It’s my husband who’s the gorilla catcher and he’s out on a job in Ferrybank at the moment”, said a woman’s voice. “But don’t worry, Mick will be with you as soon as possible and, in the meantime, don’t do anything to annoy the gorilla.”
She was as good as her word and, half an hour later, Mick arrived in his van with a shotgun, a big, pointed stick, a pair of handcuffs and an evil looking Jack Russell dog. He studied the gorilla closely and didn’t seem in the least bit frightened when the big animal shook the tree violently and waved his big fists angrily. “Aha”, said Mick with a big smile on his face, “it’s a male gorilla so that makes it easier.”
“Now”, said Mick to Raymond, “you hold on to the handcuffs and the shotgun. I’m going to climb the tree and poke the gorilla with my pointed stick and, when he falls out of the tree, my specially trained Jack Russell will leap into action and attack his testicles. The gorilla will cross his hands to protect himself and that’s when you slip on the handcuffs.”
“OK”, said Mick, praying that the whole thing would soon be over, “but what do I do with the shotgun?”
Mick gave him a long, hard look. “Be very clear on this. If I fall out of the tree before the gorilla, shoot the fecking dog.”
Is your Mammy at home?
And finally, this week, a certain candidate in the local elections was canvassing on the Dunmore Road one night last week. They knocked at a big, detached house and a little boy, aged about seven or eight, opened the door. To the amazement of the politician and his supporters, the child had a big cigar in one hand and a glass of brandy in the other.
“Er, is your Mammy or Daddy at home”, they asked. The little boy grinned from ear to ear as he tapped the ash from his cigar on their shoes. “Idiots, what do you think”, he answered, before slamming the door in their faces.