'Victim' to Tell Court about Nightmare of Abuse with Nuns
By Brian McDonald
February 1, 2006
DETAILS of horrific abuse at an industrial school run by nuns in Connemara are expected to be unveiled to the High Court this week.
A woman in her 60s is set to outline a nightmare life of beatings, sexual assault, false imprisonment and deprivation of even the most basic care from the time she was just an infant.
The woman is suing the Mercy Order, the archdiocese of Tuam, the State and the Ministers for Justice, Education and Health in the personal injuries case which has been in the pipeline for the past seven years.
A full defence has been lodged by the defendants, who are denying the woman's claims.
The plaintiff alleges that more than 30 years after she left St Joseph's Industrial School in Clifden, she becomes rigid with fear when she recalls her childhood.
To this day, she has difficulty talking about what she says was a life of absolute misery at the industrial school.
She was convicted at age two of begging on the streets of Dublin after her family life had fallen apart. She was taken before a judge where her offence was stated to be "receiving alms". She was sentenced by the judge to be detained at the industrial school in Clifden until aged 21.
At the industrial school, she states in her claim to the court, she was left in her cot for long periods and not afforded any chance for play or normal development.
A doctor used to come to visit the school and brought toys; but, she says, these were taken away by the nuns and only reproduced on the doctor's subsequent visits. During her time at St Joseph's she was allocated a number and was called by this number - never by her name - during her time there.
She was cold and hungry throughout her childhood and had to resort to foraging for scraps in the buckets of swill being taken to feed the pigs which were kept on the grounds by the nuns.
She claims that she received countless beatings and was ordered by the nuns to beat the younger children.
She details one particularly bad beating after she was caught taking a half-slice of bread left behind after the nuns had finished eating one evening.
A priest who was a regular visitor to the school used to touch her in a sexually intimate manner and bribed her not to say anything, she claims. Another priest humiliated her by repeatedly calling her 'bastard'.
On one occasion she was taken to the pantry and ordered to kneel on the stone floor before a young nun cut off her hair. Paraffin oil was rubbed into her scalp and the nuns told her that the other children would think that she had lice and that she was a dirty person. She details receiving a bath just once a year, and a change of underwear once a month.
At bedtime she and the other children were obliged to kneel barefoot in their underwear. Their feet would be examined and, if dirty, they would be sent to wash and dry them. Afterwards the towels would be examined and if they were dirty, the child would be beaten with a cane.
A particular nun used to come to the dormitory and remove her bedclothes and humiliate her, she claims.
The plaintiff believes that there were clear sexual connotations from the entire bedtime ritual.
At a hearing of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Mercy Order said that the staff at the school had lacked resources and training.
The spokesperson apologised to all of the residents of St Joseph's.
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