Saturday, November 24, 2012

Corporal Punishment

Mise Raifteirí an file,
Lán dúchais is grádh,
Le súile gan solas,
Le ciúnas gan crá. 

The opening quatrain to the famous gaelic poem fairly rolls off the tongue; it is perhaps the easiest few lines to memorise I’ve ever come across. However I had major problems memorising it owing  to the terror of been beaten yet  again by a teacher I encountered during my  schooldays in Roscommon. Over the course of a year, I was slapped numerous times across the face each time I had this teacher. Well learned verses flowed out of my head like sand.   

In my schooldays, primary and secondary, I and most others in my class groups were struck, (usually on the palms, one teacher liked to catch the back of the fingers on the upswing), with a snooker cue, bamboo, an assortment of kitchen-chair legs, leathers. Imagine: even then, (60’s, 70’s), there was an industry making leather straps with hand-grips for beating pupils.

That culture was accepted to the point that there was no point telling your parents; children were wrong. 

On one occasion, in preparation for catholic Confirmation, the class group was being examined on its knowledge of Christian Doctrine. The questioner went around each student in turn asking catechism questions. When a boy failed a question he got four slaps with the leg of a chair. On and on it went till there were just 2 boys standing. One of these failed somewhere in the twenties and got four slaps. The brightest boy in the class went on past the fiftieth question; when he eventually failed he was hit harder than the rest of us. Our guess was that this teacher revelled in his only opportunity ever to hurt this boy.
It was a time of institutionalised cruelty and total disrespect for humans under a particular age. The two examples above show how two people I would credit as basically decent were corrupted by their habitual use of corporal punishment.

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