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'Horrific' RTÉ star Mary Kennedy recalls the 'physical abuse and humiliation' of corporal punishment

Mary, who is taking part in RTÉ programme Cosc on Tuesday about the history of corporal punishment in Ireland until it was banned in schools in 1981, insists there was little that could be done by youngsters


Television personality Mary Kennedy

Television personality Mary Kennedy

Television personality Mary Kennedy

Telly favourite Mary Kennedy reveals she is still traumatised over being belted on her hands when she was a little girl in school by a cruel nun.

And Mary vowed that she herself would never mete out such abuse when she became a teacher, despite corporal punishment being rampant when she left to join RTÉ in 1979 as a continuity announcer.

Former presenter Mary (66) went to Scoil Mhuire primary school and Colaiste Bride secondary school in Clondalkin, Dublin, where she would later return as a teacher in 1977 to teach Irish and French.

The schools were run by Presentations sisters and Mary remembers her initial terror of them.

“I think when we went to school as little ones you’d be frightened of the nuns,” she confesses to the Sunday World. “In fairness, you were going in as a five or six year old and they were there in their long black gowns, their white bibs and the long black veil, that is not a welcoming site.

“It’s so nice that all of it gone.”

She remembers one nun being quite vicious.

“This was the piano teacher and it was every pupil who got it,” she reveals. “You would if you hadn’t got your scales practised.

“We were taken out of our class for the piano lessons and the nun had a big long kind of blue and dark blue candy stripped pencil, like the Dublin colours, and if you hit a wrong note you’d get in across the knuckles.

“Of course it was sore. I remember everything about it.”

There were also slaps meted out by teachers in both schools.

“But you took it for what it was, it was going to happen, we just accepted,” she says. “There was no kind of talk about ‘oh we shouldn’t be doing this to children’, it was slapping.

“I remember once one of the girls in our class, she gave the teacher stick outside these windows and we all got slapped. It was kind of a ruler type thing, but you’d feel it.

“While it was common in the primary school it was only on occasion you’d see someone get a slap in the secondary school when I was there.

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“It wasn’t like we were goody goodies, we were Clondalkin. We were salt of the air.

She adds: “Apart from the physical abuse, which we would call it now, it’s the humiliation. I think that’s the horrible part of it. I can remember being much worse about myself if I had to stand outside the door. I felt humiliated.

“I’m so glad its not part of our life anymore.”

Mary, who is taking part in RTÉ programme Cosc on Tuesday about the history of corporal punishment in Ireland until it was banned in schools in 1981, insists there was little that could be done by youngsters.

“It was the norm when I was in primary school,” she maintains. “There was no way you’d go home and tell your parents ‘oh you know I was slapped by such and such’, because my mother used to always say – and she wasn’t unique – they used to say ‘well don’t come home and be complaining about it, because what you got in school it will be worse here’.

“You know that kind of an attitude, ‘you must have been doing something wrong’, and that was a very familiar, I suppose, mindset in the 60s and 70s.”

Mary admits that boys got it much worse.

“I was acutely aware that there were absolutely horrific situations,” she confirms. “I was also aware of my brothers and cousins who went to the boy’s school, it wasn’t the Christian brothers, but the corporal punishment was at a different level when it was men and boys.”

One man on Tuesday’s programme recalls being whipped with a hosepipe in school.

Mary recoiled in horror when told by the Sunday World about the widespread use of the ‘leather’ by Christian brothers and priests on male pupils and was not familiar with the weapon (a long leather strap, which was used sometimes in place of a cane).

“Oh god, no,” she says, admitting she was not familiar with it.

“I have to say, having seen some of the footage, because we watched a lot of archive footage in the programme it’s heartrending,” she sighs. “You feel for that the child in the front of the classroom, you can see the fear. It’s just so wrong.

“It was just a horrible time, for people to suffer. As with other situations in Irish society, it was always the more vulnerable ones who got it, they knew where to pick their battles.

“It’s not something that we can relate to thank goodness nowadays. Those people that did it, they had other problems. Lets face it there were a lot of men particularly, who didn’t fit in, maybe in their home or town, maybe they were gay or socially inept and they ended up in the brothers or the priests.”

She acknowledges that later generations would be shocked at the abuse.

“My own children are horrified when I tell them about it, as they can’t believe that that type of thing went on,” she says.

She points out that neither she never carried out corporal punishment herself, not would even contemplate it.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” she exclaims. “I was asked how I would do it, a look was enough.

“I was teaching before it was discontinued and I have no recollection of any of my colleagues doing it. We never even spoke about corporal punishment. It was not the done thing when I was teaching and I was teaching from 1977 on. It was gone for the most part.

“I’ve been back to the school loads of times because to do talks and it’s a state of the art school now, it’s wonderful.”

Mary is currently finishing off a book with her sister Deirdre, about Celtic spirituality.

She also got her first vaccine last Monday, an Astra Zeneca one.

“I knew I had a vaccine the next day but I’m fine now,” she explains. “I had sore eyes, dreadful headache, a bit of bruising and I just couldn’t stay awake. There’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel and we just have to be very careful and respectful of the fact we have got these medicines and we must not abuse them as we don’t want to go back to where we were.”

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