Celtic Illumination, part 37, the Bishop, Our Lady and Zorro
In this day and age we understand that perhaps the most successful method of encouraging an individual is to find out what motivates them and use that as inspiration. Done correctly the possibilities of what is achievable are endless. So why is it that at Violent Hell these men of the cloth thought that the only way to encourage a young boy was to beat him, severely and repeatedly?
Being caned wasn’t foreign to me. As I mentioned my father was the headmaster of the primary school I attended. One day our teacher had to leave the classroom and we, as ten year olds would, began messing about. Hearing the commotion my father came in and ordered the boys who were away from their desk to line up. He then proceeded to administer six of the best to each of us in the line, and there is nothing more humiliating than taking six of the best from your dad in front of all your mates.
The priests at Violent Hell wore a garment known as a soutane or cassock. This is the long black garment, like a dress almost, that reaches from the neck to the ankle. It also has what appears to be fourteen million buttons down the front. In fact it only has thirty three buttons, one for each year of Christ’s life. However it was what was under the garment that was the problem. It was a fantastic way of concealing canes and straps or whatever other weapon the priests had chosen to use that day. We on the other hand never knew what weapon would be pulled out.
The standard weapon for beating us was a bamboo or rattan cane, some priests preferred to use a leather strap, which was purposely made to administer punishment. It would be a number of layers of leather sewn together and shaped so that it had a sort of handle. It would have been between two to three inches wide and maybe fifteen or sixteen inches long. There was a rumour that these had metal bars inserted, to stiffen them, but I don’t think they had, however it certainly felt like they had. I often equate the priests to Zorro, who would leap in amongst his enemy, throw back his cape and reveal his sword. Of course some priests were so lazy they would simply lay into you with their boots and fists.
In fact the school was on retreat once. Don’t worry we were not running away from anybody or anything. For a retreat new priests would come in and lead us in a week of prayer, meditation and reflection. Are there any sensible people out there who actually think that you are going to make a school full of hormonally charged little boys walk around in silence for a week meditating? No. Many of us knew certain safe spots, well safe-ish, as I have said before most of the priests were old boys. A friend from Lurgan, Brian Lavery and myself decided to make our way over to Our Lady’s grotto, where we figured we could relax, smoke a few cigarettes and talk about stuff that most eleven year olds liked to talk about, which would be girls.
Unfortunately, having navigated the shrubbery, the grotto lay along the route we would use to cross the Bishops land to the garage on the Newry road; we were unaware that a group of senior boys had gathered at the grotto. Luckily their aim was to amuse themselves much as Brian and myself had intended. The grotto was a pretty little place with a large stone altar where on certain occasions mass would be celebrated. One of the senior boys, a lad known as Dodo, decided as they had an altar going spare that it would be a good idea to sacrifice one of the juniors. Especially the one with the nice legs, in the short trousers; me!
I was laid out on the altar while Dodo went through his performance, which I think came from watching far too many Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee movies and was about to plunge his sacrificial dagger into my chest, which actually was a wooden school ruler, when into the middle of us sprang Zorro. Well, not Zorro, but the Wee Scut. Being an old boy he had sneaked up on us through the undergrowth, rather than launch a frontal attack along the path. He managed to catch us all. As he began to work his way around the group, identifying each boy and informing him where to be at seven thirty that evening Dodo was looking for somewhere to hide the cigarette he was smoking. He thought that the breast pocket of my blazer, which certainly lived up to its name, would be a decent hiding place.
So that evening in the middle of all that silence and reflection and meditation a group of us lined up outside the Dean’s day room watched by everyone in the senior study hall and took what was coming to us.