Daily Archives: April 27, 2012

The day the bishop hit me

Speccy wrote a piece some months ago about preparing for her daughter’s Confirmation and it made me think about how things had changed since I was eleven years of age.

Confirmation has certainly changed since the bishop slapped me across the face tapped me on the cheek, waaaaaaaaaay back in 1958!

At the school I attended, boys and girls were together until age seven, then the boys moved over to the care of the Christian Brothers in another school close by. We girls remained in the building where we started, under the care of nuns until we reached 13 years of age and then moved on to secondary level education. In my world back then, secondary level education was provided in single sex schools run by Nuns for the girls, and either Priests or Brothers for the boys.

Back to the Confirmation.

The church was a large high building with a very long nave.

There were no parents or godparents allowed invited to the Confirmation ceremony.   So for confirmation you had about thirty boys on one side of the nave and thirty girls on the other.  Our side also had about six or eight girls from a private Prep school in the area.

Three or four teachers with each group swelled the ranks and they acted as sponsors – we candidates had no choice in the matter – a teacher stepped forward and sponsored five or maybe six children before handing over to the next colleague, it seemed to be a matter of form.  I don’t think I ever spoke before or since to the teacher who placed her hands on my shoulders. She did not teach me at any time of my journey through the school.

It was a Tuesday. I am sure if allowed, my mother would have come and my god-parents with her.  Daddy was busy – he was dying in hospital.

My abiding memory of the day was the loud echoing clank of the heavy main doors closing. We were locked in! It was unusual, since even during the celebration of Mass the outer doors remained open to allow stragglers or passers by to enter and join in.

The sound echoed round the high walls and was followed by an eerie silence. I felt tiny and trapped and it actually made me shiver. Even writing about it now, I shivered again. I think it was the first time in my life that I felt lonely. Really lonely and alone.

The service of Confirmation was presided over by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid the Primate of Ireland 1940-1972. Not one word from that ceremony touched or stayed with me. We walked out into the April sunshine, I was pushed in front of a photographer to have a picture taken (The nuns must have been getting a cut out of the photography), then off I walked to the bus stop and went home.

Mammy had the lunch ready. We eat quickly because she had been given special permission for me to visit daddy in hospital. Children under fourteen were not allowed in to visit in those days. Our family were to change all that!

The complex actually consisted of four small hospitals – The Whitworth, the Wentworth the Hardwicke (St. Laurences’s Hospital) & the Richmond.  By 1958 they might have still held their names but were all part of the one hospital ‘The Richmond‘. They are long gone now and the site cleared, but looking back over time, they could well have been houses for the gentry in days of yore. The building we were headed for looked like it might well have been a stable block or housing for staff.

Wards 4 & 5 were the fore runners to the modern accident & emergency wards. This hospital was where all the ‘Head’ injury cases were brought from all over the country. It was a long narrow grey stone, two story building.  Ward 4 (Men’s) was on the ground level and accessed from a door at one end.  Ward 5 above it (Women’s), was entered from an outside metal spiral staircase.

Visiting time was very strict. Monday to Saturday it was from 18:45 to 19:30, with one hour on a Wednesday afternoon from 14:00 to 15:00.  On a Sunday it was 14:00 to 16:00 and again from 18:45 to 19:30.  Two visitors at a time and no sitting on the bed!  A large hand-held school bell was wrung by the Sister in Charge at the beginning, and again when the time elapsed. Two minutes after the end of visiting time the ward was clear of all but the patients, there was no hanging on. The patients were in hospital to be healed and not entertained!

This was a Tuesday (I checked the date) and there were no other visitors when we entered this barn of a place. To my younger self, it was scary. Three beds lined the gable wall inside the door. On these beds were what I can only call three Plaster of Paris sculptures with only eyes, a nose and mouth to be seen. Legs and sometimes arms were held in the air by long ropes and traction pulleys.

We turned and walked between two long rows of beds with even more plastered figures. All heads (that could) turned to see us and fingers at the end of a plastered arm in traction, moved in greeting for me. The walk on a creaking wooden floor seemed endless, but eventually I saw daddy. He was in the very last bed, next to the window of the Sister’s office. They physically monitored him – there were no computers back then to do it for them.

Daddy was propped on pillows and lost in a mile of draining tubes and drips.  The tubes were not fine like they are today and neither were the surgery scars. I was almost scared to reach up and kiss him, I had been warned to be careful of the tubes so as not to pull them out.

My memories of the day end here, but the error made during emergency surgery for a perforated appendix some weeks earlier, meant that Ward 4 became a major part of our lives for a full year. Daddy came home several times, only to return a few weeks later. He did recover, but limped through poor health for the next twenty four years.

Confirmation Day 29-04-1958

I see dominion as ownership, and stewardship as caretaking.

Was the Catholic Church, in this instance the Archbishop, trying to dominate us? If so the whole service and how it was conducted showed very poor stewardship for our young lives. It was a purely automatic ritual and we were mere pawns.




The topic of Dominion and stewardship was chosen by Magpie11, I wonder how the other active members have dealt with the subject, why not join me in the rounds to read what they say? Delirious, Maria/Gaelikaa, Maria SilverFox OCD writer, Padmum, Paul, Ramana, The Old Fossil, Will Knott.