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.

17 thoughts on “The day the bishop hit me

  1. Rummuser

    Among the many adventures that I had as a young lad, catechism lessons and attending some confirmation and other Catholic ceremonies were part of my education. I vaguely remember seeing a lot of excitement among the young as well as their families during a confirmation ceremony in Chennai, way back in 1962. Your story stands in total contrast to what I remember. Perhaps here, it is taken more seriously as minorities tend to take their religious matters far more seriously than the majority Hindus. I compliment you on your vivid recollections of that day. Fantastic memory,

  2. shackman

    Automatic ritual – sounds very Catholic to me. So does the domination. I agree – very poor stewardship. Something all too common imo.

  3. Nick

    I’ve never understood what confirmation is all about. I can’t remember a single person in my childhood who was confirmed. It’s one of those strange religious rituals that passed me by.

  4. Grannymar Post author

    Ramana – The fact that I went off on a tangent in my story, shows how little the first part of the day meant to me. Real caring and nurturing were things I learned about at home and not from school or church.

    Shackman – ‘Confirmation is supposed to be the sacrament of maturity and coming of age’. AT 11 YEARS OF AGE? There were girls in my class still wearing short socks and playing with dolls, they knew nothing about how life worked.

    Nick – confirmation is administered by laying-on of hands and anointing with chrism accompanied by prayer. The chrism is blessed by the bishop and he administers the sacrament.

  5. wisewebwoman

    Wonderful piece, GM. I felt for your daddy as I, too, had the same thing happen but modern technology saved my butt from what he went through.
    As to confirmation, the most distinct memory for me was standing in front of everyone (parents were allowed at my confirmation) and swearing off alcohol for life. Eleven years old and already taking the pledge 🙁
    The bishop droned on and on and on about sanctity. He seemed to relish the word, smacked his lips when he said it. I remember that well as I had to ask Daddy what it meant and being totally baffled by his answer “pure”. And him being annoyed when I asked him to explain pure. Eleven. And writing it all down as I do.

  6. blackwatertown

    Vivid memories.
    In answer to Nick, confirmation is supposed to be the follow up to baptism. As a newborn, adult godparents make vows on your behalf. At confirmation you’re deemed sufficiently mature to make the same vows (reject Satan etc) for yourself.
    However, the main vow I remember by strongly encouraged was to avoid alcohol – either forever (I think) or at least till the age of 21. Didn’t seem odd at the time as neither my parents nor grandparents touched.
    Shame about the way the spondorship was done with you GM, in our place it was all individuals and seemed to mean something important – regardless of the direction I’ve gone since.
    Interesting to hear about McQuaid whacking you – another item to add to his tally of misdemeanours.

  7. Grannymar Post author

    WWW – I forgot about the pledge. We had a choice to take the pledge not to drink alcohol until twenty one years of age or for life. I chose the former and actually broke my promise about three months before I was 21. Sorry to hear you had problems with surgery. I have George moirdered in case Elly gets a pain in her belly, Daddy, mammy my two younger brothers and I all had problems with appendicitis.

    BWT – It was really a tap on the cheek, I suppose it was to let me know that all was done and dusted!

  8. Delirious

    I still think you need to write a book! What a fascinating tale to read. I could almost picture myself, as a young girl, walking those halls with you.

  9. Grannymar Post author

    Delirious – Did you see the fingers waving? 😆

    In those days I was told I looked like my mother and today I am still told I look like her so it is about time I began to look like me!

  10. Alice

    GM, I’ve been told I look like my mother too! So I so relate to your “it’s about time I began to look like me!” comment! 🙂 About your Friday consortium, I love how the prompt brings about these poignant and passionate looking back pieces. As for me, not being Catholic, it also made by appreciate that I didn’t have to go through these ceremonies. However, Hubby and I were just discussing a new book I learned about today–REVELATIONS by Elaine Pagels–and I was telling him how our female preacher (!) chose to make that chapter of the new testament the subject of a weeklong revival session. That week was always one of the scariest times of my childhood. Submission by fright! It only worked until I started to unravel my thoughts about it after growing up. The things religious upbringing can do to us as children. Yes, I agree with Delirious. You haven’t changed all that much over the years! You still look like YOURSELF! 😆

  11. Nancy


    We also had a hospital run by the Nuns. It was called St.Vincent DePaul Hospital for Unwed Mothers. BUT, they also had married women in there to have their babies.

    They were so mean. They made the unmarried pregnant girls carry the heavy meal trays up long flights of steps (No lifts) to the married women just to show them the error of their ways.

    They were so young and your heart would break for them when you visited any of your married friends who had just had a baby.

    My SIL,Tessie, had three children there and,as you mentioned, the visiting hours were very strict. Two visitors at a time and no sitting on the bed.

    You had to stop in the lobby and get a pass for the room. If Tessie already had two visitors you would have to wait until they left to get their passes.

    But, we loved to thwart the Nuns. It was a 3 story hospital and the visitors in Tessie’s room would open the window and throw down the passes and we would pick them up and go up to her room.

    Some nights we had about 10 people in her room, ALL sitting on or around her bed and at 8:30 Sharp the Nun would come in to announce hours were OVER and discover us all in there. She would go ballistic and scream and tell us we would all burn in Hell for our disrespect for her order and her hospital.

    You brought back a lot of 50 year old memories to me,Grannymar.

  12. Grannymar Post author

    Alice – Your mention of a week long revival session reminds me of the annual retreats that were held in our parish church, we also had a three day retreat in school. What did I come away with? The fact that I was damned. DAMNED! For sins I knew nothing about and even if I did, my body was not then capable of!

    Nancy – The rules were strict and rather cruel back then and many nuns became like little Hitlers.

    Padmini – Butter never melted in my mouth. 😉

    Nick – I think I was born old and am now living backwards!

  13. Grannymar Post author

    Speccy – I lived to tell the tale, there are others that I cannot repeat. No wonder people think I am mad!!


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