The Christian Brothers and Gaelic corporal punishment

Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th - Century History, 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Winter 1996), Letters, Letters, Volume 4

Sir,—I take exception to the gratuitously insulting cartoon by ‘doll’on page nine of the autumn 1996 issue of History Ireland. The cartoondepicts a figure pushing over a pedestal on which is inscribed ‘NaBráithre Críostaí Irish Christian Brothers, 1820-’. The figure issaying ‘Corporal punishment was bad enough, but Gaelic corporalpunishment…’
Now, as a person with a well developed sense of humour I alwaysenjoy a good cartoon, whether it be a political one or simply one witha funny punchline. I am well aware that much has also been writtenabout the history of cartoons and posters in propaganda over thecenturies.
The crude cartoon by the anonymous ‘doll’ falls into none of theabove categories. It is simply a tired clichéd example of poor tasteaimed at discrediting the tremendous work done by the Irish ChristianBrothers and the Presentation Brothers since their foundation by EdmundIgnatius Rice. The historical fact is that corporal punishment was theaccepted norm in education throughout the nineteenth and well into thetwentieth centuries, not only in Ireland, but across the world. Anyonewith a rudimentary knowledge of history or literature would be wellaware from the autobiographical writings of, say, Trollope, Joyce,Churchill, William Morris, etc., that corporal punishment was a fact oflife in their school lives. It is a tired old canard to imply that theIrish Christian Brothers invented corporal punishment or were the soleperpetrators of same in the educational system. Teachers, religious andlay, implemented policies laid down by others and with the impliedbacking of parents and guardians. Like the rest of the population Iwelcomed the abolition of corporal punishment when more enlightenedtimes arrived in the 1960s and beyond.
‘doll’s’ non-sequitur about ‘Gaelic corporal punishment’ also callsfor a retort. The fact is that the Irish Christian Brothers are owed atremendous debt of gratitude for their unwavering commitment to thepromotion of the Gaeilge over the decades. As a former pupil I only nowappreciate their dedication and love for the language. I recall themany extra (unpaid) hours that the Brothers gave in that regard,whether through preparation for Feiseanna, accompanying groups of boysto the Gaeltachtaí or on Ógra Éireann outings. Theirs was a dedicationthat was dealt with in a modest and unselfish manner. Quite apart fromthe Brothers’ contribution to the development of the Irish languagetheir work and commitment to education generally ensured that manythousands of boys benefited from a superb education at primary andsecondary level that is acknowledged to have provided the backbone forthe Irish economy since the foundation of the State.
In the same issue of History Ireland that included an excellentarticle by Dáire Keogh to mark the recent beatification of Edmund Rice,it was very regrettable to have to endure the jarring and whollyunfunny ‘doll’ cartoon, which was obviously designed to denigrate thememory of the founder of the Irish Christian Brothers and his followers.
I thoroughly enjoy absorbing the contents of the very informativeHistory Ireland. However, part of that enjoyment is undoubtedly due tomy confidence in the historical accuracy of the material researched andpublished each quarter. Long may it so remain.

14 Grangewood,
Rochestown Avenue,
Dún Laoghaire,
County Dublin.


Thomas Ryan RHA, of Ashbourne, County Meath, raised similar objectionsand in addition wondered if Dáire Keogh, the author of the ‘excellent’[his word] article on Edmund Rice, was consulted about the cartoon. Theanswer is, no—the cartoon was commissioned by the editors and is solelytheir responsibility. Irony can be a double-edged sword. ‘doll’, infact, concurs fully with the sentiments of Messrs Judge and Ryan and issurprised that they have grabbed the wrong end of the stick (sic).


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