'The hand was to be thrust out and held there whilst this strong young man put all of his strength into a severe slap '

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'The hand was to be thrust out and held there whilst this strong young man put all of his strength into a severe slap '


Harry Browne remembers the corperal punishment dealt out by the Christian Brothers when he was in primary school.


Harry Browne


Trinity College Dublin




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Harry Browne

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Childhood and Early Life


Life Story

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Gardiner Street, Dublin

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In St Canices School we were for the first time introduced to the Christian Brothers. One, whose name I don't recall, was a gentle pleasant man. During religion class he particularly emphasised the dictum: 'Love your enemy says Christ, Do good to them that hate you, and Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you'. It speaks volumes for the standard of our education that we knew and could define the concept of calumniation. However in History class this same brother would thunder out: 'May God wither up their hearts, May their blood cease to flow, May they walk in living Death, who murdered Owen Roe' Many of the Christian Brothers at that time were of an extremely Republication disposition. Another Christian Brother, a much younger man was a very different proposition. He was very strict and free with the dreaded 'Leather'. This was a multi - ply strip of leather stitched with shoemakers cord and six strokes of this across the palm of the hand was standard punishment for various infractions ranging from undone homework to talking in class. Strokes of the leather does not adequately describe the punishment. The hand was to be thrust out and held there whilst this strong young man put all of his strength into a severe slap, often if the recipient of the slaps snatched back his hand the punishment was doubled. I was not the most attentive in class and one day I dropped my pencil on the floor. I bent to retrieve it and the brother threw the leather strap at me. As I sat back up in my seat the leather hit me about a half an inch from my eye. On arrival home my mother was not best pleased to see the state of my eye which was swollen by that time. She brought me to the head Brother next morning and I was never slapped by that brother again. Unfortunately at the end of that year I was moved on into another class and my immunity to punishment did not travel with me. A lay teacher when we were in fourth class regularly appeared in class smelling strongly of beer. He had a habit of throwing coins around the class room to the delight of the boys. However later in the day when he had sobered up he prowled the desks demanding the return of his money. He too was liberal with the use of the leather if he was not satisfied that all the cash laid out in the morning was not returned in the afternoon. Confirmation was a big deal, we were dressed in new suits and paraded before the Bishop who asked selected members of the classes questions from the catechism. Woe betide any unfortunate boy or girl who did not answer these questions correctly. Fortunately the questions were very simple as: 'Who made the World' the answers having been drilled into us few failed to answer. We all then walked up to the altar and the Bishop blessed us and struck us lightly on the cheek to signify that we were now 'Soldiers of Christ'. Afterwards we made the rounds of the neighbours and relatives, ostensibly to be admired but actually to collect money. As with communion considerable status was conferred on the ones in the class who collected the most. In sixth class we sat the Primary Certificate Examination. This was a serious hurdle as to fail it would mean that we were condemned to menial jobs for life and had no chance of advancing to secondary level education.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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