Critical Biography: Kathleen O’Malley

Critical Biography: Kathleen O’Malley

From Women in European History

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The Critical Biography of Kathleen O’Malley


The Critical Biography of Kathleen O’Malley

In a time when women were practically absent from the public structures of Irish life, given only the duty of protecting the public and familiar morals [1], it is not surprising that religious women were able to gain such power through their development of a myriad of institutions in 19th century Ireland, producing a link between the Church and State. In so closely joining religion and government, the Irish Industrial Schools and other Church-founded institutions ultimately served to perpetuate the subservience of women, as well as the shame associated with women’s sexuality. The extent to which women and girls were constantly reminded, by the State, Church, and society, to be ashamed of their femininity reveals the vitality of patriarchical power in the 20th century. Furthermore, Ireland was not unique in its perpetuation of patriarchical power, as we will discover through comparison to other regions in Europe at this time. While one living in the mid-1800′s might have predicted that the newfound political power of the nuns would represent a triumphant step for women’s rights in Ireland, we see quite the opposite, as Kathleen O’Malley’s story confirms.

It is perhaps more accurate to refer to the nuns’ political voice in the mid-1800′s as a revival of political power rather than ‘newfound’;The female monasticism of the Middle Ages, in which religious women held distinguished status and authority in the church and in society, was destroyed by male leaders of the church as monastic reform took place in the 12th century. While monks gained more power outside of the church, women thus became more restricted from interactions with society [2]. It was not until The Pope Benedict XIV’s Constitution Quamvis Iusto in 1749 that women truly regained the religious power they once had in the Middle Ages. The Constitution Quamvis Iusto, which offered an unprecedented ruling: women of the Daughters of Charity (a religious organization that had not previously been granted acknowledgement from church authorities) were allowed to remain an organized religious institute [3]. The approval from the Vatican hierarchy of unenclosed religious women’s organizations allowed women to now do work outside of the convent. Thus sprang up a number of institutions formed by religious women, and by 1901, nuns made up 64 percent of the total Irish Catholic workforce [4]See Critical Biography of Teresa de Cartagena for further information on religious women pushing the boundaries of Catholicism.

It was the onset of an Irish Missionary (or Reform) Movement that bolstered the prevalence of these institutions. The Sisters of Mercy, founded by Catherine McAuley in 1831, Dublin, Ireland, was one of the women’s congregations formed subsequent to the Quamvis Iusto [5], and was the congregation who ran O’Malley’s specifical industrial school. It was soon after the development of these religious women congregations that the Irish Missionary Movement was gaining fuel [6], especially against the backdrop of the Irish famine in 1846, which led to a decline in dowry amounts required to enter a convent [7]. With low to sometimes no dowry price at all, more unmarried women entered the religious orders, and thus the spread of religious orders increased [8]. The women’s religious organizations, such as the Sisters of Mercy began to form a number of domestic and indigenous institutions as part of the Missionary Movement [9]. The Sisters of Mercy formed hospitals, orphanages, asylums (or laundries), and reformatory (or ‘industrial’) schools [10].

As the nuns ventured outside of the Church, their missionary work shifted to serve the general public. Furthermore, with the Reformatory Act of 1858, convents teamed with the government to form government-sanctioned reformatories for girls ages 5 to 16. [11]. It Male religious orders soon followed religious women and opened similar schools for boys. The general public largely accepted this power granted to the nuns, as religious women seemed particularly trustworthy for running such institutions [12]. In fact, Éamon de Valera, a dominant political figure at the time, acknowledged women as “the guardians of public morals and sound family life” in his 1937 Constitution of Ireland [13]. Perhaps it was this trust placed inreligious women that catapulted the nuns ahead of the women of the general public. For, nonreligious women too were gaining positions based on their gendered role of protecting morals and providing care, however these positions did not match the political status gained by the nuns. Furthermore, nonreligious women could not have been as organized as religious women, who could gather into congregations, forming a cohesiveness. The ability of the nuns to get ahead (in terms of political power) women outside of the Church was likely due to the public trust they gained for their closeness to God, as well as their ability to organize and get such proposals as the Reformatory Act passed by the government. It is thus how the women of 19th century Ireland gained unprecedented political power. See Jane Goodall for other instances in which the female sex is associated with ideals of nurture and compassion.

Children were sent to Industrial Schools for a variety of circumstances. Most often children were admitted due to “lack of proper guardianship,” which Raftery describes as a “catch-all heading [for] children of unmarried mothers…children who lost both parents…poverty” [14]. Because children were often placed in industrial institutions merely for being poor or raised immorally, it is not surprising that Kathleen O’Malley was taken away to an Industrial School. Born on March 26th 1942, Kathleen O’Malley was raised by a poor single mother in Dublin, Ireland [15] and suffered rape as an eight-year-old, thus fitting the qualifications for relief from her “destitute” situation.

It seems paradoxical that as religious women gained freedom and power these same women subsequently limited the rights of other women around them by reinforcing sexist attitudes towards women and their sexuality. However, a closer examination of the convent environment pre-Vatican II allows us to understand the nuns’ position. The First Vatican Council, which held power from 1868 to 1960, was extremely restrictive towards religious women. Nuns from that time describe the “unwieldy and restrictive” habit and clothes, which were intended to hide femininity. One woman explains that the nuns were conditioned not to like themselves, and to conceal their shameful curves and locks for these feminine traits are associated with vanity [16]. Another woman explains that the Christian religion labeled women as mentally weaker and less rational than men stating, “the attitude to women religious was that they were not capable” [17]. The described environment for the nuns in the pre-Vatican II era shed light on the origins of the sexist attitudes we encounter in O’Malley’s autobiography. While the state government no doubt plays a part in perpetuating the shame towards women, it becomes quite obvious that the hatred of the female body was further invigorated by the convents that instilled these attitudes into the nuns themselves. See Jane Goodall for other examples of women seen as the intellectually weaker sex.

O’Malley begins her autobiography with a brief biography of her mother, which very abruptly reveals the sentiment in 1950’s Ireland regarding women, religion, and sexuality. O’Malley describes the shame laid on her mother for having borne two children out of wedlock: “In those days there were few greater crimes a woman could commit than to have a child outside of holy wedlock…Most illegitimate children born in Ireland in the forties and fifties were taken straight from their mother at birth” [18]. O’Malley thus concluded that her mother must have been particularly steadfast to have avoided losing her babies to the government. It is important to note that this was not the universal sentiment towards sex at this time. For example, A Woman in Berlin reveals a woman in the 1940’s Berlin, who is quite open about her sexual activity out of wedlock and appears to suffer no shame from herself or anyone else [19]. In fact, the author revels in her memories of frivolous teenage love and is saddened by the fact the many girls have missed out on these coming-of-age experiences [20]. The differing attitudes towards sex in these two countries can likely be attributed to religious differences. During the 1940’s Germany’s Protestant population was about twice that of the German Catholics [21], while in Ireland the percentage of population made up by Catholics was the majority [22]. Indeed, as the Virgin Mary was a central model for Irish Catholic women, it was emphasized that womanhood be detached from sexuality. In the late nineteenth century, as the rate of marriage declined, the Catholic Church grew increasingly concerned with morality [23], further encouraging the presence of reformatory schools, as well as Magdalene asylums (see below for additional background), which were originally intended to offer shelter to prostitutes who entered voluntarily [24]. Had O’Malley’s mother not been separated from her parents by the Civil War, she would likely have been forced into such an asylum upon her pregnancy outside of wedlock by both her family or the government, for even if a girl was lucky enough to have avoided becoming disowned by her family, the government was eager to intervene and remove the girl from her home to be rehabilitated in a Magdalene laundry [25]See Cecilia Ferrazzi for information on the origins of women’s aylums.

O’Malley continues, describing her life as a little girl, especially in the ways religion penetrated daily life. She reveals the prevalence of religion in Ireland as she states, “like every good Catholic family, rich or poor, we went to Church every Sunday to hear Mass” [26]. It is important to note the implication in O’Malley’s quote, that to be considered morally good one needed to appeal to the Church. This exemplifies the attitude McKenna describes: “Acceptable social practice in Ireland became so not solely because the Church decided that was how it should be but because society accepted this in return…[the general Catholic public] tended not to publicly question the Church’s authority over it” [27]. It is interesting that her mother, who was seen as disgraceful by the Church, and who was working several jobs at simultaneously in order to feed her little girls, insisted on making time to go to weekly Mass. This is quite indicative of the importance religion had to nearly every (as O’Malley says, “rich or poor”) Irish citizen during this period. We could interpret this several ways. Perhaps there where societal motivations driving O’Malley’s family to duly attend church each Sunday as a way of fitting in with the surrounding community and deflecting suspicions; O’Malley constantly reminds the reader that the NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (http://www.nspcc.org.uk/), and local Dublin community always had their eyes on her poor, single mother, as she was a vulnerable target and that one indication of poor parenting (perhaps, one missed Mass) could warrant a speedy removal of her children. Perhaps the O’MalMedia:Example.oggleys’ church attendance was merely a residual effect of the devotional revolution seen in 19th century Ireland as a counter-act to Protestantism; that the O’Malleys attended church each Sunday was only indicative of a the O’Malleys’ personal faith.

By an early age, O’Malley was confronted with the increasing role the state and Church had in controlling the private lives of citizens. At age 5, O’Malley and her sister got a glimpse of the Industrial School horrors when the NSPCC summoned O’Malley and her sister to court, charging the girls with being “illegitimate” and “destitute” [28]. The NSPCC was founded in 1889 “to protect children from cruelty, support vulnerable families, campaign for changes to the law and raise awareness about abuse” [29]. Kathleen O’Malley says the locals ironically called them the “cruelty men” [30] as rumor was that they would show up out of the blue to kidnap children from their families and place them in the appalling conditions of the Industrial Schools. The NSPCC’s first stint in O’Malley childhood put O’Malley and her sister into St. Vincent’s Goldenbridge, a Certified Industrial School, where they would stay until they reached the age of 16. O’Malley reflects on this turn of events as an adult and realizes that she and her sister were really being thrown into the schools for being illegitimate, because not only was her life perfectly comfortable—with a good school, a loving mother, and plenty of food on the table—but furthermore her youngest sister, Lydia, who was born in wedlock but who obviously experienced the same “destitute” life as her sisters, managed to escape such charges. O’Malley argues that it was not Lydia’s young age that spared her, as even infants were even brought to the Industrial Schools, but instead her mere being born as a legitimate child. Although the Industrial Schools were initially intended as a privileged option for parents to willingly send their children [31], O’Malley writes that her mother is not even required to grant permission for her children to be taken away from her, for “she had committed the gravest sin of all in having two children out of wedlock” [32].

O’Malley and her sister were thus immediately taken to the all-girl Industrial School, where the conditions were sickening. O’Malley describes the rotting food, which contained snails and insects; the absence of drinking water, forcing the girls to drink out of the toilet; as well as the lack of toilet paper, forcing the girls to smear their fecal matter on the walls. She describes the arbitrary beatings given to them by the nuns, regardless of whether or not one was following the rules. The rules forbade talking or whispering, demanded that an unattainable quota of labor be completed each day, and required that the girls maintain good hygiene in such an impossibly unsanitary environment as described above. For breaching any of these rules, or for no reason at all, a girl could expect a harsh beating offered by a variety of weapons. Furthermore, O’Malley describes how the emphasis on labor far exceeded that on the education of the girls. O’Malley states that no girl was permitted to do her schooling until she had reached her quota of labor. As such, O’Malley says she remembers nothing of school at the institution. She explains that the girls would sit at school desks and stare out the window without any lesson having been prepared. At a school that was intended to offer better resources and a better environment than the one O’Malley’s mother could provide, O’Malley and her schoolmates were starved, uneducated, and diseased by the unsanitary conditions.

The conditions O’Malley describes are not unique to this particular institution. Accounts from a variety of other Industrial School victims confirm that O’Malley’s description of the school is representative of the hundreds of other schools throughout Ireland at that time. Several brothers, also from Dublin, were sent to a boys’ Baltimore Fishing School during the 1940’s and described the rats, the starvation, the punishments for bed-wetting, and the lack of toilet paper [33]. Although there were many similarities among the boys’ and girls’ Industrial Schools, O’Malley’s rape at the age of 8 brings the attitude towards women at that time to the forefront, and it becomes clear that the nuns’ treatment towards the girls was distinct from that towards the boys. As Richardson describes, girls were often brought to an Approved School for “being in need of care or protection, being in moral danger…whereas much the largest group of the boys sent to Approved School are committed as offenders” [34]. Approved schools were the product of merging Industrial and Reformatory schools [35]. This hints at a fundamental difference in attitudes toward gender at the time, suggesting that boys needed to be looked after only to reform their ways, but girls needed to be protected from and rid of their inherent sexuality.

The response to O’Malley’s rape by her next-door neighbor Luke McCabe, and subsequent contraction of gonorrhea, highlights the sensitive subject of women and sexuality. One year after O’Malley and her sister were placed at the Goldenbridge School, the two girls managed to escape and travel back home to Dublin. O’Malley’s mother was shocked to find her daughters with protruding ribs, and covered with scabies, ringworm, and lice, and was thus able to argue to keep her children out of the schools. However, no sooner than O’Malley’s eighth birthday, did O’Malley’s gruesome rape give the NSPCC cause to send O’Malley and her sisters back to the Industrial Schools, this time to Moate. O’Malley describes the court case in which all evidence confirmed O’Malley’s rape and pointed to McCabe as the rapist, and yet everyone around her implied that it was O’Malley who had committed the offense. O’Malley describes a brief trip from Moate back to Dublin to attend the trial, during which a nun demands that O’Malley not tell anyone what she has done [36]. O’Malley explains that she became confused as to whether or not it was herself who was guilty for voicing such dirty things as she charged McCabe with rape. As a result, she significantly dilutes her testimony at the trial, avoiding the reference to any specific body parts, and only vaguely describing that McCabe had hurt her in some way. O’Malley recalls that there were no women in the courtroom—it was an all-male jury, a male judge, male lawyers, etc. Hence, it is not surprising that child rape was almost unheard of at that time [37]. This patriarchical power and silencing of rape victims will be encountered again as we compare Ireland to other regions of Europe at this time. McCabe was eventually found guilty of rape in the face of irrefutable evidence, the convincing testimonies of O’Malley, her mother, and her housekeeper. However, that this just barely swayed the jury indicates how little the word of a female and a youth could stand against that of a man.

Following her rape, O’Malley is sent to spend the following eight years of her childhood at Moate Industrial School, as if to pay a sentence for her crime. It is at Moate that O’Malley enters into puberty, during which her experiences grant us further insight to the attitude towards women and sexuality. As Condren states, the religious origins in Ireland associated women either with Eve, who symbolizes the “model for the seductive nature of the whole female sex” and evil, or with the Virgin Mary, the opposite of Eve and the model of purity (Condren, 5). Thus, it is not surprising that the girls at Moate received no guidance or education on the subject of puberty, as an acknowledgement of sexuality in these girls would essentially be an acknowledgement of evil.

O’Malley explains that although she had lost her physical innocence to rape, she remained mentally innocent, as she was completely ignorant to the normal rules of sexual behavior. She was thus confused when a shopkeeper groped her while she was outside of the school fulfilling message delivery duties. She returned to the school determined to keep silent about what the man had done to her, adding “no one would ever believe me above a respectable shopkeeper” [38]. Once again we see a girl who understands that her word means nothing against that of a man. In the same way that O’Malley’s testimony against her rapist meant nothing to the men around her, and thus to the State, women were forced to lose their voice within a male-dominated and female-persecuted society. For women to have any power, they had to operate within the masculine morality regime, thus the nuns acted less like sympathetic victims of male abuse and more like the male abusers.

O’Malley also describes how many of the nuns repeatedly make advances on the more developed girls. O’Malley was particularly angry and confused upon hearing that one of the nuns had kissed her older sister [39], thus emphasizing how little the girls understood sexuality, and how well they were exploited because of this. Regarding monthly menstruation, the nuns ingrained into the girls’ heads to be ashamed and embarrassed of the stains in their underpants. O’Malley frequently describes how the girls in school would mimic the nuns by tormenting each other through humiliation. This matter is no different, and O’Malley admits the even she would harass the older girls by pointing out their menstrual stains, which were inevitable as the nuns provided a girl one sanitary towel to last her the entirety of her menstruation. Once again, it is no surprise that the school provided hardly the education and physical resources needed for the girls. Condren explains that the menstruating women were considered particularly potent and sexually passionate in Catholic doctrines (Condren, 93). This placed women in direct contradiction of the model Virgin Mary, and so it is possible that the nuns thought it best to repress the threat of menstruation by simply refusing to acknowledge it. Along these lines O’Malley also describes the shame she had for her female parts. She attempted at one point to mutilate her vagina to make it look “as a little girl” [40]. The girls were also taught to be ashamed of their breasts and forced to conceal them with a corset far too small, for “it was modesty at all costs…[I was] determined to keep myself as flat as flat could be,” O’Malley states [41].

Despite being in an all-girls facility, the girls went to great lengths to never reveal too much skin. One of the more ridiculous methods used to maintain modesty required changing in and out of bedtime garb such that at no time was a girl naked. To do this, the girls put on their night-time garb over their day-time garb, and through some complicated maneuver, managed to remove the day-time garb from beneath. O’Malley describes her difficulty doing this [42], but quickly learned, as any girl who failed to remain completely covered was beaten on the spot.

Despite a few attempts, O’Malley never did escape the Moate Industrial School and ultimately carried out “the rest of [her] sentence” for having spoken such dirty words, as O’Malley states[43]. That sentence ended at the age of 16, when O’Malley left her prison, said good-bye to her younger sister (who had yet to reach 16), and began to learn the norms of the outside world.

Although it was previously stated that female sexuality appears to have been more accepted in Germany than in Ireland during the 1940’s, we can certainly draw similarities in the extent to which rape stigma and patriarchical power existed. To compare the attitudes towards sexuality seen in 1940’s Ireland to other societies at this time, we may again refer to A Woman in Berlin. In the foreword of this diary, it is explained the many German men responded to this work very negatively. This resulted in great difficulty finding a publisher, and forced the author to go to Switzerland to have the work published. Once published, the response was so hostile that the author wished to remain anonymous and to never again see her work republished[44]. We see here a stark similarity between O’Malley and the anonymous woman, as they are both hushed by patriarchical power when they describe mistreatment they faced. Furthermore, although it seems that sex outside of or premature to wedlock was not quite so dishonorable in Germany as it was in Ireland, discussion of rape was out-of-the-question, and the blame for rape was placed on the woman. As O’Malley was continually scolded for her dirty actions (for having been raped, and then describing the incident), the anonymous woman was also accused of having “shameless immorality” for having discussed her rape [45]. Thus, although there appears to have been some acceptance of female sexuality in heavily-Protestant Germany, versus strongly-Catholic Ireland, the conditions for women were not so dissimilar.

Kathleen O’Malley’s autobiography allows us to see both a development and a suppression of women’s power in mid-20th century England. Our background analysis offers a context for the horrors described in the Industrial Schools, allowing us to understand the origins of these schools and of the nuns’ efforts for a greater political significance. While the intentions of the nuns and government were initially benevolent, suggesting a better future both for the whole of society and for women, we see that a line had been overstepped in the century that followed, as quite the opposite of the initial aims were produced; both women’s rights and the whole of society ultimately suffered as the power of these institutions were grossly abused.

Additional Background on Reformatories and Magdalene Asylums

Notes

  1.  Bradley, Anthony and Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. eds. Gender and Sexuality in Modern Ireland. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. (p258.).
  2.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p.6).
  3.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p.8).
  4.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p.9).
  5.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p9.).
  6.  McKenna, Yvonne. Made Holy: Irish Women Religious at Home and Abroad. Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 2006. (p.35).
  7.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p37.).
  8.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p37.).
  9.  McKenna, Yvonne. Made Holy: Irish Women Religious at Home and Abroad. Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 2006. (p.9).
  10.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p77.).
  11.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p79.).
  12.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p79.).
  13.  Bradley, Anthony and Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. eds. Gender and Sexuality in Modern Ireland. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.(p258.).
  14.  Raftery, Mary and Eoin O’Sullivan. Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools. United Kingdom: Continuum, 2001. (p.22).
  15.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.18).
  16.  Raftery, Mary and Eoin O’Sullivan. Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools. United Kingdom: Continuum, 2001. (p.81).
  17.  Raftery, Mary and Eoin O’Sullivan. Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools. United Kingdom: Continuum, 2001. (p.83).
  18.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.17).
  19.  A Woman in Berlin. Germany: Eichborn AG, Frankfurt am Main, 2003. (p.90).
  20.  A Woman in Berlin. Germany: Eichborn AG, Frankfurt am Main, 2003. (p.166).
  21.  Gordeeva, Tatyana. “Religions in Germany.” German Culture.1998-2009. 16 May, 2009. <http://www.germanculture.com.ua/library/facts/bl_religion.htm>.
  22.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.38).
  23.  McKenna, Yvonne. Made Holy: Irish Women Religious at Home and Abroad. Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 2006. (p.20).
  24.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p82.).
  25.  Feng, Violet. “The Magdalene Laundry.” CBS News. August 3, 2003. CBS Interactive, Inc. May 25, 2009. <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/08/08/sunday/main567365.shtml> (p.1).
  26.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.25).
  27.  McKenna, Yvonne. Made Holy: Irish Women Religious at Home and Abroad. Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 2006. (p.20).
  28.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.37).
  29.  NSPCC. “About the NSPCC.” 2006.http://www.nspcc.org.uk/whatwedo/aboutthenspcc/aboutthenspcc_wda36522.html. (May 4, 2009).
  30.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.37).
  31.  Magray, Mary Peckham. The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900. USA: Oxford University Press, 1998.(p82.).
  32.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. At this point, the government and Church actively decided that civil rights and the decisions of private citizens were subservient to the overall moral well-being of the Irish people, decreeing that if the NSPCC (state and Church run) deemed a child “destitute”, the individual has no right to disagree (p.37).
  33.  Raftery, Mary and Eoin O’Sullivan. Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools. United Kingdom: Continuum, 2001. (p.139-141).
  34.  Richardson, Helen J. Adolescent Girls in Approved Schools. Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1969. (p.2).
  35.  Richardson, Helen J. Adolescent Girls in Approved Schools. Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1969. (p.9).
  36.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.84).
  37.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.60).
  38.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.159).
  39.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.146).
  40.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.146).
  41.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.145).
  42.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.71).
  43.  O’Malley, Kathleen. Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2005. (p.90).
  44.  A Woman in Berlin. Germany: Eichborn AG, Frankfurt am Main, 2003. (pxi.).
  45.  A Woman in Berlin. Germany: Eichborn AG, Frankfurt am Main, 2003.(p.xi).

Kathleen O’Malley

Kathleen O’Malley confronts the painful legacy of her hidden childhood in the second programme in the six-part documentary series Flesh & Blood. Exploring the silent tragedies behind six extraordinary lives, Flesh & Blood asks to what extent we are controlled by the secrets of our past.

 

Kathleen O’Malley is now a successful and happily married Court Magistrate, living in the UK. But for years she concealed the terrible secret of her Dublin childhood: at the age of just 8, Kathleen was sexually abused by a neighbour, and infected with gonorrhoea.

It is, as Vincent Browne says, a “story of particular horror.” Punished by the state for a crime of which she was the victim, the young Kathleen was removed from her mother, along with her sister, and sent to an industrial school in Moate, Co Westmeath. Held there until she was 16, Kathleen rarely saw her mother, and their relationship never recovered.

Kathleen fled Ireland at the first opportunity, building a new life for herself in England. With an exciting career as an Elizabeth Arden beautician, Kathleen travelled the world, mixing with the rich and the famous. But burying her past in the midst of this new and glamorous world, Kathleen carefully constructed a fictional life based on an idyllic childhood in Ireland.

It was only years later, in a painful turning point, that she decided to confront her past, and vindicate her mother once and for all.

“Ireland robbed her of her children,” says Kathleen of her mother, “and destroyed her.” The result of over ten years research into her painful past, Kathleen O’Malley’s memoir Childhood Interrupted was published in 2005, and forms the basis of this second programme in the Flesh & Blood series.

Related book:

“Childhood Interrupted: Growing up under the cruel regime of the Sisters of Mercy” by Kathleen O’Malley. Published by Virago Press. ISBN 1 84408 117 6. © RTÉ 2012

Kathleen O’Malley

 Kathleen O'Malley

In 1950, Kathleen O’Malley and her two sisters were legally abducted from their mother and placed in an industrial school ran by the Sisters of Mercy order of nuns, who also ran the notorious Magdalene Homes. The rape of eight-year-old Kathleen by a neighbour had triggered their removal – the Irish authorities ruling that her mother must have been negligent. They were only allowed a strictly supervised visit once a year, until they were permitted to leave the harsh and cruel regime of the institution at the age of sixteen.

Pic courtesy of Sunday Mirror

But Kate survived her traumatic childhood and escaped her past by leaving for England and then Australia when the British government offered a scheme to encourage settlement there. Fleeing her past again, Kate worked as a governess in Paris and then returned to England where she trained as a beautician at Elizabeth Arden. She married and had a son. A turning point in Kate’s life came when she applied to become a magistrate and realised that she had to confront her hidden personal history and make it public.

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