Solitary Courage of a Hero of Our Time
Deaglán de Bréadún
If you haven’t already done so, please read today’s column in The Irish Times by John Waters (click here). It concerns a hero of our time, Dr Cyril Daly, who was a lone voice against corporal punishment in schools way back in the 1960s.
Columnist John Waters (Photograph by Frank Miller)
Although it would not have been regarded as a liberal paper and its then-editor, Hector Legge, is meant to have been to the right of Genghis Khan, nevertheless the Sunday Independent gave generous space to Dr Daly’s campaign to stop the brutalising of the nation’s children in schools.
As a young schoolboy at the time, I greatly appreciated his efforts. Although I admire many aspects of the work of the Christian Brothers in educating a fairly-ungrateful nation, they were still hammering us with a leather strap at that time.
As a fairly feisty young fella with a free spirit, I probably came in for a greater dose of punishment than most. It was rough stuff and, as Waters points out, the full panoply of State institutions stood four-square behind this type of treatment.
Against that Kafkaesque scenario, Dr Daly’s campaign reflected amazing personal courage on his part. He was the good deed in a naughty world. It was perhaps the first time in my life that I saw how the individual can stand out against the mass – and eventually win.
Waters highlights the role – or lack of it – played by individual politicians in the sorry saga. Not their finest hour, by any means. Nor does the then-leadership of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) emerge with much credit in Waters’ narrative, I don’t know about the secondary schoolteachers.
While all this was being tolerated in the ordinary schools, far worse was being ignored and covered-up in the closed institutions, such as the industrial schools.
I am delighted to read in J.W.’s column that Dr Daly survived the pressures and now lives amongst us in, I believe, north Dublin. He should, even after all this time, be suitably honoured for his lonely, courageous stance.
Another person at that time, incidentally, who took a brave but fairly solitary position was Ciarán Carty who was film critic for, if memory serves, the self-same Sunday “Indo”. He campaigned against the ridiculous excesses of film censorship at the time and, eventually, his cause won through. (Some might say the pendulum has now swung to the opposite extreme, but that’s another story.)