Sisters recount despair of Derry care home trauma

Girl was forced to eat own vomit while sister spoke of regular beatings and abuse

One sister spoke of the fear they felt when they were taken from their home and left at Nazareth House  at Bishop Street in Derry.

One sister spoke of the fear they felt when they were taken from their home and left at Nazareth House at Bishop Street in Derry.

Wed, Feb 12, 2014, 01:24


Two sisters who were moved to a Derry residential care institution run by the Sisters of Nazareth have given graphic evidence of their fear and isolation.

The first said they were “brutalised” and “not protected”.

Her sister told the inquiry of an incident when she was forced to eat her own vomit as staff at the home did not believe she was ill.

The two told the inquiry examining alleged abuse in care homes across Northern Ireland of their fear and isolation while at Nazareth House in the city’s Bishop Street in 1960s.

The sisters, who cannot be identified, testified separately.

One spoke of the fear they felt when they were taken from their home and left at Nazareth House.

“Nobody explained anything,” she said. “We were terrified of the unknown. We would reach out to any adult who went past, but we were just dismissed.”

Both testified that they arrived with new clothes provided for them by their father who had to leave to find work overseas, but these were taken from them.


Misery and punishment
“I just remember being happy to get something new from my father but it didn’t last long,” said one. “The nuns and the workers

just took them. I didn’t see my clothes again.”

She said she and her siblings were abused spiritually, physically and mentally on a daily basis, often by older girls.

“Doing anything was pointless,” she said. “I didn’t bother to cry.”

Nazareth House was “a terrifying, cold, impersonal place”. She was “always beaten back, brutally” from going to see her siblings.

“It felt like I had descended into hell. There was no love, it was always cold, everyone was so aggressive, so terrifying. I lived in fear all the time.”

Her sister, giving evidence by videolink from abroad where she now lives, became distressed as she told how she was once forced to eat her own vomit after becoming ill at one meal.


Forced to eat vomit
A civilian worker at the home refused to believe she had taken ill. She spooned all the vomit back into the bowl and insisted it was eaten, she

added.

Breaking down in tears repeatedly, she said she was “beaten about the head for making a mess”.

She said she was “in a strange place . . . I was in survival mode and I was frightened most of the time.”

The nuns and other staff there were largely “cruel and sadistic” said one, “and I couldn’t understand why as I’d never experienced that treatment before”.

The second witness recalled seeing a girl being severely beaten, struck repeatedly “from head to foot with a thick stick”.

“I feel guilty because I didn’t help her,” she said, fighting back tears. She said the girl was covered in blood and screaming like an animal in distress. “Escaping” from Nazareth House was the happiest day of her life, she said. But she still has nightmares after her experiences. “It is like it haunts me until this day.”