‘There was never any point in screaming or crying. We would just be hit’
Katie Walmsley who gave evidence to the Historical Abuse inquiry in Belfast, talks to Sinéad O’Shea
Margaret McGuckian (left) and Katie Walmsley
Katie’s mother left her family when she was eight years old. Her father moved the family to his hometown, Derry, where a local priest suggested that the best place for Katie would be a children’s home run by the nuns.
There, her “duty” was to clean the toilets. Sometimes she would be called from class to come and unblock a toilet, lifting excrement out with her hands. She would scrape it off the wall with her fingernails. The nuns made her sleep beside the door because she was too “smelly” to sleep further inside the dormitory.
One day at confession, the priest called her by her name. “ I thought God must have told him that it was me. I was one side of the box. He took me into the wee middle of the box. Then he sat me on his knee, starting touching me down there and told me to run along.”
The abuse escalated and by the time she was 12, he had raped her.
Her weekly bath was filled with Jeyes Fluid. It used to take place soon after the abuse. She’ll never forget the pain around her private parts. She would stand up after the bath and think that she was about to pass out.
“There was never any point in screaming or crying. We would just be hit.”
I met Katie Walmsley in Belfast where she was getting ready to testify before the Inquiry into Historical Abuse last Wednesday, February 12th. Katie is a small, delicate woman in her fifties. She is certain now that the nuns knew about the priest’s abuse.
There was shock initially that such things could have happened in Northern Ireland which was Protestant run and apparently freer of Catholic influence. Actually, the relationship between Protestantism and Catholicism may have helped facilitate them.
Jon McCort, a peace campaigner from Derry, who was also a “home boy”, believes that the authorities often knew and didn’t want to act. He thinks that some of this might have been linked to housing policy in Derry at the time which was linked to votes. The more Catholics who got state housing, the more votes they would have. Putting Catholics into institutions reduced the list.
Journalist Eamon McCann told Al Jazeera English recently that he thinks it suited both the Church and the Protestant government to work together on this. It kept children off the streets, out of Republicanism and provided an income to the Church.
Accordingly, the nuns were paid child benefit. Though, as Katie remembers, they would still scream into their faces that they were being forced to “beg” to feed them.
The children were given pig slops to eat. Many of the girls used to get sick. The nuns told them they were vomiting their souls up. Katie recalls being made to eat her own vomit. She has been suffering from bulimia intermittently since.
I once spoke with the late Mary Raftery about how children could have been dehumanised in Ireland to this extent. She felt it was related to the culture of the time. People were very poor and terrified of further impoverishment. These children represented the “lowest” rung of the ladder. The clergy could do exactly as they wished to them. Few really cared.