Witnesses tell inquiry about abuse by nuns
North’s inquiry told how experiences at Derry homes damaged residents’ lives
A 46-year-old man who spent periods in care in Nazareth House and in Termonbacca home said he also suffered two heart attacks and a stroke as an adult but since then had attended rehab and was still trying to turn his life around
A man and woman have told the North’s historical institutional abuse inquiry how their separate experiences in residential homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Derry damaged them as children and adults.
A 58-year-old woman said that nuns in Nazareth House in Derry refused to believe her when she told them she was sexually abused as a young girl.
She told the inquiry in Banbridge, Co Down, yesterday the abuse occurred when she spent time on placement from Nazareth House on two farms when she was about 11 or 12 years of age. A man on the first farm abused her a “few” times. She remembered a particular incident when that man got into the bed between her and another girl from Nazareth House but the man’s wife came in and told him to “get out”.
She described the incident on the second farm when the owner tried to abuse her. On that occasion she ran away. “I got to hell out of there,” she said.
The witness said that when she complained to the nuns back in Nazareth House, they did not believe her and told her not to be talking “nonsense”. The witness said there was one “cruel” nun who often beat her and the other girls.
She described one occasion when she struck her with a “black belt she wore around her waist” and another when she was “whacking” her with a stick. She was “black and a blue”.
A PE teacher at the school she attended noticed this and asked her did she want to talk about it. But she said no, because I “would be killed if I do”.
The woman also told how she learned that a girl in Nazareth House, who was six years older than her, was her sister.
When she left the home aged about 16 she visited the witness about three times but then the visits stopped. The witness described how for years she has been unsuccessfully attempting to trace her sister. During the course of that search she discovered she had a brother and two other sisters who weren’t put into care but were minded by her grandmother. She now had a relationship with her siblings and their families.
She said 100 girls “would queue up for two baths”. There was “no privacy” and the “water was never changed”. The witness said two nuns had been kind but there were others who were cruel. “I could have done better with my life . . . they ruined my life,” she said.
A 46-year-old man who spent periods in care in Nazareth House and in Termonbacca home, also run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Derry, told the inquiry how in later life he suffered from drug and alcohol abuse and how he had two convictions for indecent assault.
He said he also suffered two heart attacks and a stroke as an adult but since then had attended rehab and was still trying to turn his life around.
The man said he came from a “dysfunctional family” of eight children where his father physically abused his mother. He recalled how, when his mother died aged 36, a nun told him, “Your mother’s dead” and then walked away. “She ripped my heart out and put a stone one in,” he said.
He said that in and out of care he was regularly in trouble for truanting and stealing, which embarrassed the nuns. On one occasion he was punished in the shower. He described standing parallel with one of the taps and said that one of the nuns “bounced my face right into the tap and I fell to the floor”. He also recounted how for much of his adult life he lived in a state of emotional “chaos”.