Taoiseach tells left-handed man beatings he got in primary school were ‘wrong’

Sisters of Mercy told Gerry Kavanagh he would burn in hell if he wrote with left hand

Gerry Kavanagh: “I’ve had traumatic experiences while in the Army, but this is worse.” Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Gerry Kavanagh: “I’ve had traumatic experiences while in the Army, but this is worse.” Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy


The Taoiseach has described the beatings inflicted on a left-handed Galway man when he was in national school, as “wrong” and something that “should not have been tolerated”.

Micheál Martin wrote to Gerry Kavanagh (60), who lives just outside Galway city, last week. This followed several contacts by Mr Kavanagh to his office seeking acknowledgement of the abuse he suffered in the then Scoil Íosogáin in Galway city in 1965 and 1966.

Earlier this year Mr Kavanagh told The Irish Times he was “devastated” the Sisters of Mercy nuns, who had run the school, had not acknowledged or apologised to him for what had happened when he was four and five years’ old.

He said he was told he would “burn in hell” if he wrote with his left hand and was beaten when he did. He believed the nuns literally, that he would burn alive and was “terrified” every day.

“I would hang on to the school railings for dear life every morning, not wanting to go in, knowing what was coming.”

In recent months he and the Sisters have resolved their issues.

Last week however, still unhappy that the church and State had not acknowledged the wrongs done to him, he began a hunger-strike, saying his ongoing trauma could not heal without their acknowledgement .

In a letter to Mr Kavanagh, dated August 31st, Mr Martin says: “What you went through was wrong and should not have been tolerated. It was a very sad part of the history of Irish education and Irish society.

“While there was no official guidance to teachers or schools advising them to insist that left-handed children use their right hand when writing, it is regrettable to learn that some teachers adopted that approach many decades ago.

“Thankfully society’s values and norms have since changed and educational practice has been radically improved.”

The Taoiseach continues: “I am sorry for what you have gone through and I hope that you consider accessing supports that are available to help you deal with the trauma wrongly visited upon you”.

Separately the Bishop of Galway, Brendan Kelly, wrote to him saying: “I am sorry for all you are now going through because of your experience in primary school.

“Unfortunately, people believed at that time that insisting on pupils who were naturally left-handed learning to write with their right was the best thing for them. That practice and belief has long since been abandoned and rightly so.” He added: “There was never at any time a teaching or recommendation in the Catholic Church on this specific matter”.

Mr Kavanagh said on Tuesday he was “delighted” with the letters saying he hoped it would help other left-handed abuse survivors. “And so life begins,” he said.