MARY PLAYS NUNS' SCHOOL
Now, Mary places papers all along the kitchen,
On table, dresser, chairs: small girls at school;
Herself, the nun, alone with children in her den.
Mary is re-enacting school, the convent school,
Where little girls are shaped, chastised, cut
By holy women strung alive to God's tight rule.
So she begins to teach: she stiffens, starts to strut
Facing the girls, like nemesis engaged,
A long thin stick in hand. Slowly she starts to “tut”.
“Tut-tut! Tut-tut! Tut-tut!” Soon anger sparks to rage,
Deep-rooted rage: a wounded eye-less Id
Seething with rancid, poisoned life inside a cage.
Now she begins to shout: she scolds her paper kids,
Upbraiding them as fool, dunce, dim-wit:
Ne'er-do-well, bad little sinful Patsies, Neaves and Brids.
From shouting soon to action: now she starts to hit
The table, the dresser, the unfeeling chairs
With the thin stick, face clenched, caught up, reliving it.
She slaps the table, the dresser, slashes at every chair:
Wood rings on nerveless wood, with rapid blows,
In frenzied mimic violence, 'till papers tear.
Mary slashes and beats, her eyes fierce that they glow,
Lost in fevered playing at nuns' school,
At home, in deValera's Ireland long ago;
Lost in a wounded re-enactment long ago.
A scene I witnessed. Mary, who would have been about 9, was a pupil at the girls National school, run by the Sisters of Mercy, the only girls primary school in Ennis. These nuns had a reputation amongst the poor of the town for being very severe and violent with the children, but selectively so. They were relentlessly punitive, physically brutal and persecuting with the “Industrial girls”,
who were in their full-time custody, less severe, though still very severe , with the children of the poor, and noticably less severe, or not severe at all, with the children of the well-off. That at least was their reputation amongst sections of the poor practicing Catholics in Ennis.