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Cork Lives
Mary Kennedy presents COSC — Corporal Punishment on RTE1, in which she shares her own memories of being punished as a child at school
Mary Kennedy presents COSC — Corporal Punishment on RTE1, in which she shares her own memories of being punished as a child at school
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TV documentary revisits horrors of corporal punishment

ARGUMENTS against corporal punishment date back at least as far as the 1950s — yet it was still viewed as accepted practice in Irish schools until 1982 and in Irish homes until as recently as 2015.

In the documentary COSC — Corporal Punishment on RTÉ1 tonight, Tuesday, May 4, at 7pm, Mary Kennedy looks at its use in society, and asks why it took so long to outlaw.

The physical chastisement of children was widely tolerated for much of the 20th century in Ireland, although many forms of the punishment would be considered abuse by today’s standards.

However the prevailing policy and practice of corporal punishment in homes and schools was seen as both acceptable and legitimate. The right of parents to do so in their own homes, against their own children, was scarcely questioned and regarded by many as necessary in the rearing of young children.

The government and the courts consistently refused to limit the use, by parents and teachers, of corporal punishment, or to differentiate legitimate punishment from cruelty or abuse.

The “punishment” as laid down in the Children Act 1908 had to be moderate and reasonable and the implement used “fit for purpose”. These rules, which gave limited safeguards to the child’s welfare were subject to wide misuse by both teachers and parents.

Complaints and legal actions were often ignored, minimised, overruled or dismissed, and there was little understanding of the potential long-lasting negative damage corporal punishment could do to the child. 

The threat of a whack of the leather strap, cane, ruler or indeed the wooden spoon would “do no harm”.

Cosc looks back on the use of corporal punishment, recalling a society that refused to hold teachers or school managers accountable for even the most blatant violations of the rules.

We also hear from those who suffered the lifelong effects of the practice. Norman Murray, of Navan, was regularly beaten at school with an array of instruments including a hosepipe. Such was the severity of the beatings that his mother had to ask for a doctor’s note to ask the teacher to beat him on his uninjured hand.

There were those who took a stand against corporal punishment like Dr Paddy and Mary Randles, whose campaigning resulted in the News of the World and NBC TV shining a spotlight on Irish corporal punishment to millions of people abroad.

Mary Kennedy herself recalls being both a student and a teacher in a world where corporal punishment was still allowed, and relives being punished in school as a child.

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