Accused Of Infanticide In 1895

26 June 2012, 19:54

Johanna O’Shea was accused of infanticide when her newborn son was found dead in a pool of water in the water closet at the Athlone Workhouse on 1st April 1895.

First, a bit of background.
Johanna O’Shea was born c1870 in Tullig, Co. Kerry. When her family discovered that she was ‘deaf and dumb’ they were not impressed. However, she was educated to a level where she was able to express herself in fluent English.

Now in 2012 it is unacceptable that the term ‘Deaf and dumb’ be used, but back in 1895, it was an acceptable term, and used a lot in official documents.

She was, unfortunately, disowned by her family for whatever reason, but one possiblity is the combination of her deafness, looks and innocence, and a lack of proper supervision. There might have been a sense of shame of having someone ‘afflicted’ like that in the family. This sense of shame was all too common.

Apparently Johanna was strikingly beautiful and hence extremely vulnerable, especially with no family protection. In her own words, in the police statement later on, she ‘let men catch her’. The last man to catch her in this fashion did so ‘three or four times’ and the man said ‘no harm or tricks done’, according to Johanna, in her statement to the police.

Being homeless and destitute, she ended up becoming an inmate at the Athlone Workhouse in Co Westmeath. One can only wonder about a woman like Johanna, and how she ended up in Athlone after being disowned by her family in Tullig, Co. Kerry.

Johanna had no idea of what happened during the night and early hours of 1 April 1895. She suffered cramps and needed to go to the water closet. To her surprise she saw ‘a mass or lump’ pop out of her and into the water. (her words in the statement) Not knowing any better, she closed the water closet, not knowing what exactly happened, and went back to bed.

It was when another inmate went to use the water closet that the newborn male child was discovered drowned. Johanna was promptly accused of infanticide, imprisoned for 42 days in Tullamore prison despite her protestations of innocence, while awaiting trial.

When she gave her statement to the police she wrote her statement, and the police typed it up, and called the workhouse Master, Mr William Donnolly, to interpret for the police officer as he read out his record of statement for Johanna to sign her name at the bottom.

After the facts were aired in court, Johanna O’Shea was acquitted by a jury on 2 July 1895, at the Mullingar Summer Assizes.

She was returned to the guardianship of the workhouse Master.

There is no record of her in the 1901 nor in the 1911 census returns. We do not know what happened to her.


Uniform Craziness

27 February 2013, 12:51

There were six girls in my class.

There were three different uniforms worn in that class.

Let me explain.

I went to a Deaf school.

Girls were split up according to how much they were able to hear/speak.

The school was (and still is) an oral school. Oral as in teaching the children through spoken English, not through Irish Sign Language. The teachers spoke to the children, and the children replied back in spoken English. (This is pointed out here, to stop assumptions that since it was a Deaf school, that the children are automatically taught using sign language.)

Anyway… uniforms…

There were three main sections at the school.

1. The partially deaf oral (at Rosary School, a building about 500m away from the main school which housed the other two groups),

2. The profoundly deaf oral, at St Mary’s, the Old School,

3. and then there were the girls who were taught using sign language. at what was called St Pius. (at the back of the top floor, quite separate from the profoundly deaf oral. They were deemed oral failures.)

The school had separate break times for the two groups in the same building, so that they did not meet.

You’d think that all the pupils had the same uniform. No.

You’d think that the three groups had their own uniform (Rosary school, Old school and St Pius.) No.

It’s more complicated than that.

From what I can gather so far, all the girls at the school had the same uniform until around the 1960s apart from separate clothes for the babies and the older children. (I have to clarify this further.)

From the 1960s to 1987:
Day pupils were not required to wear uniforms at all.

Boarders had to wear uniforms. They had different uniforms according to which unit (boarding house) they slept in. These units were divided according to age and how much you were able to hear.

From 1987 onwards day pupils had to wear a uniform of some sort.

1988, all pupils had to wear a grey uniform with the same tie. Styles differed according to the shop you bought the uniform from.

In September 1993, the uniform was changed so that ALL pupils at the school wore the same clothes. Navy and Green with crest and red kilt. – no ties. Junior = Navy, Senior, Green.

So in my class, (1980s) there were day pupils with no uniforms, (Pre-1987) and the boarders with their own uniforms and since they stayed in different units they had different uniforms.

Hence three different uniforms in the one class (my class) in 1988.

Patrick Byrne, A 19th Century Irish Deaf Prisoner

20 July 2012, 20:28

Here is a blog on a Deaf man from Wexford, called Patrick Byrne.

He was sent to jail many times, to several different jails, and was often transferred from one to another, and then back again!

He had a remarkable life.
Patrick was born around 1840 in New Ross, Wexford.
Like most Deaf people he grew up in a hearing family. He didn’t go to Dublin to school, and so never attended a school for the deaf, where he would have been taught sign language. We know he was deaf, but it is not known if he was a sign language user.

That said, at that time in Wexford (from the 1850s to the 1870s) there were many Deaf people living in the area. We know this from the prison register, which lists the names of several Deaf people. I’m certain that Patrick would have known some of these Deaf people, and that they would have been able to communicate with each other through gesture and sign.

It is likely that before the Deaf schools in Cabra were established, people would have been using an early “version” of ISL.

Patrick grew up to become extremely strong and broad; he was very well built. Prison records list his height at 5 feet 10 inches, which was exceptionally tall for the middle of the 19th century. The records also mention his weight; he was very heavy.

Later prison reports describe him as being “a very powerful man”, and that he was quick to lose his temper and hit out at others.

Around the age of 18 years old Patrick started getting involved in fights. Sometimes he drank heavily also. But mostly he got in trouble for fighting. Often he attacked policemen. It is not known why he attacked policemen in particular. It is possible that he had had a bad experience with the police, but there is no way of knowing. However, as a result, Patrick often ended up in court.

Frequently he was sentenced to serve time in the local jail in Wexford. Usually these stays were short, maybe a week or two, or maybe a month, but they were a regular occurrence until 1870 when he committed a very serious assault.

It was then that the Wexford Court realised that Patrick needed a long and severe prison sentence. He was given 5 years Penal servitude.

Consequently, he was sent to Mountjoy Gaol in Dublin, where he served the first part of his sentence. He spent 9 months in Mountjoy Gaol. During his time there Patrick did not mix or communicate with other prisoners.

He had his own cell. He was confined to this cell all day, except for one hour per day when prisoners were allowed out to the yard. To reach the yard, prisoners walked in a long line. Once there, they walked around the yard. This was their exercise. However, it was impossible for prisoners to talk or even whisper to each other.

Communication between prisoners was strictly forbidden.
At the end of the hour, prisoners had to return to their cell. Prison life was very tough. There was no work; prisoners were not given any tasks and there was very little to do. Prisoners were expected to serve their time with nothing to occupy them, except to reflect on the past and find remorse for the crimes they had committed.

Imagine what it must have been like for the deaf man as he entered the prison, as the door closed behind him… with no-one to talk to and not allowed to talk to anyone!

At times Patrick’s behaviour was bad.

On these occasions he was thrown into a special cell where he was in darkness, surrounded by high stone walls; no matter how much he tried, the steel door wouldn’t budge; there were no windows. It must have been a terrifying experience for a deaf man. No vision, no hearing. It was a form of sensory deprivation for him.

Nine months later Patrick was transferred to Spike Island prison, in Cork, where he stayed for about 3 years. On Spike Island cells were not locked, and prisoners were able to walk around, chat with each other and work. After some time there, Patrick’s behaviour was considered good enough for him to be sent to Lusk prison, in Dublin.

Patrick had been sentenced to 5 years. However, in Lusk this was reduced to 4.5 years for good behaviour. At that time it was possible for sentences to be reduced and prisoners to be released early under licence.

A licence permitted prisoners to be released early.

Patrick was given a licence and so left Dublin and returned to Wexford, where his family lived. Time passed, but it wasn’t too long before he broke the law again. There was no other choice but to send him straight back to Dublin to finish out the remainder of his sentence.

Once he had served a total of 5 years he was free to return to Wexford. But in no time at all Patrick was in trouble again. At the beginning it was just small incidents, such as drunkenness and other minor offences.

Until, once again, in 1877 he committed another serious assault. The judge had no option but to hand down another 5 years of penal servitude. Patrick was sent back to Mountjoy Gaol, and the process started again.

An interesting incident took place during this time. As we know, Patrick was very strong and on one of the numerous occasions that he spent in the local prison in Wexford, this time for a only for a short period, approximately one or two months, he became very agitated and was desperate to get out. In fact he was in a small cell next to the police station, which was used as a holding cell for short periods of time, such as the days before prisoners were transferred to prison.

Patrick was desperate to get out. So, despite the very high walls, he started to climb, in an attempt to scale the wall and escape over the other side. Another prisoner saw what he was doing and alerted the guards, who rushed to the wall and pulled him down.

That was in 1877.
Five years later Patrick returned home to Wexford. But by this time a serious problem had arisen: any time Patrick saw a policeman he attacked him. Prison staff and other people related to the case started to pay attention, suspecting that he had mental health problems.

You start to see these suspicions being mentioned in the prison records from the time. During that period a special “lunatic asylum” was in operation in Dublin. This was a closed facility where people with mental health problems were sent and kept.

In Dundrum there was a lunatic asylum specifically for criminals. Patrick was sent to this asylum, initially to be examined, to find out if he did indeed have a mental health problem. On this first trip to Dundrum it was concluded that he was not insane, and so he was sent back to “normal” prison.

However, some time later, in 1898, Patrick committed another very serious assault, and he was summoned back to Wexford court. The judge heard the evidence from both sides but, on questioning Patrick, he decided that Patrick was not able to plead, that is, when the judge asked Patrick if he was guilty or not, Patrick could not give an answer. Consequently, the judge had to send Patrick back to the lunatic asylum in Dundrum.

So, in 1898 Patrick was committed to this asylum, where he remained. In the 1901 census Patrick is listed in the asylum, as he is in the 1911 census. This means that he spent 13 years or more in this mental hospital.

In the many prison records I have examined, Patrick’s name is associated with breaking the law and beating people up.

Prior to his first 5 year sentence, he had broken the law 33 times. He had committed a series of 33 assaults and other offences!

So from this presentation you may have an image of Patrick Byrne as some kind of monster or savage; you may think that consequently, and because he had no education, and couldn’t read or write, that he should have been locked up in some kind of institution.

But there was another side to Patrick. As mentioned already, every time Patrick was released from prison in Wexford he returned home to his family. It appears that his family looked after him and cared for him. They were always willing to take him back.

The attitude, at that time, was that Deaf people could simply be dumped in an institution and left there, and families could wash their hands of the situation.

But Patrick’s family didn’t do that. They took him back every time, which is really astonishing. During Patrick’s time in Mountjoy Gaol his family in Wexford wrote letters to him. And he replied. They exchanged letters more than once. Remember, this is a man who could not read or write.

So how was he able to correspond with his family?

Maybe someone in the prison, for example a guard, was able to transcribe and translate these letters using basic gestures.

I don’t know how they did it, but they sent letters to each other regularly.

There are also accounts from prison inspectors, who, on making enquiries about this Deaf prisoner, were told by staff that Patrick was a decent man, but quick-tempered, but nonetheless that he was a hard and willing worker, completing quickly and with a high level of concentration any work that was given to him. It is also reported that he was pleasant, patient and very quiet once he had enough to do.

So Patrick definitely had two sides to him.

What happened to him after that?

We don’t know. But new information is due to be made available shortly from the National Archives.

There are plenty of files on this man, so if you are interested in learning more about him, from the original sources, including prison records, here is the link:

If you are interested in having a look at the files on other Deaf prisoners in the Irish Deaf Archives, be my guest:

Dangerous People

21 May 2012, 14:21

“There are some very dangerous people in this ward, so please pay attention, as you are a new face to these people.”

Anxious to do my new job properly, I made a mental note to pay attention to Dr Soames, the psychiatrist in charge, as he showed me the ropes. I half listened to him ramble on as I tried to remember what we discussed at the interview, about the delicate balance between boundaries, and open lines of communication we had to have with the people here.

“… One word about the man walking up towards us in the corridor. He is extremely dangerous, watch out for him. You see, he is one of these people who cannot talk, but is likely to strike out at any minute.”

Curious, I looked to see who Dr Soames was talking about. Ah, I recognised him, David, one of the guys at the Deaf Club where I attended my sign classes about twenty years ago. He smiled when he saw me. I was amazed he still recognised me. He raised in arm in greeting. Just as I was about to greet him back, Dr Soames interjected.

“You see, he ALWAYS does that! Every day without fail. We have been discussing ways and means to get him to stop that.”

“He was just saying hello.”

I’m not hearing impaired, hard of hearing, hearing disabled, I’m DEAF.

17 September 2012, 11:01

People tell other people that I have hearing difficulties. That I am hearing impaired, that I have difficulty hearing, that I am hard of hearing.

Erm… nope. Not at all. I’m not hard of hearing. I’m DEAF. Let me explain.

There was an international agreement between the WFD (World Federation of the Deaf) and the IFHOH (International Federation of the Hard of Hearing), to agree on two terms to be used, and these two terms are to be Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Here is the link:

“In a joint declaration signed in Tokyo in 1991 the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People and the World Federation of the Deaf agreed that “hearing impaired” is a term intended to cover deaf and hard of hearing individuals under a single category. However, deaf and hard of hearing persons in most countries reject this definition because it fails to recognize any distinction differentiating these two social categories.

The joint declaration recognizes and respects the right of individuals with hearing losses ranging from mild to severe to regard themselves as either “deaf” or “hard of hearing” and both organizations agreed to recognize the terms “deaf” or “hard of hearing” only in their official terminologies.

IFHOH wishes to make it clear that references to “hearing impaired” people in any document accessed through this web-site is not the responsibility of IFHOH nor are they intended as a contravention of this agreement.”

There is such an ideological chasm between members of the Deaf community and the wider hard of hearing community. If you use the term ‘hearing impaired’ the general public will more than likely think of issues that are more relevant to hard of hearing people such as assistive listening devices, hearing aids, and so on, and completely discounts the whole experience of being a member of the Deaf community.

As you know, this is why Deaf people do not want the concept of ‘hearing difficulties’ associated with them. They’re DEAF, end of. The problem here is that when a member of the Deaf community sees the word Deaf, they think of something very positive, like the values of the Deaf community, friendship, comradeship, the richness of the various sign languages, Deaf culture, Deaf Arts and so on, whereas the man on the street sees the word DEAF and thinks of affliction, loss, suffering, left out, and all the other negative things they think of.

This is one way of explaining why Deaf people do not want anything negative + ‘hearing’ associated with them.

Hearing difficulties? Nope.
Hearing impaired? Nope.
Hard of Hearing? Nope.
Do we want to overcome our hearing challenges? Nope. We don’t have hearing challenges. These are not really our problem, now, is it? Nope.

People trying to help provide access for ‘hearing impaired’ people usually think of the ear. that’s because hearing, and hard of hearing people, to use a phrase oft used in the Deaf community, are people of the ear. We are the people of the eye. Listening assistive devices? What about visual assistive devices? We totally appreciate their efforts to provide access, having said that.

Deaf people are not ‘hearing’, full stop, as someone said to me. They’re not hearing this, or hearing that, but Deaf.

Again, it’s not about how much or how little you can hear. It’s more about how you identify yourself. If you identify as a member of the Deaf community, see yourself as Deaf, even if you could conduct a telephone conversation without hearing aids, then you are Deaf. (Note the capital D)

How much or how little you are able to hear is irrelevant. totally besides the point. Yes, there is the labelling within the Deaf community, partially deaf, profoundly deaf and so on, but that is internal. You see the word DEAF is used in all cases.

Hard of hearing people, as one man from the Irish Hard of Hearing Association kindly explained to me, comprise of people with all levels of hearing loss, but they have one thing in common… they primarily communicate via speech, not sign. Here is one good example, in my opinion, of something hard of hearing people would do, but Deaf people would never even dream of doing… a woman is asking people on Facebook to send in pictures of their ears, as part of a project.

I wish this woman well in her project, as she is a good advocate for hard of hearing people. Why am I certain that Deaf people would not want to have anything to do with the project? It focuses on the ear. HEARING loss. HEARING affliction. HEARING issues. Deaf people want to stop the focus on the ear by the public when it comes to them, and change the focus to sign language and culture. Aye, we’re talking about two totally different groups.

Me have a cochlear implant?
Nope. Not interested.

Do I want to become a hearing person?
No, thank you.

However, I would not dream of stopping hard of hearing people in their quest to ‘overcome their hearing difficulties.’ I wish them the best of luck.

Hope this helps clarify things somewhat.

He Won’t Wake Up! (Based On An Incident Which Took Place In May 2013 In England)

27 June 2013, 22:13

“Oh dear, he won’t wake up! What are we going to do?”

“Let me try again. JAAAASON! JASON! WAKE UP!”

No response.

“Oh dear, well, we’ll have to admit him to the wards. Bring him down to the Admissions dept.”

After wheeling the unconscious Jason down to the Admissions, next to the A+E, they decided to try again.


Red in the face from the exertion from screaming in order to rouse Jason who was most certainly not dead, the nurse noticed an elderly man hobbling his way to them from the seats.

“That’s my son, Jason Brown. Is there a problem?”

“We can’t seem to rouse him!”

“Erm, you know that he’s deaf, don’t you? That should be in the files.”

“yes, that’s the problem, we don’t know how to wake him up.”

“Are you for real? here, get out of the way.”

He shook Jason awake, who was shocked to find himself where he was.