22 October 2012, 11:03


Walking towards the medieval city, there were many pilgrims. Amongst these pilgrims, wearing sackcloth, were a father and his daughter, Matos and Lehen. After months of walking across the countryside they were relieved to see the castle and the River of Rylaan at long last.

They approached a wooden medieval barge ferrying people across the River of Rylaan. To Matos’s surprise the clerical authorities were unwelcoming and only wanted their thithe (a single metal coin) and their details.

Lehen was terrified and whimpered, and Matos found it hard to comfort her, but Erik, a fellow pilgrim, from the Norse party on the barge with them, regaled her with tales from his land, and she soon forgot her fear and enjoyed the man’s storytelling. She settled down, and waited as the ferry crossed the very wide river. They were told it would take them about six turns of the large hourglass, a quarter of the day, to get across the river.

Presently the monks gave the hungry and thirsty pilgrims a broth, but Lehen did not like the look of the food so she pretended to eat it under the watchful eye of the monks, but Erik wolfed his down and asked for more. The monks merely turned their backs on him, so Erik looked around and saw Lehen’s untouched bowl. Ensuring that she did not want it, he grabbed it before she had a chance to warn him, and started eating it. He suddenly turned blue and started choking. The monks ran up to him and whispered amongst themselves. One monk turned to Lehen and addressed her roughly, “Did you not eat your broth?” Before Lehen had a chance to reply, Erik gave the death rattle and expired. The monks forgot about her and looked at the corpse, before removing it from the decks, taking it below.

The monk who addressed Lehen returned to her and apologised for his abrupt manner, and spoke with Matos for a while, clearing the air. Somewhat mollified, Matos accepted a little metal figurine on behalf of Lehen, offered by the monk, Friar Kuct, as a peace offering. The monk bowed at the pair of them before returning belowdecks. Lehen took one look at the metal figurine and blanched. She could not explain why but she just did not like it, nor did she want it. Lehen wanted him to throw it away, but he did not heed her warning. Matos put it in his pocket.

Suddenly, the clerical authorities stopped the barge in the middle of the boat and told Matos and Lehen they would have to change boats, as the other boat will bring them directly to the castle, since the barge they were on were not going to the castle after all, but to the small hamlet at the other side a way up past the castle. Matos objected but he had already paid his tithe so he could hardly object, being in the middle of the river. Matos realised he and his little daughter were trapped and had little choice but to comply.

The monks pulled out a wooden plank, but it was constructed like a corridor, with wicker basketwork forming what appeared to be loosely woven walls and ceiling, but loose enough to clearly see expressions of trepidation on the part of the girl and anticipation on the part of the father, leading out from the barge over the river towards the other barge.

Unbeknownst to the hapless pilgrims, the plank was on a hinge, so they were unceremoniously tossed into the river, as the other barge was just a little bit too far away for the plank to reach it.

Swallowing a bit of the river, Matos and Lehen gasped and floated helplessly in the very wide river, trapped in the strong current, until a row boat came along and the boatman rescued them. Indignant, Matos berated the people of the first barge, only to be told by the boatman that their experience was a test.

Matos wasn’t impressed, but Lehen was struck by the term “The guilty sank while the innocent floated.” Being a child, she blurted her opinion, that she heard it was the opposite, and that it was only because they lived beside a lake at home, and regularly went swimming that the water held no fears for them.

The boatman smiled genially at her, then hoisted up a flag, with the symbol of Rylaan. At once, cheers were heard from the barge, then Friar Kuct sounded a horn three times.

“You have passed the test! You are worthy of Rylaan!”

The rowboat brought them to the castle at the curve of the river. Getting off onto the specially constructed pier, they were welcomed by a special greeting party, chanting “Rylaan, Rylaan!”

The smells, the noises and the sight of the frenzied crowd chanting the name repeatedly, scared the little girl, who clung to her father tightly, hugging his arm with a look of terror on her face. He held on to her comfortingly as he was of the mindset that Rylaan was part of the pilgrimage so there shouldn’t be anything to worry about, then, as he reminded her. “I don’t like it, Father! Don’t leave me!”

Later on, in their private antechamber in the castle, they were given the same broth that the people ate on the barge. While Matos tucked in with relish, being a man with a big appetite, Lehen refused to eat anything, preferring to eat only her bread. While they were both chewing, monks looked in on them and satisfied they were both eating, they left them. Sitting down, Matos took out the little metal figurine that was jabbing at him in his pocket, and placed it on the floor beside him.

Matos looked at the bowl his daughter refused to touch, and queried her not eating this nourishing broth. (She took after her father in this respect, hence his concern at her loss of appetite.) She told him she did not want it, preferring to eat the last of the bread Mother baked. Smiling at her indulgently, he agreed to let her eat what she wanted.

Suddenly Matos started choking, and there was little Lehen could do, as she was only a child, except wail “Father! Father!” as he slowly died, like Erik did on the barge.

Suddenly, mystified, Lehen watched while her father’s corpse shrank, getting smaller and smaller until it became the same size as the figurine, and the appearance changed to that of the figurine, and turned into metal!

Lehen realised that the two figurines were both Erik and her father! She screamed and a novice nun came in, realised what happened, and helped Lehen carry the two figurines in her little purse, and the underground resistance movement helped return Lehen to her horrified mother.


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.

Running up the stairs.

Running up the stairs.

When I was 8 years old, running up the stairs at home, I suddenly stopped and looked at the stained glass windows, before sitting down on the stair.

I remember thinking…

‘Most people I know are Catholic. Mammy and Daddy are Catholic. Simon and Jon are Protestant. The Dankers are Jewish. We are all people and have different Gods.’

Before you say this is a simplistic view of things, it is, remember I was 8 at that time.

I then thought to myself,

‘If we all have different religions and pray differently, then which god is the right God?’

It was then I stopped believing with unquestioning faith.

I made my First Holy Communion that year, already an agnostic.

In the Thrall of the Machine

A blond curly-haired woman wearing a leather jacket stands on the stage behind the machine.

There are 50 heads staring into the machine.


50 heads bob down, then bob up looking back at the machine.


Bob down.

Bob back up.


Bob down.

Bob back up.

’33’ 16′ ’56’ ….

Down. Up. Down. Up. Like synchronised swimming, but no.

Welcome to the world of Deaf Bingo.


Here’s the honest truth. You’re beautiful just the way you are. Yes, YOU, the person reading this. I wish people would just stop trying to improve their appearance by surgery, or by other drastic means, just for cosmetic reasons. Nature is your best friend. It makes me sad to see so many beautiful people ruining their looks and identity in an attempt to ‘look’ better. Come on. Why ruin your natural looks?

African and Asian women bleach their gorgeous skin in an attempt to appear whiter.

Asian and Native American people change their eyelids in an attempt to look more ‘Western’

White people burn their skin in order to appear browner.

Yes, some do it in order to feel better. However, is it the only option available?

Beauty comes in all forms and shapes. Inner as well as outer.

Rant over.

What I Think…

17 November 2009, 14:40

I was exhorted by two key figures in my childhood NOT to let other people know what I’m thinking.

They may be right.

If I let people know what I am really thinking they start to retreat.

But then again… do I care? Not particularly.

If I Were A Drink…

24 October 2009, 09:59

If I were a drink, here is the recipe…
Get a nicely shaped glass, at room temperature. You’ll understand when you see the recipe… 5 drops of realism and optimism, (Ratio 3/2), a bit of hope, a dollop of charity, a wee drop of the old fighting spirit, and a generous serving of Adam’s Ale, topped by frozen cubes of warmth and happiness. Frozen? To help the drinker understand that warmth only comes with time. Instant warmth is false warmth.

When the beverage is imbibed, the person is ready to face the world, with what I call the after effects of drinking “PERSPECTIVE”. That’s the name of my drink.

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.”