Like many children who’d committed the unforgivable crime of being poor,…..

Head of the family.

Television Review.

Survivors of clerical abuse don’t come much more hard-headed than Paddy Doyle. The 58-year-old’s skull is a mechanical marvel of screws, staples and titanium plates, an armoured helmet of metal and bone.

One of Doyle’s most prized possessions is a cranial scan that reveals what he believes is cast-iron evidence of a succession of experimental surgeries illicitly conducted on his brain while he was a ward of the state. “It’d make a great cover for a book,” he declared, holding the x-ray up to the light. “It should be called Screwed!

With a provocative blend of black humour and cold fury, Doyle offered a guided tour of his head in Flesh & Blood, an impressively unflinching series that explores how familial ties can choke as well as bind.

While deeply disturbed about the hardware that was inserted into his skull, Doyle is even more alarmed by the nuts and bolts that were removed from his consciousness. Institutionalised at the age of four, he grew up knowing little about his parents and was misled about the fate of the man he mistakenly believed was his father.

Paddy and Ann - Flesh and Blood.
Paddy and Ann - Flesh and Blood.

Doyle’s mother died from breast cancer. One afternoon five weeks later, Doyle was playing at the family homestead in Wexford with his two-year-old sister Ann when he saw his “father” dangling from a tree. It was 9pm before the children were removed from the scene of the suicide.

The Doyles had relatives in Ireland and England who were eager to raise them, but these prospective guardians were deemed unsuitable – either too old or too English – by the civic authorities, which claimed superior knowledge about what was best for all concerned.

Like many children who’d committed the unforgivable crime of being poor, the pair were brought to court and sentenced to detention at the state’s pleasure. Doyle was sent to St Michael’s Industrial School, County Waterford; Ann to an orphanage in Wexford. Nobody at either institution bothered to explain to them what had happened.

Despite the intensive television focus on institutional abuse that has followed the Ryan’s reports publication, Flesh & Blood succeeded in finding new angles on a story that threatens to become wearingly over familiar. Much of the recent coverage has depicted abusive clerics as crazed thugs who flogged and degraded kids for personal gratification. However, this programme showed there was often method to the sadists’ madness.

As well as beating manners, deference and piety into children they regarded as, at best, riffraff and, at worst, demon seeds, many clerics sought to beat the sinfulness out of them. It was a battle for hearts and minds in which the aggressors were prepared to destroy the youngsters in order to save them.
When Doyle was overheard saying he’d seen his dad hanging from a tree, he was stripped and thrashed by nuns who told him he’d repent in hell if he repeated this outrageous lie. Christian people, they insisted, didn’t kill themselves.

At eight, Doyle developed a muscular disorder that left him with uncontrollable tremors, and contorted his legs and feet. It was then the so-called Sisters of Mercy effectively surrendered him to the medical experimenters, in the apparent hope that the quacks would have better luck uncurling his twisted limbs than they’d had straightening out his misshapen soul.

Having found a public voice decades ago, Doyle is further down the road towards brokering a tolerable accommodation with his past than most of the abuse survivors who have only latterly emerged from the shadows. He assumed national prominence during the late 1980’s when he published The God Squad, a vivid autobiography that exposed the reality of life in church-run residential institutions before it was socially or politically acceptable to do so.

Stubbornly unsentimental, Doyle channels his anger into activism but refuses to relinquish the right to be angry. He enjoys being an awkward customer. Having suffered from information deprivation, he seems compelled to undermine pretence of any kind. While speaking to reporter Mick Peelo, for example, he couldn’t resist breaking the fourth wall and remind viewers there was an unseen crew behind the camera.
Flesh & Blood concentrated primarily on his relationship with Ann and the tensions created by his headstrong determination to uncover the truth of his parentage.

Since the early 1990s, Doyle has investigated rumours that his mother had an affair and that he and Ann had different fathers.

The programme established that the affair probably took place but, using a DNA test, demonstrated beyond doubt that he and Ann are full siblings. Both were delighted by the news. Their family history may infuriate and sadden them but they’re still immensely relieved to have one.

Liam Fay, Sunday Times 19th July 2009
Liam Fay’s e-mail

15 thoughts on “Like many children who’d committed the unforgivable crime of being poor,…..”

  1. Dear Paddy.

    It’s late. I’m not ready yet. But this has to go.

    I have just – only now (March 2010)- seen your film ‘Flesh and Blood’. I am choking and thoughts even seem to struggle to get past my throat. I can well understand how difficult it was to do. But you did. And I think a great many people will be grateful for that. You see Paddy: you are a national treasure for all these people, you are ‘family’ and it is good that you could share these revelations with them.

    I will not venture un-invited into your sacred space or Ann’s, and will keep my thoughts to myself for now – hoping at the same time that we will talk about it some day. But I’d like to say one thing.

    The admirable love that your sister expresses for her children is heart-moving. The longing for her mother is understandable too. And one might wonder where she learned this quality of loving. Well, she learnt it from YOU Paddy, and it jumped at me right in the opening sentences of the film: that you meant EVERYTHING to her. THERE, was a bond stronger even than blood. Maybe it was innocence, maybe this is the only way kids should always be with each other, especially when there are no parents. But I think you showed real quality then already, CLASS ! And it is our good fortune that we have you for shepherd still.

    You both made your own families, but you ARE each other’s family too now. I hope you can both get the MOST possible out of that. You sure deserve it. Please pass on my best regards to YOUR SISTER. I can tell you Paddy: my own sister, whom you met, will be happy to hear that story.

    One for All – All for One


  2. Hi paddy just got myself a PC I am just learning how to use it,don’t know if you will get this message but here goes messing around I came across this program I was in care myself in a- – – – hole called Glin in Limerick, loved reading you story,For now Michael and good luck to you and Anne

  3. Dear Paddy.
    I’m still waiting to see your film, but I’m very glad to see the warm responses here. I hope that you get some peace of mind, some enhanced quality in your life (of origin) from the difficult making of your documentary: perhaps some kind of “bond” with Ann can happen; some kind of united-in-adversity miracle, when you can make sense of it. Not that it could ever make any sense. Just knowing that you live with the Truth.

  4. It was wonderful to see your energy, your commitment to the truth, without cruely, even though you could just have mirrored what happened to you by turning bitter. You are absolutely inspirational, a great big intake of breath. Somehow, you have learnt to respect yourself and you show others how it can be done. Rock on.

  5. Dear Paddy,
    Congratulation, – that’s some good news for a change!!! I’m happy for you and your sister Ann.
    Don’t give up about your medical condition.
    I say this because it took 59 years, many wrong diagnoses, lots of pain and insults from the med- professionals, before one doctor finally listen. He found out, that I was born with a “Chiari I malformation”.
    It was not hope that got me there; it was pure stubborn believe in myself, just as you believe in yourself.

    You have survived already the impossible – keep on fighting my friend.

  6. To all who have posted on here, Paddy’s website, in response to his appearance on the Flesh & Blood programme on RTE TV last Tuesday night – all I have to say is, MOST (though not all) Irish people suffered horrific physical – as well as psychological – abuse and violence because their own parents are dyed-in-the-wool Catholics.

    For example, the children of “devout” parents were much more exposed to the sexual perversions of a parish priest than those parents who were not so symbiotically attached to the Catholic Church, i.e., the RC Irish status quo.

    Ireland is still controlled by the products of this RC institutionalised perversity, yet msot Irish people still go along with it – this normalised insanity!

    I suppose its inevitably going to take us Irish the best part of 800 years to get our act together???

  7. You are a true survivor, Paddy, full of spirit. You are courageous. We are proud of you. You will inspire others to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.


    In spirit and support,


  8. Thanks Andrew. I hope that one day the truth will out and that like me you will find the spot where you’re mother is buried. I know how you feel right now.

  9. I’m glad to hear the good news, Paddy. I wish every happiness the two of you can secure.


  10. Great stuff Paddy you found it. The ST is my Sunday paper of choice and when I received it on Sunday I scoured their site looking for the article on you so I could send it on but I came nowhere near at all at all …. !

    Your story in Flesh & Blood resonates with many of us who came out of the Institutions – reminding us of the kind of society and people that could ‘disappear’ thousands of children !

    In my own case my mother is buried in two graves in the same cemetery!

  11. I never tire of reading or hearing the story of your immense spirit, Paddy. You give us all a reason to keep on pushing.

    “I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood.” — George Carlin

  12. Paddy, you are one in a million and your spirit has never been broken despite all they did to you- in the name of some invisible God, fabricated by those with secret knowledge in order to keep the masses under their control.

    When I read this article, I am reminded of this.

    “The Church, which, with a satanic twist of humour, claimed to be the instrument of ‘Christ’s loving kindness’ , taught a brutalised and impoverished people new meanings to the words pain and suffering…”

    In 2009 the patriarchal system still treats children who come into its “corporate care” as Disposable Children, there to be used and abused and still experimented on in secret.

    So, has anything changed? No.

    The veil of secrecy still keeps the real abuse of children in state care well hidden from the public and there are even Laws in place to make sure the truth remains hidden.

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