This first post will contain a brief but important introduction to the author’s cultural and educational background. As a mature Irish student, the Ireland that we know now looks very different from when I was growing up. I will start by providing what I feel are the most relevant aspects of my dyslexic journey into the field of anthropological study. I will apologise now of any errors in spelling and grammar. I would also like to apologise in advance for any offence caused by the older terminology or disability categorisations used in this section. Discrimination against people with disabilities was accepted by the wider community but was only tolerated by the people with disabilities and their families. Once again I will apologise in advance for any offence caused.
As a person diagnosed with dyslexic at a very young age growing up in Ireland was extremely difficult to say the least. Ireland during that time, the 1970s, was under Church and state rule, which in turn allowed the Irish Catholic Church to enforce religious controls, ideals and expectations into almost every aspect of Irish society. The power of the Irish Catholic Church, and with the support of the State and Irish law, extended beyond the enforcement of the Catholic religious moral codes of conduct and behaviours on those whom practised the Catholic faith but also had power of social control over all the inhabitants of Ireland, whether Irish or not. All educational systems contained Roman Catholic syllabus and rituals such as: prayers at the beginning and end of the school day; catechism classes; attending mass or services, in accordance to the religious calendar; and retreats for reflection and prayer. These were all mandatory despite the student’s religious orientation.
The power of the Church in Ireland, prior to the 1970s -1980s, was even more powerful as they had the power to institutionalise Irish citizens that were seen as imperfect, disabled, or morally flawed in the eyes of the Irish Catholic Church. It was not usually for these impure individuals to be hidden away in specialised housing or care homes such as: those for unmarried mothers and their children like those similar to the Magdalen laundries; or families who had relatives or children with learning or physical disabilities were often forced to commit these imperfect/flawed individuals into asylums in order to be hide them from “Accepted Society”. This it what almost happened to my paternal uncle, Barry, as he was born with Down syndrome, which at the time he would have been classified under the term “Retarded”. However, despite all the pressure placed on my grandparents, by both the local clergy and many of their neighbours, this did not happen and my uncle lived a happy and full life until he died at the age of 74.
I hope you the reader can now understand more clearly the amount of social and educational hurdles that somebody diagnosed with mental or physical disabilities would have had to overcome or endure in Ireland during this time period because they were categorised as “Retarded”. At that time, there was no such thing as disability support services disabled. Children with disabilities were expected to keep up with everyone else and only the most patient of the teachers would attempt to help those students that will falling behind. So as a dyslexic child, growing up in Ireland, in the 1970s I would have been regularly referred to by teachers, members of the clergy, doctors as well as other students as “Retarded” because of my dyslexia.
I was luckier the others in my situation. I had the love and support of my Uncle Barry who fought everyday for his right for equality. He took dance lessons, traveled on his own, worked his way up to manager in his division of the Help Industries in Togher, and breed and showed his own budgies. He is someone to admire and emulate.
That’s it for this entry. Thank you for sharing your time with me while I reflect on “My Dyslexic Journey to Anthropological Study”.
Next entry will involve narrative that discusses events that motivated me to continue the fight against discrimination, negative social controls and continue my journey to further education.