Birkby mum Deirdre O’Donoghue tells of abuse in care by nuns
Huddersfield Daily Examiner
Mar 10 2011
My abuse hell by Birkby mum
“I THOUGHT I was going to be drowned.”
Terrifying thoughts for a girl of eight to endure.
But that was the case for young Deirdre O’Donoghue – now Deirdre Harper, a 55-year-old mother and grandmother, living in Birkby, Huddersfield.
Deirdre was living in care in Belfast back in the 1960s.
She had her head held repeatedly under her bathwater by a Catholic nun, whose rosary beads banged against the side of the bath.
Her crime? She had taken a bath at the wrong time – to avoid one in the Jeyes fluid used to clean the water.
She was one of many youngsters who claim they were subjected to systematic, brutal abuse at the hands of the Catholic nuns who ran Nazareth House, which was Deirdre’s home for eight frightening years.
She has told her story in the hope that it will help expose the evil that went on in that home and many other institutions in Northern Ireland.
Her evidence has been handed to police in Northern Ireland, who are helping conduct a Government-led inquiry into the alleged abuse.
The inquiry, sanctioned by the Stormont leaders, comes in the wake of the Catholic abuse scandal in the Republic of Ireland.
Deirdre has been petrified of water ever since those early days. She says the fear stems from the bath incident.
Other memories of those days include the time her face was pushed into urine-soaked sheets to punish her for wetting the bed.
Then there are the countless beatings she endured from a leather strap that hung near a string of rosary beads and the times she was pulled up flights of stairs by her hair.
Deirdre was one of hundreds of disadvantaged children taken into the care of the religious order, the Sisters of Nazareth, and placed into Nazareth House in south Belfast.
The huge red-brick building has long since been demolished, but Deirdre still has vivid, terrible memories.
She said: “I was brought up in Limerick, but we moved to Belfast when my dad got a job there.
“Then my family split up because of rows between my parents and I was taken into care, along with my two sisters and two brothers.
“We girls were sent to Nazareth House, but I was only able to see my sisters through the iron gates that separated the different yards for children of different ages.
“The first few months were okay, but as I moved into the older department, the beatings started. They were regular and often, and for any reason at all.