I've put a photograph of a dormitory at the Ardcane Boy's Industrial School on in my photos...there's another of some of the women who lived in a Workhouse...circa 1900 and the interior of a room in a tenement block in Dublin, around the same date.
It was grim the way some children spent their childhoods...either sleeping under the thatch of a cottage in the country, where their days were spent frightening crows from the crops or picking up stones from fields. Education was compulsory by the mid 1800's but too many children were needed to work to help their families survive the poverty they lived in so too few were able to avail of schooling...
City children fared no better...disease was rift in the slums of Dublin...fire was a daily risk...many parents turned to alcohol to stave off hunger and to numb the effects of over-crowding and unskilled poorly paid jobs...
And the Industrial Schools and Magdalene Laundries had their own agendas of systematic physical and sexual abuse...
That was some time ago and things are different now. Aren't they?
Well, no, things are not different now.
It was recently estimated that two thirds of children under the age of sixteen living in inner city Dublin are living way below the poverty line...they have one set of clothes...eat one meal a day...share a bedroom with many of their siblings, and school attendance is absymal. Their parents struggle helplessly against rising costs of rent and food and fuel...so the teenage boys turn to drug dealing and petty thieving and prostitution...the girls to prostitution and shop-lifting and begging.
The number of soup kitchens is rising daily...and people such as the Vincent de Paul Society are so over whelmed with requests for basics...bedding and cookers are the most frequently asked for, that it is reported some of their workers are suffering from stress.
We've all heard of people 'on the welfare' who live the life of Riley with flat screen televisions and holidays in Spain at the cost of the tax payer...they are the exception. They are those who are wily and know how to work the system to their advantage...the 'average' woman living in a high rise flat with eight children and trying to hold down a job as an office cleaner while struggling to ensure her children go to school...she is in plain need. She isn't crafty enough to scam brand-new furniture...she doesn't have the energy or the time to fiddle her benefit books.
I've not touched on child labour abroad...I've not mentioned small girls being trafficked for pornographic films or for organ harvesting...or the Roma families who set up camp on the middle section of a busy main road and whose children are verging on the feral...
Just as wrong and just as cruel are the wealthy parents who put their small girls into bizarre beauty contests...made up to the nines with spray tans and glittering tiaras. Those who decide their child will be a world tennis champion and force them to practice for hour after hour...
We can look back at little boys working for chimney sweeps in Victorian England and be out- raged over the injustice...we can read about the very special and select gentlemen's clubs in London who catered for those with a penchant for teenage boys and be rightly disgusted...but when we are faced with true poverty...real injustice...now, in our present...we fail to respond. We rant instead about immigrants and Muslims and ignore the family living in squalor because the landlord can't be arsed to put his hand in his pocket to fix the leaks and the broken windows...we tut-tut wisely when yet another youth is sent to prison for petty thieving and quite ignore the fact he was stealing food from the supermarket to help his Mum out...
But if he'd been born a hundred and fifty years ago, we'd have raised our hands in horror to learn he'd been transported to Australia.
We'll probably respond to the frantic appeals for aid from a country torn apart by earthquake or hurricane...after all, they are far away and we don't actually have to be there...but we'll turn our noses up when we come across a little child clutching her baby brother with an empty margarine pot in front of her...' What are her parents thinking?' 'Shouldn't be allowed'...
The Victorians didn't much care for the poor...they thought they'd brought it upon themselves...those who lived in the Middle Ages thought much the same, but added a Christian viewpoint , they'd committed some awful sin and it was God's judgement.
We don't like poor children...we think their parents ought to buck up and get a job. It's embarrassing to acknowledge there are still slums in cities when we live in a nice house and drive a nice car and eat olive bread and garlic and buy organic...
We avidly read the latest story in the newspaper about teenage girls trafficked to work in massage parlours and then spit venom when we realise they are Eastern European and probably don't pay their taxes...
Who are we to shudder in horror over the conditions in a Workhouse...what right do we have to react with disdain when we read of yet another soup kitchen opening...how on earth can we voice an opinion over transportation for stealing a loaf of bread, when we quietly agree with the judge who sends an illiterate, badly nourished youth, to a detention centre for a year for petty theft.
When we've fixed it all...when we no longer have beggars on O'Connell street...when children are not exploited on the internet...when we can buy clothes which haven't been made in a sweat shop for payment of pennies...when we allow our children...all children...to have a childhood...when little girls don't fall victim to weirdo's, when pretty boys no longer have to sell their bodies for ready cash in a stinking public toilet , when everyone has a good meal on the table in the evening and enough blankets to keep them warm at night and a safe haven to come home to...
Then...and only then...can we afford to look at the past with a jaundiced eye.