Black Babies

During my primary school days there were periodic visits from the school doctor or nurse.  These visits were designed to ensure the health and welfare of school children at a time when visits to a doctor cost money that the parents of the poor could not afford.  Each child was given a full medical and any deficiencies were noted for further action at the local hospital or clinic.  The trouble was that away from the protection of concerned parents, the inspection – and especially the results of it – was less than solicitous of the patient and nuns and classmates often seemed anxious to advertise individual pupils’ deficiencies! 

‘Black’ troops deploy at Dromalane Chapel in 1970

The school nurse (Nitty Nora, the Big Explorer we called her) went in search of head-lice! Where head lice (nits, as they were known) were discovered, an early visit to the clinic was arranged. ‘Offending’ children had their hair shaved and were returned to school wearing a woolly pixie (cap) until such times as their hair might grow back. Thank goodness that those days of ‘name and shame’ are long gone!

The nuns may not have had much time for poor white children but they were very hot on saving poor black babies. Each child was asked to contribute one penny per week to this cause. When the grand sum of half-a-crown was paid over, we were told, the donor then owned a black baby. I’m still waiting for mine to arrive!

My aunt was very good at stumping up the penny every Monday but my sister Patsy had less luck with my parents. My mother had scant sympathy with the nuns’ mission work. She was too busy trying to make ends meet with her growing family of white babies, to be that concerned with the needs of the black ones.

She felt her position justified when she saw a number of black soldiers among those who invaded the streets of Newry in the early 70s.

‘Get away out of it, ye scallywag! What are you doing here, annoying the people that reared you?


Would you be the one that I paid for in Primary School?’


If he understood what it was she meant, then he showed no sign of it!!

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