In recent years allegations have been made against the male and female religious orders that ran Irish industrial schools. These allegations range from sexual abuse to neglect of educational, training, and employment opportunities to malnutrition and starvation. One of the most common allegations relates to physical abuse and excessive corporal punishment. Media and popular accounts of these allegations have tended to highlight the most salacious and lurid details while silencing alternative memories or accounts and ignoring the historical context. In order to assess these allegations, it is necessary to examine prevailing policy and practice in homes and schools, to see what was regarded as acceptable and legitimate corporal punishment there. The physical chastisement of children was widely tolerated for much of the twentieth century, even to extremes that by today's standards would be regarded as abuse. This article examines corporal punishment in Ireland, in policy and practice, from the 1930s to the 1980s, drawing on a wide variety of sources including Department of Education files and circulars, Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) case files, Dail (Irish parliament) debates, letters to newspapers, newspaper coverage of court cases, and biographical and autobiographical accounts of twentieth century Irish childhood.