Artane Irish Industrial School and Abuse

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In their distinctive Thunderbirds-style light-blue uniforms with red trim the Artane Boys Band are icons of Irish music. For decades, the band marched around the pitch at Croke Park, Dublin, and played across Ireland, Britain and the US.

But behind this image of boyhood whole­someness lay a darker truth.

Until the 1970s thousands of the young men in the band were being abused, beaten and exploited at the industrial school that gave the ensemble its name.

One of those who was physically beaten on a regular basis by members of the Christian Brothers order that ran Artane was Patrick Walsh, now a businessman who lives in north London.

“The band was an extraordinary facade back then at that time,” Walsh, who played the clarinet in the band during the 1960s, told the Guardian. “It was used by the church and state to convey a bogus image of wholesomeness that did not exist in these institutions. In Artane, the brothers were men of violence. On a daily basis, I witnessed some savage behaviour meted out to me and other boys.”

Walsh added: “The boys in the band didn’t receive a farthing, the Christian Brothers pocketed the money. We did the work, they took the money. There is a word for it: unpaid labour, or slavery.

“They also had a 500-acre farm at Artane, growing potatoes and vegetables, and we, the kids, worked in the fields without pay.”

For 10 years Walsh has campaigned alongside the group Irish Survivors of Child Abuse to expose a system that allowed thousands of vulnerable children to be exploited and sexually abused while in the care of both church and state.

He has welcomed today’s publication of the report by Justice Sean Ryan. But he is not convinced that, even now, the full truth will come out.

From the mid-1920s until the early 1970s thousands of Irish children officially in the care of the state were subjected to a double regime of sexual abuse and wageless slavery. Ireland’s notorious industrial schools and orphanages – all run by Catholic orders – were home to boys and girls who had been officially declared criminals by the courts.

Some children were even sent to these institutions simply because their parents had split up: one-parent families, usually held together by abandoned wives, were regarded with suspicion in post-independence conservative Catholic Ireland.

In the last 12 years, up to 9,000 former members of Ireland’s childcare system have claimed tens of millions of euros in compensation for being either exploited, abused or both in these institutions.

The five-volume report, published by the Irish government today, seeks to address decades of clerical child abuse and state neglect. It confirms allegations from former pupils that they were used as unpaid virtual slaves, who made money for religious orders in mini factories, farms, shops and laundry services.

The Ryan commission (originally the Laffoy commission) was established nine years ago and has investigated allegations of abuse in orphanages, industrial schools and church-run hospitals across the republic. The Artane industrial school, in north Dublin, was among the institutions under scrutiny.

But Walsh said it was frustrating that the terms of the Ryan commission meant that no abusers would be brought before the Irish courts.

He said: “The victims of abuse will most likely be even more traumatised than ever to learn that, following this lengthy inquiry, there will be no criminal prosecutions brought against their abusers or against those in the hierarchy of the church … complicit in the brutal crimes against innocent children.

“It is unlikely that officials from any government department will ever be held accountable having presided over an illegal, cruel and wicked system that led to untold suffering for tens of thousands of innocent Irish children and their families since the foundation of the state.”

Walsh was “sentenced” to six years in Artane after appearing in an Irish court. His “crime” was that his father had abandoned him along with his brothers and sisters, and the Irish authorities deemed his mother not fit to look after the children.

Between 1963 and 1969, he was incarcerated alongside young juvenile offenders in the industrial school.

He said he was disappointed that the courts system that processed thousands of children and labelled them criminals simply because of situations such as marital breakdowns would not be put under the spotlight.

Both the Ryan commission and the earlier Laffoy commission refused to scrutinise the role of the Irish courts in sending children to places such as Artane or the Goldenbridge industrial school in Dublin’s Inchicore district.

Like the individual cases of paedophile priests in the early 1990s, the revelations of widespread child abuse in state-owned but church-run institutions dealt blow after blow to the Catholic church’s authority in the republic.

Yet when the final bill for compensating the thousands of victims of that abuse is counted, the cost was shouldered, in the main, by the Irish taxpayer rather than the Catholic church.

In June 2002, under a special deal worked out between the Catholic hierarchy and the government, then led by ­Bertie Ahern, the church paid only €128m (£112m) in compensation. In Australia at the moment the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse to Children has just released its Report listing no less than 179 recommendations among them a redress scheme. The State Governments and the Federal Government cannot reach an agreement on what that scheme should be. It’s reprehensible.

7 comments

  1. The Catholic Church has plenty of wealth. I’m not Catholic but my understanding is that vows of poverty are part of this religion. They don’t need all the wealth the hold on to. It’s beyond ridiculous that taxpayers should be paying for the wrongdoing of a private institution. Especially given the nature of the wrongdoing.
    It’s disgusting!!

  2. I was brought up in Dublin. My Mam, brothers and I didn’t have it easy after my Dad died. I have been so lucky in my life because I had a great Mother who gave us all she could. She also worked 5 days a week and took care of Mother who was an invalijde She was critical towards the Catholic Church, some say she was born before her time. Once I got lashed on the hand with a bamboe cane by a Nun because I was a few minuits late for school. My Mam was so angery that she warned the Nun and the head of the School, one more time and she would bring them to court. My mam rallied parents together against child abuse. I remember all the talk about Artane and the Christian brothers and the fear that was put into my brothers and boys in the area where we lived. Some boys seem also just to disapear. This was around 1957. My Mam died in 1965 and again I felt the terrible threat. For myself it was only a threat but for all those thousands of children who were abused, the Catholic Church and Irish Government, it was organized crime and greed. When my Mam died and I went to Secondary School, the threat was still there, if not with the strap, it is with the lash of the tong, causing mental abuse. I made it though, I think thanks to those who stood up and my Mam. All Nuns and Priests should be banned from Schools and Hospitals. Not all Nuns and Priests are bad but there are too few. God Bless all those children who have suffered for you will win in the end.

    • Hi Mary thanks for getting in touch. It sounds like you had a fantastic and amazing Mother. To have that attitude towards the Church at that time is extraordinary. I had the opposite type of Mother!!!! I totally understand your pain and horrible memories after going through what you did. I was at a Magadalene Nuns Laundry Home and the treatment of us was criminal so I know what you mean about the Artane Boys Home. i agree with you that all religions should be banned from schools. Education should be secular. I hope your doing well now and I wish you all the best. Nice to hear from another Irish person.

      Best of luck to you and take good care of yourself.

      Erin

  3. Hello Erin, How nice of you to reply to me. I have just finished a course on FutureLearn, don’t know if you know of it. The course was about Humanism. A good course but they don’t believe in God or an after life. Still, they have good ideas. In my work as a Welfare Officer, I have always centred my work on the humain,and healing aspects. I am retired now and became a writer in 2017. If I can help in anyway please let me know. I would love to get to know you more but I understand if you would rather not.

    Take care, be kind, be safe and I hope to hear from you.

    Mary

    • Hi Mary

      Lovely to hear back from you. I would be delighted to stay in touch with you. If you would like to write about your experience I would love to add it to the site. It would be great to read it. As you say your Mother’s attitude to the Church for that time was quite remarkable.

      I hear Ireland coped very well with the lockdown for Cornavirus. People must have been lost without the pub!!!! We are in a second lockdown here in Australia. Melbourne has been particularly badly affected. I have a son down there and he is finding the restrictions on only being allowed out once a day for a hour difficult this second time around. Both he and his girlfriend can work from home so at least they don’t have the pressure so many have of losing their jobs.

      Stay well and best wishes

      Erin

  4. Hi Erin,Lovely to hear from you again. I would love to hear how you started this website and why? How old is it? I love your name and where you born in Ireland? If you don’t want to say too much online I can understand. Of course you can put my story on the site, I will write it soon, I do have more to add and some things may surprise you ina nice way and give some inspiration.

    I have a nephew in Sydney, I spoke to him a few weeks ago. This Coronavirus is truely terrible, it’s like as if the world has become a thing and we don’t know how long it will last. I try not to think about it too much and make the most of it..Hopefully something good will come out it all and people will not have suffered for nothing.

    I will write my story, the above is a begining and would like you first to read it. I won’t make it too long, promise! How do you want me to send it?

    Keep safe,
    Mary

    • Hi Mary

      Firstly apologies for the delay in getting back to you but I have been in hospital again with complications associated with COVID. My lungs collapsed and I was on a ventilator for a futher three weeks. I have been sick with this virus since last June. I was watching the news from Ireland and it showed the anti-lockdown and mask wearing protesters marching down Grafton Street!!! I just don’t understand the mentality. It is a very serious virus that is killing thousands of people around the world. Just look at America. Death toll over 260,00 now. Australia which went into strict lockdown has had only 807 deaths in total. Masks work.

      Sorry rant over!!! Looking forward to reading your post and I would be delighted to publish it. You ask how I started my blog – well it was organic. I initially started it as a diary and then kept getting messages from people asking where they could get help or asking for information on a specific treatment. I discussed it with my Psychiatrist and he said there was definitely a gap in the ability of people to get information from fellow survivors so he encouraged me to pursue wideing the parametres of the Blog and setting up Pinterest and Instagram accounts. The rest is history. It has just taken off and the correspondence has been amazing. The site is 7 years old and I lived in Courtown Harbour, Co. Wexford. Sorry couldn’t find any of your writing to read.

      Hope this answers your queries.

      Best wishes

      erin

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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