Pages from history – The CPI and industrial schools

Printed in Workers Voice on 4 May 1935, the following article describes the horrific treatment and the murder of a young boy in the care of the Christian Brothers at Artane Industrial School. During its existence, from 1868 to 1969, approximately 15,500 boys passed through its doors.

For over a hundred years the state worked hand in hand with the church to knowingly feed working-class youth into the industrial schools and laundries and the abuse they faced there.

Only a year after the printing of this article the report of the Cussen Commission was published. Strikingly, while the commission does seem to have taken some information verbatim from the orders running these institutions, and is concerned with ensuring that the religious orders are compensated, it also noted that the education and housing supplied were substandard, as well as the reliance on handshake agreements between religious orders and local authorities being open to abuse.

It recommends the formalising of the process of sending girls to laundries, recommending that they be held for a maximum of three years and that they be remunerated on their leaving for the work they had done during that time.

It also called for boys to have access to further training up to the age of seventeen, and argued for the establishment of a children’s court, with a more informal mode of dress etc., in order to be less intimidating for children.

Micheál Martin’s statement in 1999 that “the concept of the child as a separate individual with rights came late to this country” rings a little hollow in the face of this. He, like many polished career politicians, defended their dynastic legacies and their political parties up to the 2000s with the tired line that “nobody knew”: nobody in the government, the church or the civil service really knew what was taking place in those institutions behind closed doors.

Only when the sea of evidence to the contrary became public, through the Ryan Report in 2009, did the narrative change to that of Ireland being collectively responsible, that something in our culture had allowed this to happen, and that we were all guilty, diluting the blame so far that it became meaningless. This article from 1935 shows otherwise.

The people locked up and hidden away had tried to make their voices heard. Their families had tried to draw attention to their plight; the Cussen Inquiry had shown that the institutions and handshake agreements were not good enough; the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children had pinpointed the need for social protection, such as welfare and child benefit, in the 1940s to prevent poor children being incarcerated.

The Father Flanagan report in 1946–48 and Father Moore’s report in 1962 were both buried for detailing the crimes perpetrated within these institutions and the cruelty of the reform system.

Constantly since the formation of the Free State these schools and laundries were shown to be flawed; and time and time again those in power closed their eyes and ears to the cries for help. It is our collective sorrow, but it is not our blame to carry: that rests squarely with those who colluded within the church and government to silence the working-class survivors and to profit from their misery and pain. We can only be proud that our party, and many other individuals, did not keep this deplorable vow of silence.

It is time for the blame and shame to be apportioned correctly. Solidarity with the survivors!

From Workers’ Voice, 4 May 1935

We Demand Open Enquiry into Scandal of Artane Tragedy

“My Boy’s Body Was Black and Blue” Says Sorrowing Father to ‘Voice’”

“I saw my boy on Holy Thursday when he was lying dead at the Mater hospital. I lifted the shroud. His ribs and whole side were black and blue, and his jaw was discoloured.”

So said Mr. Patrick Byrne, 55 York st, Dublin, to the WORKERS VOICE, in an interview on a tragedy that has shocked the working class and parents of all parts of Ireland—the death of his son, John Byrne, a 15-year-old boy, as a result of injuries received at Artane Industrial School. Here are the amazing facts revealed at the inquest on Friday:

Dr. Murphy, Medical Officer to Artane, was unable to diagnose the cause of the boy’s illness.

Mr. Patrick Byrne, the father—“The boy told me that while he was playing ball, the ball happened to strike the master, Cornelius Lynch, who then kicked him.”

James Doran, a pupil at Artane,—“Mr. Lynch punched Byrne in a joke. Byrne fell to the ground and Mr. Lynch kicked him for a couple of minutes on the soles. Byrne kept wriggling and received a kick in the thigh.”

Cornelius Lynch, the master,—“I admit I was flurried when I made the previous statement which was not right, that I ran at Byrne as he was about to throw himself on the ground.” Mr. L. T. McCarthy (for next of kin)—“So the first thing you did when asked for an explanation by your superior was to tell a lie?”—“Yes”, Lynch responded.

Yet, with all of this evidence, the doctor stated that the boy died from abscesses in the lungs, heart and hip, and the jury found in accordance with the medical evidence.

“When I saw my boy, before he died,” Mr. Byrne stated, “he said to me: ‘the master kicked me but don’t say anything Daddy or he will kill me when I go back.” After his death, the coroner said “you can see him again, but he must be boxed up tonight.” But when he was being coffined, neither his mother nor I saw him. Now I am told that the undertaker was not allowed to coffin my boy, but that the hospital authorities took the coffin from him and did it themselves. There is something terrible and strange about it all, I am not even sure I buried my own son.”

Every worker will agree with the sorrow-stricken parent. Unless this tragedy is properly investigated, workers will have no other option but to believe that conditions in Artane are being deliberately covered up by the responsible people. This is not the first death there in suspicious circumstances: there have been others in recent years. In the name of the whole working class, we demand:

Put Lynch into the dock and hold a public inquiry into the conduct of Artane!

Proper working-class representation on the inquiry!

No whitewashing, but a free and full inquiry to reveal all the facts!