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Voices behind Kenny's rebuke

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Bar broadcasting one long scream, I can't think of anything radio producers could do to truly represent the victims of institutional abuse in this state. But Joe Duffy did his best to give them a voice.

Monday's Liveline began with musician Danny Ellis celebrating both his 64th birthday and the anniversary of his release from Artane Industrial School, with a record called 800 Voices. Danny told his own story (including how he had spent his time in Artane alongside his twin brothers without realising they were related), but was soon joined by others and the details of brutality came flooding in.

One man told of how his six-year-old brother was beaten for crying until his legs "were pouring with blood" and when he, an eight-year-old, tried to intercede, he was hit so hard across the head he suffered from lifelong hearing problems.

A man called Seamus began "it was my own fault" before Joe observed that mitching school (Seamus's offence) was hardly an act that justified five years in an industrial school.



welts

Seamus recalled how a Brother Buckley once left welts on him "from my behind down to my ankles".

"I was beaten up by Brother Buckley myself," said Danny, the kind of shared reminiscence I hope that no-one in Ireland ever has to share again.

And they kept ringing in. Joe promised to spend the next few programmes on the issue. They called from all over the country. They called from abroad. Many never married. Some were angry. All were inspiring. All were humble ("I hope I haven't upset you," said a man called Anthony on Tuesday. "I don't want anyone to think I'm preaching to them," said a lady called Mary on Wednesday.)

They were all old.

Sometimes they were represented by friends or relatives. On Tuesday, Liam Kelly rang to tell the story of his recently deceased friend Laurence O'Toole, a foundling named after the church where he was abandoned and whose first memory was of being brought to Artane. Larry was loved by his community but forever scarred by his childhood experiences (his feet were damaged because of being forced to wear shoes that were too small for him).

Later, Maureen spoke calmly of her own treatment in a Magdalene laundry but broke down talking about how her brother, while in another institution, was "rented out to a bank manager for weekends".

Joe didn't know what she meant. "For abuse," she clarified.

The brutal treatment affected everyone in different ways. Christine told how her late husband, a shy and nervous man who had spent his childhood in St Joseph's in Ferryhouse, was obsessed with having their house stocked with food and firewood. He never wanted his daughters to experience cold and hunger. In later years, she said, he suffered from serious lung problems caused by untreated pleurisy in his childhood.

Radio like this is important. Such outspoken survivors probably, on some level, influenced Derek Mulligan, a brave young Donegal man who, on Tuesday's Morning Ireland, forewent anonymity to speak out about the circumstances of his own, much more recent abuse. And I'm convinced that their testimony must also have informed Enda Kenny's Wednesday speech, when, for the first time, the State stood solidly with victims and against the Vatican ("They're probably going to need a lot of smelling salts and oxygen [in Rome]," said canon lawyer Father Tom Doyle during a very good discussion on The Last Word).

Ultimately, their voices need to be heard for a more a fundamental reason: they're our people and we failed them.

"She mattered," said Samantha, of her late mother Maggie who spent a lifetime in a Magdalene Laundry. "She mattered to me and I didn't meet her 'til I was 23. And she mattered to my parents because she gave them their twins. She meant something. And she's not just a name on a headstone in a penitent's grave and she wasn't just a scrubber. She was a very nice woman. And she deserves for her story, the parts that I know of it, to be told."


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