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There is talk again of re-naming the Artane Band*. Opponents say variously that the name is the band’s own business or that locals in Artane like their band. Until it admitted girls it was called the Artane Boys Band but there was never anything normal or even joyful about that band’s longer history. Its boys were picked from the children incarcerated in the Artane Industrial School which name scared most Irish children and was a byword for evil. When the band was paraded in public, everyone knew the truth behind the flags and uniforms, and everyone understood the message they carried. This is no local issue; that band has national significance. It was a contributory cause of the Irish silence in the face of child abuse.

In Ireland to this day child abusers seek to evade personal responsibility by appealing to a myth. The myth is that they operated at a time when Ireland was a cruel society in which child abuse was common if not almost universal. In other words, everyone was at it in a violent culture. The truth of course is that Ireland was never like that. Generally parents were kind and treated children well. The myth endures because its supporters manage it carefully and rely on one item of evidence: that there was silence as mass child abuse took place in primary and secondary schools and unspeakable cruelty was visited on incarcerated children.

The decent people of Ireland who would never dream of beating a child spoke among themselves of the abuse but very little was said in public because they felt that objection was pointless. Their caring decency was compelled to silence by a power that was demonstrable and the flaunting of the Artane Boys Band was emblematic. Artane was a crucial component in controlling and maintaining the mass abuse – and the Artane Boys Band signalled the power of the perpetrators.

This is how it went. The primary and secondary school abusers made light of their offences by reference to what they told their victims was done in Artane. They boasted that nothing could be done, that they were in control. Several times a year the The Artane Boys Band was paraded in front of thousands of people at the most important games in Croke Park and the Gaelic Athletic Association facilitated the display. These were great, Irish occasions, celebrations of what we were. The games were attended by church and state dignitaries together with thousands of ordinary Irish citizens, while the radio and TV audiences ran to hundreds of thousands; the occasions were then reported in the print media. Absolutely everyone knew the truth but spoke it only quietly among family and friends. Year after year the radio and TV sports commentator, Michael O’Hehir, covered the spectacle of this Irish band and its colour party leading the teams onto and around the field of play. In decades of commentary there wasn’t a word of sympathy. The worst moment of media support came late, when in 1976 RTE allowed Liam O’Murchú to present a special tribute on the programme, Trom Agus Eadrom, to the ghastly Brother Joseph O’Connor for his work on the band.

Some of the collaborators may say that they knew – even approved – of the routine abuse in the schools but that they were unaware of the horrors of Artane and its Band. They are not to be believed because it bears reiteration that the perpetrators in the schools boasted about Artane and citizens discussed it quietly. In short, every child feared ending up in Artane because they knew that it was a place very much worse than school.

The Artane Band needs to make a clean break with its hideous origins. It needs to realise too that it can never be a local or a mere band. However, it doesn’t need to abandon or ignore its roots in Artane. It needs now to change sides, to become the band whose every appearance is a rebuke to the perpetrators and an expression of solidarity with its former members and their classmates. The addition of one word would mean a lot: a national institution called The Artane Memorial Band.

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* http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/diarmaid-ferriter-artane-band-name-a-useful-reminder-1.2785741

 

 

I’ve been talking with secondary school teachers. The dominant topic was opposition to grading their own students but it quickly became clear that many grievances are hidden by this dispute. The refusal to grade is based on two arguments. Firstly, it is argued that this approach would undermine the integrity of certification, would be unfair to students, would destroy the pupil-teacher relationship, would invite confrontation with parents and would put particular pressure on teachers who are employed on insecure contracts. Secondly, it is argued that teachers simply cannot take on any more work.

I have challenged the first argument many times and I don’t intend to offer a repeat here. The essential flaw in the argument is the assumption that teacher grading would have no support or supervisory process. Once that is addressed, the argument falls.

The second argument requires evidence. The teachers to whom I spoke were convincing in describing a working life of long hours, frequently interrupted by minor emergencies, almost futile attempts to teach students whose level of education falls far short of that required for the class in which these students find themselves and in far too many instances little or no parental support. They are overstretched and unable to devote sufficient effort to teaching in a workplace that is frankly chaotic. In short, there is a compelling argument that grading performed by teachers should not go ahead because teachers cannot take any more.

The odd feature of the public debate – and I’ve been a participant in this peculiarity – is that attention has focussed almost exclusively on the first argument (That teachers grading their own students is unthinkable.) to the virtual exclusion of the second.

It is a mystery how teachers and their representatives have contrived to focus public attention on an argument that is risible while a powerful, compelling argument is available to them.

It is possible that what I’ve heard is unrepresentative, confined to a few problematic schools, that the teachers’ union representatives know this and that there has been a decision to avoid talking about teachers’ workload, workplace and job description. If that is the case, then grading by teachers should be accepted and a great deal of effort should focus on these schools.

I don’t, however, believe that this is the case. I believe that secondary school teachers are in real distress, that their condition cannot be relieved by pay increases and that the system is now in jeopardy. This is happening while citizens and media talk about and the unions strike over the efficacy of teachers grading their own students.

No one who came of age in Ireland before, say, 1980 could possibly be surprised by the contents of the Report and this may be the elusive reason – sought by so many commentators – why good people in Ireland did not defend their fellow citizens.

Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times 23rd May), in quoting a victim, gets closer to an explanation for the silence than possibly he realises, “ … regular beatings were just accepted. What you’re hearing about is the bad ones, but we accepted as normal, run of the mill … that some time in that day you would get beaten.” That describes the norm in ordinary Dublin schools and everyone knew – because children were told regularly – that much worse happened in Artane and “orphanages”. Bizarre as the words might appear at first sight, Ireland has experienced mass child abuse.

Unless encouraged, victims tend not to speak out, let alone speak up for others in a worse situation. Until very recently attempts to talk about what went on were routinely met by “time you moved on” or “got over it” and very strangely – perhaps perversely – many victims praise their attackers, and – in saying it didn’t do them any harm – express themselves content with their treatment.

Of course mass, routine child abuse was not of the same order as the crimes committed against the incarcerated children but it was sufficient to undermine solidarity and righteous anger, and to gain silence.