George Lee’s Sermon at ‘The Goat’
Deaglán de Bréadún
The paper sent me to the George Lee “Town Hall Meeting” at the Goat Bar & Grill in, er, Goatstown, last night. Just as I was arriving at the place I realised I had no laptop with me and so turned the car around, headed home, dashed into house, picked up computer, raced back to the Goat. Dedication or wha’?
The Artane Boys Band (Photograph: Alan Betson)
Does anyone remember “The School Around the Corner”? This was a radio programme presented by a great Dublin character called Paddy Crosbie. He was a teacher himself and I think in his day the only broadcaster with a trace of a Dublin accent.
In those innocent, unsophisticated days we thought the “Skule” Around the Corner was the greatest fun ever. As part of the programme there would be an item called “The Funny Incident” where a kid, often a lad with a strong accent as well, told some yarn that had us all in stitches. The only equivalent today is Brendan Grace with his “Bottler” sketch.
This is all a roundabout way to getting to my “funny incident”. There I was, sitting in the front row of George’s “Town Hall Meeting” and thinking rather irreverently of what “town halls” stands for in Cockney slang.
George is a bright fellow – very bright indeed. But he does go on, rather. I’m sitting there, thinking of my copy deadline and George, having started at 8.15, is still talking as the clock edges towards 9pm. Sorry, George, but I want to hear the punters and what they have to say: this is a Town Hall Meeting, remember?
Anyway, the punters do finally get a chance to ask questions. It is hard to know which of them are genuine members of the public who wandered in out of curiosity and which ones are Fine Gael activists. Meanwhile I’m thinking of my deadline and maybe going downstairs to plug in my laptop which has a very short and unpredictable battery life.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a grotty-looking plug stuck in a socket under a table beside the speaker’s table. There is another table nearby in a semi-alcove and it’s just ideal for me to plug in the laptop and type my report whilst still cocking an ear to George and his (eager, it has to be said) audience.
So, when a suitable lull occurs, I “shnake” over to the socket and pull out the plug. Suddenly the sound system dies. Horror of horrors! I belong to that declining class of journalists who don’t like calling attention to themselves. Happily, I have an extension lead so am able to plug-in the sound system and my laptop at the same time. Normal service resumes almost immediately.
George was so wrapped-up in answering the questions that he never noticed the sudden loss of sound (it was a smallish room anyway). But a Fine Gael official goodhumouredly accused me afterwards of being a “terrorist”. In the event, the piece I sent to the paper appeared as an extended “short” so all my efforts were largely in vain but I suppose I am getting this blog out of it!
The mishap with the sound system reminded me of Paddy Crosbie and his “funny incidents”. Those were innocent days in Ireland. The public were fools or sheep or both – and I include my boyish self in those categories. We did not know what was going on the industrial schools although, given the way corporal punishment was freely used in the schools, it was safe to assume the industrial school inmates or pupils were getting the same treatment or worse. One boy in my class at CBS Synge St got 75 slaps with a leather strap all in one go.
But the concept of sexual abuse and the notion that a child’s innocence could be robbed in that way was not part of our mental universe. Anyone who suggested this was going on just would not have been believed. The greatest moment of the year for many of us kids was All-Ireland Day in Croke Park with the Artane Boys Band (later the Artane Band) leading the players in the pre-match parade. We might not be there but we hung on every word of the match commentary on the radio. And now it turns out Artane was a centre of physical and sexual abuse. The betrayal is unconscionable.
The idea that any of the men and women in black – and I realise we are talking about a minority - who had the status of demi-gods in our society, were capable of even contemplating such heinous offences was as alien to our mental universe as pigs flying through the evening sky. Remember that those were times when even a significant minority of adults probablly did not even know where babies came from and, as kids, we certainly didn’t.
Watching the story unfold on TV last night, I saw the protest by the victims who were barred from the press conference. Later I saw some of them standing in the rain outside a city hotel. Another report is out and there is a momentary furore, but will anything concrete be done? Or will it just be more talk and more talk and more talk until the public is tired out and moves on to something else.