Artane boys faced the music and straps

It was cold in Croke Park on April 12th, 1966

It was cold in Croke Park on April 12th, 1966. Thousands had gathered there with the President, Mr Eamon de Valera, and the Taoiseach, Mr Sean Lemass, for a pageant marking the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Also there was inmate number 14723 from Artane industrial school. Patrick Walsh was on his first outing with the Artane Boys' Band. He was 12 and played B-flat clarinet. He had joined the band for safety.

When he arrived at Artane in 1963 his two older brothers, John and Frank, who were already in the band, took him aside and made him agree to join. He had to, they said, if he was to avoid being beaten.

Boys in the band proper were an elite. They were untouchable. It wouldn't do for them to arrive in Croke Park with black eyes, bruises or broken limbs. Patrick's brothers began to teach him how to play the B-flat clarinet. They presented him to Brother Joseph O'Connor, who was in charge of the band. "OK," he said, "he's in."


Patrick, two of his brothers and their sister, Mary, had been in industrial schools since August 1955. They were from Churchtown, Dublin, but their parents' marriage had failed. They were detained by order of the Dublin Children's Court and were to be held by the State until they were 16.

Each was "charged" with "having a parent who does not exercise proper guardianship". Patrick was not yet two. His "sentence of detention" would continue until his 16th birthday, September 25th, 1969.

Before entering Artane, Patrick had never encountered violence. There, however, boys were beaten with straps on the slightest pretext, he recalled.

"A classroom of 25 11-year-olds and every single one of them crying for mercy. Every day. Can you imagine the sound that makes. I can still hear it in my head . . . for not understanding a Gaelic word, or not being quick enough with responses to some mathematical problem."

The man in charge of the infirmary would get extremely agitated when boys came in clutching their stomachs after being punched by Christian Brothers. He was afraid of appendicitis. Patrick recalled two funerals of boys who had been rushed to the Mater Hospital with "acute appendicitis".

Not yet in the band proper, Patrick was also beaten. Records say that between October 1963 and October 1964 he was detained in the infirmary five times. Each followed bad beatings.

One of the most savage he witnessed was of a boy who attempted to escape. He was brought back by gardai. "Is it any wonder we as children associated the State [through the Garda] with that sort of thing?" said Patrick.

He remembered when a group of boys went to Clontarf Garda station to complain about beatings at Artane. Gardai brought them back back to the school, and all were flogged. "We always dreamed that one day the State would step in to stop it, but they were just dreams. Wishes. Hopes."

Attempts at escape continued and there was one outstanding moment when a boy tried to get something done about the terror at Artane.

Anthony Burke was 15 when the minister for education, Mr Brian Lenihan, visited the school in 1967. Mr Lenihan was shown around spruced-up classrooms, pristine dormitories and neat workshops Then it was time to go. The boys had assembled on the school steps behind the brothers.

Anthony Burke stepped forward. He said to Mr Lenihan: "They beat us every day. Stop them beating us."

The brother superior put his arms around Anthony Burke's shoulders and smiled, with a "what-a-laugh" attitude, as Patrick recalled. Mr Lenihan turned to his chauffeur and said: "Get me out of this f---ing place."

It became a catch-phrase among the boys. "Get me out of this f---ing place," they would say, and keel over. Then brother superior banned it.

Poor Anthony Burke. As soon as Mr Lenihan left, the brother superior dragged him inside and, along with one of the most savage brothers in the place, punched and belted him along a corridor in front of all the other boys saying: "Can you believe the lies that this dirty bastard said to the minister about being beaten every day? Imagine! People being beaten every day? Can you believe it?" Anthony was sent to Letterfrack.

Letterfrack had "an awesome reputation", said Patrick. The brothers decided to dispatch his brother, Frank, there after a bout of mischief. Patrick contacted their mother in London.

She had been denied access to all her other children when she fled her husband, to London, with their fourth child, baby Gerald. Once, illegally, she visited her three other boys at Rathdrum school. She was allowed to see them briefly, one at a time, and told not to come back again. The boys saw her again in June 1966 when the Artane Boys' Band visited Blackpool.

She had arranged with Patrick that Frank should be outside a church near Artane at 5 p.m. on a given day. She picked up Frank in a taxi and took him to the airport.

That night the brother superior shone a torch in Patrick's sleeping face and asked him who the woman was who had been seen picking Frank up. Patrick said he didn't know.

The brother superior raided Patrick's locker and found letters from his mother. However, Patrick had removed her address from them all. The letters were placed on a table in the brother superior's office as two gardai interrogated Patrick. They said they could charge him with assisting an unlawful flight. Then the brother superior threw the letters in the fire. "They were very important to me," said Patrick.

He was not sexually abused at Artane. But he was aware of the activities of some of the brothers and one layman in this area. The layman had grabbed him one day but had to let him go immediately when a group of boys came along.

The same layman used to take selected, usually illegitimate, boys out for trips in his mini-bus. After one such trip six of the boys had to be taken to the Mater hospital for treatment following brutal sexual abuse. He was then barred from Artane.

Some boys would be taken to some brother's private rooms at night. Or to a cubicle in each dormitory, where a supervising brother slept. No one talked about what happened in those cubicles.

Artane was shut down in July 1969 when Patrick and the band were on a tour of Boston and New York. They returned to find the place empty. Patrick was taken in by a woman in Mullingar, where he was until 1971.

He is now a successful businessman in London. His brothers are also in London. None of them has played the clarinet since leaving Artane.

Patrick has come to believe that "you can judge the nobility of a people by the way they deal with children".

"I have to say I didn't see much nobility in the Irish." He does not consider himself Irish. He is 46 today.

The Artane Boys' Band is no longer run by the Christian Brothers.