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THE DEATH OF PATSY FLANAGAN: Blood Libel and the Christian Brothers

The following are extracts from Mary Raftery's book "Suffer the Little Children" published in November 1999 and from newspaper correspondence between the Christian Brothers and one of their accusers Barney O'Connell. Former Artane boy Barney O'Connell is one of Mary Raftery's main witnesses against the Brothers in the TV series "States of Fear" (April/May 1999) and in her book.

Among other things, this illustrates the workings of Recovered Memory. Barney O'Connell gives three contradictory accounts of the death of Patsy Flanagan in February 1951. One account gets the date wrong by 5 years! 

Rory Connor
23 February 2006

Extract from "Suffer the Little Children" by Mary Raftery and Eoin O'Sullivan  page 233

"There are a number of accounts from survivors, of deaths of children in mysterious or unexplained circumstances. The States of Fear documentaries contained accounts from some of these. One was from Barney O'Connell of the death of a boy in Artane Industrial School. Barney had been detained there during the 1950s, and this child had fallen 40 feet to his death through an internal stairwell. The boy fell past Barney who was on the stairs, almost touching him as he passed. It is an image, which he can never forget, he says, and he will not rest until he receives a proper explanation for the boy's death. The Christian Brothers have stated that a boy did indeed die in this manner in Artane during the 1950s, but that it was an accident resulting from the children's exuberance following a visit to the circus. Once again, no records whatsoever exist on this case in the Department of Education." 

No escape from a vicious legal weapon by John Drennan
Extract from Sunday Independent 7 November 1999

Bernard O'Connell was one of the children in Artane. He was present when a child was thrown over the banisters and fell through an atrium and two 60-foot-high floors.

His trauma went beyond the mere witnessing of that event. Bernard was an apprentice carpenter. The day after the event, he and between 12 and 15 boys were sent with a workman to repair the hole the boy had made when falling through the atrium.

As they brought in the scaffolding they could see a sheet covering something. It was a small pool of blood and guts where the boy had fallen through the atrium.

The workman turned and said quietly: ``Barney, go down to the shop, get some sawdust and a bucket and sweep this up.''

The boy went down to the shop. He swept the blood and guts up into a metal dustpan, placed that into a metal dustbin with the blood-soaked sheet and then put it into the fire.

At night he still ``wakes up screaming'' at the memory.

Bernard has worked on four continents, and in one place where the union was run by the Mafia. They were ``pussy-cats compared to the Christian Brothers''.

Bernard's brother lived through Vietnam, but did not survive the legacy of the physical abuse in Artane. The ``eternally recurring flashbacks'' destroyed him. He was not unique. It can take 30 years for the cancer introduced into the bodies of those boys in Artane ``to work itself through''.
We see the symptoms of that ``cancer'' everywhere. Those ``anonymous suicides'' which took place in Artane. Those broken ones we see on our streets. Litter dulling the shine of the Celtic Chancer. The Caliban-like figure of Anthony Cawley.

In Artane the most feared brother ``didn't just like to f**k you he liked to beat you within an inch of your life''. The special instruments he devised were ``more terrifying than sexual abuse''. Bernard has had four operations on his hands and wrists. He has had three operations on his back. He doesn't want money. He wants the victims to have the right to exact justice.  


Article unfair to Brothers  - Sunday Independent 21 November 1999

John Drennan's article on November 7, `No escape from a vicious legal weapon', contained serious inaccuracies in relation to the Christian Brothers in Artane Industrial School.

A significant portion of the article presented as fact an account of a Brother in Artane Industrial School throwing a boy over a banister, ``through an atrium and two 60-foot-high floors.'' The article goes on to give a graphic description of the aftermath, which included, inter alia, a bloody sheet, human guts, sawdust, and scaffolding.

The facts, in summary form, are as follows: a boy who was sliding down the banister of the stairs slipped and fell to the ground about 14 feet below. He had external injuries to his mouth and jaw and was taken to the school infirmary. One hour later he was removed to the Mater Hospital, where he died under anaesthetic the following day. The external injuries, as described in the coroner's report, consisted of ``a lacerated wound'' on the lower lip, ``superficial skin lacerations and bruises on the lower jaw in the region of the chin'' and four broken teeth.

The matter was reported to the authorities at the time, and an inquest was held. Sworn evidence was taken from eyewitnesses, doctors and a garda sergeant.

The Coroner's verdict was that the boy had died of ``cardiac and respiratory failure, secondary to acute congestion of the lungs following the injuries accelerated by general anaesthesia and probably predisposed to by the presence of an enlarged thymus gland''. The garda, in his evidence to the inquest, stated that ``there is no suspicion of foul play''. The Coroner stated that the Brothers had exercised adequate supervision.

The truth is that no boy was thrown over the banister.

Br. M. Reynolds, Christian Brother's Provinciate, Dublin 7.


I stand over Artane claim   Sunday Independent 12 December 1999

Re the letter by Christian Brother M Reynolds, (Sunday Independent, November 21) which was a reply to an article about me, Bernard O'Connell, by John Drennan. That article, under the headline `No escape from a vicious legal weapon' was published on Novem ber 7. It concerned a child's death in Artane industrial school in 1956. I witnessed this and I was an accidental participant involved with this unfortunate child's death.

I hereby reaffirm my statement to John Drennan. I saw a child being physically beaten by an Irish Christian Brother on the stairwell leading to dormitory number one. This child was running away down the metal staircase with a very angry brother hitting the child's back with his leather strap and shouting in anger to ``stop''. The brother pushed the child into the landing wall. The child, literally fleeing for his life now, bounced off this wall, spinning kitty-corner on the metal stairs landing, and both the child and the Christian Brother crashed into me.

I was knocked backwards and downwards, and I fell down several stairs. The kinetic energy of the child colliding into me slowed the child's speed down; the Christian Brother, trying to hit, slap, grab the child, collided into the child, pushing/shoving/throwing the poor child over the banisters stair-rail. Being about seven feet above the first-floor main landing, the child fell about 40 feet onto the ground floor below.

This area was known as the long hall. This happened in the winter of 1956.

Bernard `Barney' O'Connell, Lasalle Ave, Torrance, California.


Three versions of boy's death Sunday Independent 19 December 1999

I refer to Mr Bernard O'Connell's reply last week in your letters page to my letter relating to the accidental death of a boy in Artane.
Mr O'Connell stands by his story. Which one? He has now presented the public with no fewer than three different versions of this event. In one version the boy fell 40 feet, brushing past Bernard and almost touching him. In the second version the boy was actually thrown over the banister by a Brother and fell a distance of 120 feet. In this account, Mr O'Connell describes external injuries which are totally at variance with the injuries described by the surgeon in the Mater Hospital and by the pathologist. The third version given by Mr O'Connell states that both the boy and a Brother crashed into Bernard, knocking him down several steps.
He finishes his third account by stating that the event took place in the winter of 1956. In fact, the sad accident occurred on February 18, 1951. The factual account of what happened is contained in the Coroner's Report, the contents of which were outlined in my original letter. The Coroner's Report states clearly that no foul play was suspected and that there was adequate supervision in place at the time of the accident.
The records show that no other boy resident of Artane died in the 1950s.
Br M Reynolds, Christian Brothers Provincialate, Cluain Mhuire, North Circular Road, Dublin 7.