The Who and Cardinal Brady

May 3rd, 2012 | By | Category: Ireland

Kevin was born in 1961, or, maybe, 1962. A year junior to our class, he left school in 1978 and was killed in a motorcycle accident in the spring of the following year. While most of us listened to the BBC Top 30, watched Top of the Pops, and bought 7 inch vinyl singles, Kevin was one of a small group who preferred listening to albums. Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was played again and again.

Either Kevin, or one of those with whom he listened to records, had The Who’s 1969 album, ‘Tommy’. ‘Tommy’ was a rock opera, its songs are part of a narrative. On the first track of side three, ‘Do You Think It’s Alright?’, Tommy’s parents wonder if it is safe to leave him in the care of his uncle. The lyrics of ‘Fiddle about’, the track that followed the parents’ question, were lines that Kevin would sing with a sneer and an air of viciousness.

I’m your wicked Uncle Ernie
I’m glad you won’t see or hear me
As I fiddle about
Fiddle about
Fiddle about !

Your mother left me here to mind you
Now I’m doing what I want to
Fiddling about
Fiddling about
Fiddle about!

Down with the bedclothes
Up with your nightshirt!
Fiddle about
Fiddle about
Fiddle about !

In 1969, child abuse was a subject sufficiently well known for a leading rock band to feature it on an album that went on to sell twenty million copies around the world. In the mid-1970s, paedophiles were recognized by our group of  teenage, English working class boys as devious and manipulative opportunists who caused permanent emotional scars to their victims.

Given that even teenage boys had a grasp of the subject, it is odd that Cardinal Sean Brady could offer a plea of mitigation over the Irish Catholic Church’s handling of the case of Fr Brendan Smyth:

With many others who worked regularly with children in 1975, I regret that our understanding of the full impact of abuse on the lives of children as well as the pathology and on-going risk posed by a determined paedophile was so inadequate.

An inadequate understanding of the impact and the risk? The Irish bishops were prepared to rule on every aspect of a person’s private life, prepared to dictate how people conducted personal relationships. Given the depth and breadth of the knowledge they accumulated, it is simply not credible for Cardinal Brady to claim that their mistakes were due to an inadequacy of information or understanding.

While Cardinal Brady was not not understanding the victims of Brendan Smyth, ‘Fiddle About’ was being played on the record player at our school. Perhaps ‘Tommy’ was never played in Ireland, for the Cardinal’s suggestion is that the record listeners at our school knew more about child abuse than he did.


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  1. My goodness Ian, this is a brave post.

  2. There are plenty more radical things being said.

    I think Sean Brady is a good man, but has the task of defending the indefensible.

    When I heard his comment about not understanding the impact of abuse on victims on the news yesterday, I thought I had misheard what he had said, but the quote is actually on the Catholic bishops’ own website.

  3. If he was so ignorant of “full impact of abuse on the lives of children” why did he give assurances to Smyth’s victims that children would never be harmed again by Smyth?

    It’s a self-serving statement – nothing more. Indeed it’s an insult. We know Smyth continued his rapacious reign and that Brady’s investigation was never about protecting children.

  4. Good post. Good angle.
    Every time I think about it, the man sinks lower in my estimation. Hard to escape the conclusion that the organisation is institutionally abusive.

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