Driving between two midland towns in a slow moving line of traffic on a Saturday afternoon provided the opportunity to hear RTE Radio’s “Documentary on One”. First broadcast last week, the “The Annaconda Road Massacre” told the story of the murder of Thomas Manning, an Irishman working in mines in Butte, Montana who participated in a miners’ strike that was bloodily suppressed. The events narrated took place ninety-five years ago and the story was only uncovered through the efforts of a determined American researcher. It was a programme that would not win any friends, revealing unpleasant and uncomfortable truths.
At the end of the programme, the RTE announcer told listeners that if they had a story that might be suitable for “Documentary on One”, they should consider contacting the station. What would be suitable, though?
Imagine if there had been a small Church of Ireland primary school in rural Ireland and that in the 1940s it had a falling number of its pupils on its roll. Imagine, no matter how unlikely it may seem, that a scheme was devised whereby orphans from a Dublin institution would be removed from the children’s home in which they lived and fostered out to families in the area of the school so as to boost its numbers. Imagine that no effort whatsoever was made to vet the families and no thought given to a boy with learning difficulties and what the future might hold for him. Imagine that the home initially identified for the boy and he was instead sent to live with the schoolmaster, who lived in a two bedroomed schoolhouse with his mother. Imagine that there were no questions raised about the vulnerable boy going to live with a man who was publicly known for violence against his pupils. Imagine that no-one in authority spoke against the master, who was widely suspected of sexual as well as physical abuse against the boy. Imagine that the vulnerable boy grew up knowing nothing other than abuse and in adulthood became an abuser himself. Imagine that the vulnerable adult was duly convicted of abuse and sent to prison, only to be transferred to psychiatric care after a few years of the sentence. Imagine that those figures of authority, who might have made better the life of not only the vulnerable boy, but all those who suffered, simply said nothing. Imagine that more than sixty years later, there are still people who feel a grave sense of injustice at what happened.
If such a theoretical school had existed and such a hypothetical master had gone unchallenged and lived out his life as a respectable citizen, would justice demand that the story be told?
Would it be suitable for a documentary?