Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge



catholic church
Just got around to reading the Murphy Report this morning. I kind of hate the idea of being swept up in any wave of popular hysteria, so I left off reading it until tempers had calmed somewhat. It got me to thinking about how those of us fortunate enough to be neither abused nor abuser (or Twenty Major) in this scenario should react to the report’s findings. It would be easy to fetishize the Catholic Church at this point, to treat them the way the History Channel treats the Nazis – as a sort of uniquely sinister cabal of miscreants, with bizarre rituals and systems of belief, wacky uniforms etc. That characterisation might even be, for all intents and purposes, accurate. But the power of the Catholic Church to do any more evil in this country in the short to medium term is negligible.

The real lesson then – assuming there is one to be learned, assuming the report should be used as anything other than fodder for pointless 20/20 fist shaking – should be that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A boring conclusion, granted. But it’s a fundamental law of human nature that people need always to be mindful of. And it isn’t just those who wield power, but those too who submit themselves to that power, who need to be held accountable.

Let me give one brief example of what I’m talking about here. People in my own home place always had a fair idea, I think, of what was going on in the Letterfrack Industrial School. When my father was growing up, it was the most potent threat in any adult’s arsenal. “Do that again and you’re off to Letterfrack.” Two friends of his, from poor but by no means disreputable families, were almost sent there once after being caught for stealing a bun from a baker’s van. (The first time he told me this story, I assumed he had meant that they stole the van. No, they stole one bun from the back of the van when it was parked outside a shop.)

When the judge sentenced the boys to do time in Letterfrack, one of them tried to kill himself by escaping and jumping into a lake. In the resulting furore, both were reprieved. But the parents and community leaders who intervened to save those boys from being sent to that savage place did nothing, as far as I can tell, for the boys already there. It’s hard to listen to a story like without coming to the conclusion that ordinary decent people, the salt of the earth, essentially acquiesced in at least some of the abuses that occurred under the reign of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Instead of self-righteously shaking our fists at a bunch of incontinent nonagenarians then, as this idiot suggests, mightn’t it be more profitable to remember this lesson, and to be ever mindful of other areas in which power is wielded without accountability: in the banks, in the medical profession, in law enforcement, in the prosecution of the so-called War on Terror (or whatever the hell its called these days.) Mightn’t it be more appropriate to respect the struggles of people who toil for justice in unfashionable causes, and not wait to jump on the bandwagon after everyone else as already done so?

In my own adult lifetime, we forfeited our right to inspect U.S. aircraft passing through Shannon, even when there was credible evidence that such flights were being used to illegally transfer terrorism suspects for torture in secret jails. We did so because it was deemed that antagonizing the Bush Whitehouse might be detrimental to our economic interests. Does that situation continue to this day? I’m not sure. Does anyone even know? Does anyone even care?

P.S. I really know I shouldn’t look at Twenty Major’s hugely popular blog, but it exerts a certain delicious fascination for me. In the history of numskull demagoguery, has anyone ever written anything as cloyingly moralistic and self-righteous as this before? Does he actually write…

A final word for people like Andrew Madden and Marie Collins. The word ‘hero’ is bandied around too often, so often that it loses its meaning, but in this case is it is the only word that is appropriate.

…or is his prose so purple that hallucinations are occurring in my brain? Does he really bleat on and on about how, in hindsight, anyone with an ounce of goodness or morality should have done this that and the other, but in almost the next post decree that the beardy guy from the Meteor ads should be raped by a monkey with Ebola? There’s an unwritten law, I know, that Irish bloggers should never criticise other Irish bloggers. But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that evil flourishes only when good men do nothing. Have a good weekend!

Related: Worst Blog Post Ever

December 11th, 2009.


  1. Ronan Says:

    Catholic countries have more issues with low level corruption and with general sweep-it-under-the-carpetness: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0331/1224243730890.html

  2. Eoin Says:

    Interesting Ronan, maybe I should amend the title to Catholics Don’t Do What They Believe in… etc.

  3. Ronan Says:

    The act of contrition is the key. Its a doctrine that allows you do what you want, because the guilt of a transgression only lasts until you get absolution. As a predominantly Catholic country this attitude is deeply ingrained in our collective psyche, no matter what our actual beliefs are.
    Which is my way of saying that your title is just lovely as it is.

  4. Andrew Says:

    Eoin, if you want to start a scrap in the Irish blogosphere you have to have a pop at Damien Mulley. He then calls you names on Twitter and gets his monkeys mobilised. And that’s how it works. I don’t think Ttwenty could give a shit.

  5. Eoin Says:

    @ Ronan – hadn’t seen the site before, lookin good man!

    @ Andrew – not trying to start a fight with anyone (honest!), although he cares enough to have deleted my incoming link from his comments after a few minutes!

  6. Andrew Says:

    Yeah? Interesting. He amused me greatly once by coming over to my site and admonishing me for saying I’d like to punch someone whom I’d never met. A graver offence than ebola rape, apparently.

  7. Matt Says:

    Not trying to start a fight? Oh come on…. pleeeeease!

  8. Eoin Says:

    Well I’m about to drive a six month child cross country Matt, but if you want to diss me on Twitter by all means fire away!

  9. John Braine Says:

    This post is the most blatant piece of trolling I’ve seen in a long time.

  10. Andrew Says:

    Ah John, Eoin’s entitled to say what he thinks. Twenty is pretty quick to say when he thinks another blogger is out of line, so I’m sure he can take it.

  11. John Braine Says:

    I’m not trying to defend Twenty. I don’t need to. I haven’t been reading this blog long enough to know Eoin at all, so maybe I’m wrong – but this really just reads like a very deliberate attempt to ruffle some feathers while fanning out some big peacock feathers.

    One too may feather analogies, I know.

  12. han shan Says:

    Somehow don’t think Eoin posted entire piece about the Murphy report his fathers experiences and the yanks torturing just to get in a scrap with Twenty Major.

  13. Lisa Says:

    Right. Well I’ve no interest in getting involved in inter-blogger pot-shotting.

    However, I wrote my Masters dissertation on institutional abuse within the Catholic Church, particularly with regards to the role of the State in the same, and am going back next year to do my PhD on “the scandals” and anti-Catholic sentiment in twentieth century Ireland. So you might say I have more than a passing interest in the topic.

    Eoin you’re absolutely right that the plain people of Ireland hold a great measure of culpability in what went on in the industrial schools, Magdalene laundries etc. There was always more than inkling of what was going on, but an unwillingness to acknowledge it. Fintan O’Toole wrote an article about how for his generation in Dublin, Artane was held up as the threat of where the bold boys went, just as Letterfrack probably was down the country.

    Okay, going to stop here otherwise will be writing all day. But take-home message is: never underestimate the power of apathy.

  14. Eoin Says:

    @ John – Not 110% sure what trolling means, but wasn’t trying to start a fight if that’s what you mean. That guy’s blog is vile though, and it does irritate me a lot. I suppose you could say the last post was the feather that broke the camels back… 🙂

    @ Lisa – You’re absolutely right. I think Max Von Sydow’s character in Hannah and Her Sisters said it best, when he mocked intellectuals who agonise over how the Holocaust could have happened:

    “Given what people are,” he said, “the real questions is ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’”

  15. he ain't heavy Says:

    i didnt even bother reading it,


  16. Eoin Says:

    Right as always Dan!

  17. golden graham Says:

    Interesting thoughts Eoin. But I think the point about public being in cahoots with priests really only applies to industrial schools, not child sex abuse….no?

  18. Andrew S Says:

    Interesting post and interesting reaction in comments.

    There’s a shade of a false dichotomy if it was intended to posit a choice between ‘fist-shaking’ and examination of abstracts like the corrupting tendency of power and the collective guilt of the entire society that spawned this monstrosity. I think we would be best served if we both recognised that this disgusting thing was not an alien abberation in our midst but a pure product of the entire Irish society and culture in the widest sense *and* prosecuted every single person against whom a case to answer can be made out.

    The Shannon analogy was unfortunate as it is so weak. What I would suggest each and every person who is pontificating about the evils done to children in the past in this country to take the time to learn about the many abject failings of the child protection system in this country *now* and do something about that, it is a terrible waste to expend energy railing about the past when there are gross failings in the present and surely into the future which can be tackled and *prevented*. The same children who were conveyed to those monsters are now roaming our cities’ street all day after being turfed out of HSE paid but private B&Bs in the morning with nothing to do and no support to prevent them falling into addiction, crime, and prostitution.

    And, obviously, Twenty Major is a boor and a bore.

  19. Lisa Says:

    Andrew S: absolutely. By and large the kids who ended up in the industrial schools were the ones who no one (ie; no one in power) gave much of a shit about anyway. They weren’t nice middle-class boys and girls, they were the poor and disenfranchised from the tenements and the flats, the “gurriers” or the ones who didn’t have the family structures in place to start with.

    As regards the Catholic Church, I suppose that they were ostensibly the arbiters and guardians of public morality what what made these crimes doubly heinous.

    But none of these are original points so I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  20. Eoin Says:

    @ Andrew S. – Absolutely agree, and thanks a lot for taking the time to leave such a considered reply. I wasn’t suggesting the perpetrators shouldn’t be punished to the full extent of the law. More thinking out loud about the lessons to be learned for someone, like myself, who doesn’t fit into any of the categories of victim, abuser, cop, judge, social worker etc. and wasn’t inclined vicariously to assume one of those roles either for the purposes of sounding off on my blog.

    @ Lisa – if you ever get the chance when you’re working on your thesis you should visit Letterfrack. It’s a furniture college now with a small chapel next to it. When I visited (summer 2007) there was no reference anywhere to the school’s former function – except for the transcript of a speech President McAleese gave to the students in which she said that thanks to their good work Letterfrack was now known for something much more positive than it used to be.

    Walk a short path up into the woods next to it and you come to a graveyard with about 40-50 simple headstone. Most read something like “John Murphy, 1952-61” etc. etc. My mother is strongly pro-Catholic Church, but even she was shaking with rage when we got back to the car.

    There’s also a visitors book in the front of the church. Most of the signatories are surviving pupils. Very, very sad.

  21. Paul Says:

    Excellent piece, Eoin. However.

    You can say it’s pointless to go after the nonagenarian violators of kids, and to an extent, yes, it’s just a bit of scapegoating to exonerate us all from years of indolence. The Church, however, has been preparing itself for years for this day (one order – Cistercians? I’ll have to check – placed all of its property into other hands a while back in order that, when the call for reparations came, they would be able to plead poverty.

    The Church also negotiated a ceiling on abuse payouts, with the Exchequer covering any overages – that’s you and me and all the abuse victims themselves.

    We’re dealing with a big business, not unlike a bank, here, and it is necessary to treat them as such. Don’t go after doddery old preverts and call it justice being done. Go after the institution in Ireland/Canada/Australia and render it powerless and penniless. That would be a start.

  22. Paul Says:

    …and, yes, I did say preverts. That is my perferred spelling.

  23. Eoin Says:

    @ Paul – Totally agree. You know, in July 2001, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers travelled to Las Vegas to witness for himself that America was the corrupt, degenerate place he thought it was, and that striking a blow against it would, therefore, be merely to enact of God’s will.

    Having been to the Vatican in October I can tell you that a visit there might, similarly, harden any suspicions you might have about the Catholic Church as a vast, money making criminal enterprise.

    Re: Prosecution of nonagenarians. As clarified already above, I wasn’t suggesting that anyone responsible for abuse or the cover-up of abuse shouldn’t be punished – far from it. I was merely suggesting that, by the same token, an out and out witch hunt would not be serve justice either.

  24. Nora Says:

    Are you sure the Twenty Major site isn’t a send up? First comment is left by someone called Crank….

  25. Eoin S. Says:

    I’m pretty sure its real Nora and I agree with Eoin about it been vile. Less said about that the better.

    By the way anyone see this story in the Irish Times today?


  26. Eoin Says:

    @ Eoin – Yeah, I saw that this morning. The line from Father Ted about a time when the cops turned a blind eye to “even the occasional murder” seems a little less funny now.

    (P.S. I’ve changed your handle to Eoin S. to avoid confusion!)

  27. Eoin S Says:

    Not reported in the Times but the girls bicycle, purse & religious medals were recovered & taken as evidence by gardai in 1970 and of course subsequently “lost”. Prime suspect sent to work in the missions in Africa.

    (P.S. Reckon “Eoin” was my name first — I’ve a fair few years on you know!)

  28. Paul Says:

    Sadly, everything about Father Ted seems less funny now. About ten years ago, I had a friend from Belgrade over for a bit of a Dublin break. Despite knowing Ireland and Irish culture inside out, he just didn’t get Ted at all. Eventually, the penny dropped, and he said “Now I see! Priests here are like Communists in Serbia!”

    I agreed with him, and sent him home to Belgrade with a Ted box set. Turns out there were more similarities than I suspected at the time.

  29. gueuleton Says:


    the thing about twenty major is that if some gouger robbed his wallet on the street tomorrow he would write a long rant about how all young gougers should be locked up, raped by ebola-infected monkies and the key thrown away.

    100 comments – well said twenty, you the man twenty

    If it turned out that if gougers really were getting raped in care he’d say that if any institutions level of care didn’t live up to a certain standard (what standard of care? who knows… twenty has never even considered standards in care before — but find the worst example of abuse and he’ll definitely be against that), then the priests who run that institution, their friends and associates should all be locked up, raped by ebola-infected monkies and the key thrown away.

    150 comments – well said twenty, you the man twenty

    Hypothetically now, if people were to go on a mad, drunken anti-priest pogrom, dragging priests out of nursing homes and tarring and feathering them left right and centre, he’d say that anyone who mistreated priests and didn’t allow them the presumption of innocence until proven guilty should be locked up, raped by ebola-infected monkies and they key thrown away.

    200 comments – well said twenty, you the man twenty, here’s another award twenty, you’re so outspoken and curmudgeonly

    etc. etc. etc.

  30. Conal Says:

    you the man gueuleton

  31. Eoin Says:

    He’s a blowhard reactionary with little or no capacity for abstract thought. I’d agree with you there, Gueleton. But its a free market and there’ll always be an audience for people like him. I’ve no problem with that per se.

    But what really baffles me is the extent to which he’s been feted by the blogging community. I mean, most of these people have got to know better. Here is a guy who epitomises blogging at its very worst – vicious, nasty, uninformed, amateur and anonymous. Who singlehandedly vindicates most of the criticisms people like John Waters make of blogging as a phenomenon.

    He should be shunted into the back room, like an embarrassing, racist old uncle – not wheeled out front to soak up the plaudits.

  32. golden graham Says:

    Paul – Re: priests/communists. Surely that plays in to the original point that this is not about the catholic church as much as abuse of power, acceptance of powerlessness generally.

  33. Nora Says:

    @ gueuleton: Thanks, I understand a little better now I think. There are loudmouth assholes like that all over talk radio in the States, didn’t realize there was an Irish version too!

  34. masereka yusuf Says:

    hey man your writting is so interesting that only those with literate mind could understand it.may be you wanted to fire a bullet to mr corruption.

  35. Here’s the thing about the blog awards #IBA11 | Tripping Along The Ledge Says:

    […] But as far as I know, the Irish Blog Awards are the same crowd who have given Twenty Major their Godlike Genius award for the last twenty years in a row. I said all I wanted to about Twenty Major in this blog post (and the comments below.) […]

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