I recently visited Ireland’s main burial site for the Christian Brothers; it is in Baldoyle’s Dublin Road at the back of their former residence, which is now a block of luxury apartments. Access to it is gained by arranging in advance to fetch the key from the nearby St Patrick’s Care Home.
Though it is well worth the visit, it resembles nothing more than a far off war cemetery that has been transposed to Ireland. Hundreds of Christian Brothers are buried there, two to a plot, like so many fallen soldiers. The graveyard is surrounded by huge plaques to hundreds of other Brothers and is overlooked by a gigantic monument to many hundreds of other Irish-born Christian Brothers, who died overseas. It is impressive in its stark austerity.
Though I found the grave of several specific Brothers who were on my list, I didn’t locate the far-famed Br Tom Keane, who taught a number of future government ministers and whose Leaving Cert Honours Maths book, a copy of which he presented to President De Valera, was a staple in days gone by.
Br Keane is now just one of thousands of all but forgotten Christian Brothers, whose free labour was abused to build this nation of ours on the cheap. Abused, some became abusers and Ireland’s elite gombeens, never ones for self-reflection, never queried why those thousands of young boys went off to enlist for a dog’s life in a celibate order once they entered secondary school.
Whatever chances there were for self-reflection in the past, there are none now. Even Moving Hearts are ashamed of their Wise Christian Brothers’ song, which perfectly captures the experiences of those Micky Mudsds and Paddy Stinks the Brothers were lumbered with in our less enlightened days.
Without the Brothers, there might have been no 1916 Rising or Black and Tan War, as many of those all but forgotten patriots were products of the Brothers’ cut price education.
Without the Brothers, there might have been no GAA as their school teams were the foundation stones on which that organisation was built. Des and Lar Foley, who lie buried in nearby Yellow Walls, were Brothers’ boys, as was Kevin Heffo Heffernan, who rests in nearby St Fintan’s, at the far end from Charlie Haughey, a Dublin senior medal winner with Parnells, who, with his all Ireland winning brother Jock, was taught and trained at St Joseph’s school by Br Keane, who co-founded St Vincent’s GAA, which began the Dubs brand.
Ollie Freaney lies in Balgriffin and Simon Behan and Johnny Joyce, the man with the golden boot, rest in Fingal. As does Mícheál Ó hEithir, an O’Connell’s and Vincent’s Christian Brothers’ boy and possibly the greatest sports commentator these islands have ever produced.
I made my way out to Baldoyle because Br Keane and his colleagues did much we, as a nation should be grateful for. Although the Brothers prove Shakespeare’s maxim that “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” I cannot see any good their major critics have ever done. Perhaps, that fault is mine as, in their own eyes, those overpaid and under-worked mercenaries who sit in Leinster House can be guilty of no wrong.