‘The Whale’ Damns Clerical Abuse in Play
The Sunday Times, April 18, 2004 by Dearbhail McDonald
ONE of Dublin’s most notorious criminals has written a play in which he compares the Catholic Church to a terrorist organisation and accuses its leaders of ignoring paedophile priests.
James “the Whale” Gantley, a convicted bank robber, has written a drama based on stories of abuse he heard from fellow prisoners while serving five years in Mountjoy jail.
AbUSed Together recounts the experiences of four former inmates at Artane industrial school and is being shown at the theatre in Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the trade union Siptu. The men, whose marriages and mental health has suffered as a result of the abuse, reunite to discuss the prospect of getting compensation from the government.
Gantley accuses senior Catholic leaders, living and dead, of failing to stop abuse in institutions and dioceses. The script accuses Cardinal Desmond Connell, the archbishop of Dublin, of not co-operating with Garda and civil authorities and of covering up abuse by priests.
“That fella, Cardinal Connell, won’t hand over any files to anyone that looks for them,” a character in the play says. “He reckons they’re in some vault in Rome. That’s the same cardinal who, when he found out about abusing boys in Ballyfermot, moved him to another parish and he donnit again. Can you believe that?” He hints that John McQuaid, the former Archbishop of Dublin, may himself have acted improperly with young boys. “That p**** was in charge, McQuaid. He knew what was going on in the homes and turned a blind eye to it,” one of the actors claims during the play. “As a matter of fact, there was a question mark (of abuse) about him as well.”
The 51-year-old criminal is an unlikely champion of children who were abused while in state care. A well-known gangster in south Dublin, he was regularly accused by neighbours of dealing in drugs. His house in Crumlin was frequently marched on by anti-drugs organisations. Gantley denied the accusations of drug dealing.
In 1999, the Criminal Assets Bureau investigated his finances, and this led to his social welfare payments being stopped. During an appeal, the court heard of IR£94,000 in cash in a biscuit tin in Gantley’s home, of banking transactions worth £200,000 and of a holiday villa in Spain, which he apparently owned.
Gantley claims his criminal past is behind him now. He hopes to take his play on an international tour to America, Canada, Australia and Britain, where many former inmates of industrial schools live.
He has defended the explicit detail of physical and emotional abuse and sexual assault. These include anal gang rapes by Christian Brothers, whom he identifies in the script.
“The biggest terrorist group to ever operate in this country were the Christian Brothers,” said Gantley. “The government should have been interning the real terrorists, the Brothers, not people who were fighting for what they believed in.”
Gantley started writing and acting during his five-year prison term. A literacy tutor spotted his talents as a writer, and he subsequently won two awards for radio plays and short stories.
River Films, owned by John McColgan and Moya Doherty of Riverdance fame, have signed his first screenplay, Wheelers and Dealers. He is also working on a stage version of his life story, but he has said that he holds his first play dearest.
“It is a compelling tribute to those who spent time in the industrial school system,” said John Kelly, from Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca), a support group for victims. “It shows the long-term effects of abuse and what we suffered as children. The hurt and the trauma never go away.”
Some argue, however, that unrelenting attention on abuse stories has created a climate of fear, with innocent people being accused alongside guilty parties.
One of the Christian Brothers who was cleared of allegations of sexual and physical abuse said: “This play would appear to be an abuse of the arts to vilify a group. People see the label rather than the individual personality, and consequently a group, class or association has its name blackened.
“Such a play raises prejudice and this spreads to good people, giving rise to a form of mass hysteria that in turn becomes a subtle form of racism.”
The Christian Brothers declined to comment on the play. A spokesman said that the residential institutional redress board — dubbed the “good ship lollipop, lots of dosh for everyone” by Gantley — was the appropriate forum to address “this painful part our history”.
A spokesperson for the Dublin diocese dismissed the claims against Archbishop McQuaid as “fictitious” and insisted that Connell had kept his pledge to co-operate with all authorities, granting access to files as requested.