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Why Louis Lentin's Dear Daughter was so important for Ireland

Had it not been made, when would we have had the Murphy Report, the Ryan Report, the State apology?

Image: Photocall Ireland

THE NEWS OF director Louis Lentin’s passing today was met with sadness in the arts world.

An important figure in television, film and theatre, the former Head of RTÉ Drama, is also remembered for the role he played in unveiling the cloak of secrecy around Ireland’s dark past.

His work opened a conversation on the residential institution abuse and broke the silence in which its victims suffered and had suffocated in for decades.

With his February 1996 documentary about the life of Christine Buckley, he revealed the extent of the atrocities that occurred at just one industrial school – Goldenbridge – but it moved the earth, creating an avalanche of information, testimonials and confessions.

Dear Daughter was the first television exposure of the horrific abuse of hundreds of children in Ireland’s industrial schools and it was Buckley’s courage to tell, retell and tell again her story that eventually pushed the truth onto the front pages and into television bulletins.

Days after RTÉ aired the docu-drama, Eddie Holt wrote in the Irish Times:

Dear Daughter, shown on RTE on Thursday night, was one of the most harrowing, but most important, home produced programmes of the year.
It was screened just when the Catholic clergy thought it was safe to get back into PR and at a time when stories about paedophile priests do not shock as they did even as recently as a year or two ago.

What the journalist did not know then, on 24 February 1996, was that the work was so important that it would lead to the society-altering Murphy and Ryan reports and, just over three years later, a full State apology by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to victims of clerical child abuse.

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“I think we were the enzyme to the start of the whole thing,” Lentin told the makers of a later documentary about the Magdalene Laundries.

It is difficult to know had Dear Daughter not been made, what would have happened. Would the victims be left to suffer on in silence?

Lentin said hearing Christine Buckley recall her childhood was the inspiration for making the programme.

“It was a very popular morning radio programme with Gay Byrne… I heard Christine speak in 1992,” he said. “The whole country was shocked by it. I was working on another production and my editor asked me if I wanted to make this film. I said of course I would.”

He said the film “brought into the open, the whole of the terrible events – psychological, physical and, perhaps even sexual abuse – that went on in these places”. 

It also allowed “so many people throughout the country that wanted to talk” to do so.

Dear Daughter worked with a number of survivors of Goldenbridge who agreed to appear in flashback scenes, doing the daily tasks of the school, which included making rosary beads for hours on end.

The documentary also outlined the beatings and the emotional abuse imparted on young children, known only by their given numbers.

Christine Buckley was number 89 in the Goldenbridge orphanage.

“Once I made contact with [other victims], in most cases, they willingly agreed to meet me,” continued Lentin.

“We often spoke on the phone for hours. I have no idea how many people I spoke with. They all, for the first time, somebody who wanted to and would listen to their stories.”

Commenting on the response to the programme, he said most people believed the stories and that himself and Buckley were on every current affairs show and every newspaper.

But what the pair wanted was an inquiry.

And with the publication of both the Ryan and Murphy reports, they were all eventually believed too.

Source: Axel Cooley/YouTube

Louis Lentin passed away today, aged 80. He is survived by his wife Ronit and children Alana and Miki.

Christine Buckley died earlier this year, on 11 March. She is survived by husband Donal and their children Darragh, Conor and Cliona.

First published 23 July, 9.30pm

Earlier: ‘Dear Daughter’ director Louis Lentin passes away

Read: “We are devastated”: Campaigner and abuse survivor Christine Buckley has died >

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