The following excerpt is taken from an article written by Declan Lynch in the Sunday Irish Independent dated: Dec 07 2003. It’s a real eye-opener to the ‘skulduggery’ that went on in the past in Ireland. The reason for my highlighting same here, is, not only because of the alleged dastardliness of contents therein… but, also because the man in the photo just so happens to have been the one and only Bart Bastible. He had been the infamous ‘lovely, lovely voice’ for the weekly RTE programme that broadcasted the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes. (Incidentally the Irish Sweeps as it was then known colloquially, continued on ’till well into the mid-eighties – until the birth of the National Lottery). Moreover too he was connected through marriage to my cousins from St. John’s Manor, Enniscorthy.
“By contrast, we learned from the latest in the Hidden History series that virtually every man, woman and child in Ireland was involved to some degree in the vast worldwide web of illegality that was the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes. But you wouldn’t take that seriously at all. I mean, you could probably work up a head of indignation here, pointing the finger at the hopelessly corrupt ways of old Ireland, as if we are all somehow more ethical these days, by a natural process of evolution. But ultimately you can only stand back and admire this one, because it had a grandeur, yes a Sweeping grandeur, that made it in the words of the Reader’s Digest, “the greatest bleeding heart racket in the world.”
The figures are far too big to get your head around even today, and maybe this was its genius. If everyone was guilty, who could point the finger? Yes, it operated illegally all over the world, but if the world insisted on having ridiculous laws banning lotteries, folks would find a way around that, as folks tend to do in times of prohibition.
You couldn’t hold back the tide of human nature, and frankly most humans could see little wrong in buying a ticket for the Sweep, especially when it actually built a few hospitals out of whatever was left over when the McGrath family had received its massive cut, not to mention the unintended bankrolling of various other worthy projects such as a mini-revival of the IRA for its 1939-40 season.
The latter was one of those unhappy accidents which occur when there are humungous quantities of loose cash sloshing around the Irish diaspora.
But the blind boys were no accident.
The blind boys were put on stage and directed towards the big drums, and there, under the stewardship of Eoin O’Duffy, who would later try his luck as Ireland’s very own fascist dictator, they would draw the winning tickets.
No indeed, they just happened to have have been from St. Joseph’s *school* that was in 2005 placed on the amended scheduled list of industrial *schools* that were investigated by the commission to inquire into institutional child abuse. How very subliminally convenient the ‘blind boys’ were for the job of picking out winning tickets. The boys must have felt so ‘special’ because they were taken away from the drudgery of every day life, to help the country out. So bloody typical of what was done to children in the past. They were being used by the country. It’s that plain and simple.
These were the heady, early days of the Sweep, before Mr Bart Bastible and his lovely, lovely voice. But it was still a pretty astonishing scene, the blind boys with their names plastered all over their jerseys, perhaps so that Eoin O’Duffy could bark their names if they got out of line.
And of course there was a practical side to this. It gave an appearance of openness and transparency 1930s-style, a signal that the actual drawing of the tickets at least was straight. Or maybe blind children were the only ones who were above suspicion when the heat was on.
Ah yes, it is rich in symbolism, this turning of the blind eye both literal and metaphorical. And this documentary was richly entertaining, a masterclass in national and international skulduggery.”
The un-uniformed man with glasses seated amongst high-ranking An Gardai Siochana members looks terribly like Bart Bastible.
Read the rest here.
THE year is 1930, and on the flickering black-and-white screen two blind boys are reaching into a giant metal drum to pull tickets from the deluge of entries in the inaugural Irish Sweepstakes. Around their necks, on large unwieldy placards, are their names – “Peter” and “Willie”. The boys, students at St Joseph’s School in Drumcondra, have been selected for a single purpose.
The sweepstake was established because there was a need for investment in hospitals and medical services and the public finances were unable to meet this expense at the time. As the population of Ireland was unable to raise sufficient funds, because of its low population, a significant amount of the funds were raised in the United Kingdom and United States; often among the emigrant Irish populations. The winner was determined based on the outcome of several horse races; amongst them, the Cambridgeshire, Derby and Grand National.
Yes – it seems that Bart Bastible’s job was a very lucrative one. As – according to our very own Gaybo (or uncle Gaybo as he was known affectionately to the Irish people) applications came in by the new-time for two assistant’vacancies. Not even the most successful broadcaster ever in Irish history got the job. I note that there is a young presenter by the name of Bastible currently reading the news. I often wonder if she has any connection to Bart, as it’s common knowledge that RTE is a very incestuous organisation. Not unlike politics in Ireland. Charles Mitchell who is mentioned below would have been a brother of owner of Mitchell’s rosary bead factory… who supplied the beads contract to Goldenbridge.
Can I tell you a story? About 187 years ago the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes had their own sponsored programme every night on Radio Eireann. When You Wish upon a Star introduced the voice of either Ian Priestley Mitchell or Bart Bastible.
They produced the show themselves in that small private house which you can see directly opposite the RDS in Ballsbridge – the Sweepstakes owned all that area. The little house contained a completely equipped recording studio and it was a full-time job to turn out six shows a week.
Bart Bastable was in charge, and some time in the mid-Fifties they advertised for an assistant for him. The Sweepstakes probably got two million applications for the job in Ballsbridge, of which mine was one. I got as far as an audition – but I didn’t get the job.
Val Joyce got it, because he had, and still has, the best voice of any of us – he doesn’t use it to its full potential because he’s too damn laidback, but it’s the best organ on the air, if you’ll pardon the expression. And I, like so many others, want it to stay on the air. Exactly where it is. Is anyone in Montrose listening?
I think the very elegant ‘lady’ notes must have lent considerably to the selling of the tickets.
I think the first place I stayed in for five years was funded by Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. I must check it out sometime.
Irish Hospital Sweepstakes parade through Dublin in late March 1935. Before every drawing, there was a parade through the city, with all of the tickets carried in the boxes you can see in this photo. A Flickr user placed this photo on Middle Abbey Street.
Wow, the elephant photo is just amazing.
I have certainly learned something about another aspect of Ireland’s past. It’s not good!
The scheme itself was ripe for corruption. One method describes what the operators called “plucking the chickens.” It worked like this: The draw took place on Tuesday for a race to be held on Saturday. As soon as a horse was drawn and the address of the person holding that ticket was known, a phone call was made to an agent in that city – New York, New Jersey, London, Toronto etc – and an offer was made to buy a fraction of the ticket. The offer would depend on the odds on that horse; it did not require great mathematical ability to work out a way of doing this to ensure an overall profit.
Read review by Frank O’Shea here.
There is a wealth of historical information covering the years from 1930-87 in The Irish Sweep by historian Marie Coleman. I will watch out for it in the library. I would love to know all about what really went on behind the scenes. I simply find it astonishing to think that an almost third-world country for the most most part of that time could have the sheer genius to be handing out prizes beyond the dreams of most Irish people.
Dr Marie Coleman is a lecturer in Irish history in the School of History and Anthropology at the Queen’s University of Belfast.
Read description here. Fascinating stuff.