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Danny Ellis

The story of Danny Ellis

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Danny Ellis

“Some of the Brothers were good, almost saintly,” Danny admits. “But others had no control over their emotions. Corporal punishment was their release. They all carried a leather strap and had full permission to use it.”

The abuse wasn’t just physical (or in some cases, sexual). There were quieter acts of cruelty.

When Danny was leaving the school at age 16, he discovered that his twin brothers had been in Artane for the previous two years. 

“Nobody had told me and I hadn’t recognized them because I’d last seen them as babies,” he says. “It was too late by then because all I wanted to do was leave. I didn’t want to have contact with family or depend on anyone.”

Nor did he stay in touch with his classmates. Many were so damaged by their time in Artane that they sank into a life of alcoholism, or homelessness and, in some cases, committed suicide.

“I was lucky,” says Danny. “I had music. I found it hard to fit into society but music made it easier. I don’t know what I’d have done if I hadn’t had it.”

His performances with the Artane Boys’ Band brought Danny to the attention of some of the show bands that were popular in Ireland in the early 1960s. The Boyne Valley Stompers offered him a job when he left school.

“Soon after I left in 1963, I was playing ‘Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey’ as loud as my 16-year-old lungs would let me,” says Danny.

He played with many show bands over the next ten years, including the Miami Show Band with Dickie Rock. He wrote the first original record by an Irish show band – “A Knock on the Door” performed by The Air Chords. He even had a record in the Irish top ten.

“The money was good and I loved the life,” recalls Danny. “There must have been 200 dance halls in Ireland and I played every one of them.”

In 1973, after ten years on the road, it was time for a change. Danny left for England and so began a time of introspection. “The trauma was beginning to surface,” he says. “I had a short fuse, a long face and a hundred emotions I’d never faced. I found it hard to have relationships with women as I hadn’t even seen any in Artane. All I knew was that there was something very wrong inside.”

He tried meditating as a means of self help. All it did was touch the surface of his pain.

The years went by and he continued to play and write music. He met and married an American called Liz and moved to America with her in 1989.

Danny was still haunted by his past. “One night I was playing music at home, winding down after a gig,” he says. “I started to fool around with chords and melodies that were sad and desolate. Out came the words, all at once, of the first verse of ‘800 Voices,’ my CD’s title track.

“800 voices echo/ across the grey playground/Shouts of fights and God knows what/ I can still hear that sound/With their hobnail boots and rough tweeds/ angry seas of brown and green/The toughest God-forsaken bunch that I had ever seen.”

Danny was taken aback by the rawness of the lyrics. After years of denial, he was suddenly overwhelmed by loneliness, anguish and hurt – feelings he had never allowed himself to experience as a child.

His wife encouraged him to continue. Over the course of five years, he wrote 24 songs about his life in Artane. 

“Writing the songs was a strange experience,” he says. “I started to discover the eight-year-old child inside me and the loneliness and the terror he had felt. Each song felt like I was tapping into that eight-year-old waiting for his mother. Each song felt like it gave him more strength.”

Sixteen of these songs are now recorded on Danny’s album and he has been pleased by the response so far. 

“I’ve been contacted by lads from Artane and other boarding schools who’ve had similar experiences,” he says. “I hope my music can play some part in helping them face up to what happened to them and start some kind of healing.”

The CD reunited him with Tommy Bonner, the boy whose singing made him cry all those years ago. “His son heard the song on the Internet and brought his dad along to a concert I gave in London,” says Danny. “It was the first time we’d seen each other in 50 years.”

Even luminaries such as Bill Whelan have been affected by Danny’s music. “He told me there’s a universal core of feeling in my songs that everyone can understand,” says Danny, proudly.

Danny has also been reunited with his siblings over the years. His two sisters live in America and he sees them often. His twin brothers live in Ireland and he hopes to see them in September.

It will be his first trip to Ireland in a long time and he plans to perform his music while he’s there. In the wake of the Ryan Report, he believes he has an important message:

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