• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

Boy 11963 by John Cameron (with Kathryn Rogers)

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Memoir

By Swirl and Thread

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‘Boy 11963 is a memoir for our times. A unique story of survival against all odds’ – Ciara Considine, Hachette Ireland

Boy 11963 by John Cameron is published with Hachette Ireland and is described as ‘a unique account of overcoming almost insurmountable obstacles to find out who you truly are’. I knew reading this book would have an impact on me as I would be transported back to an Ireland I barely recognise from the country I grew up in. I was a 1970s child, born into a loving family. The world of the industrial schools and the Magdalene Laundries never featured in my life until recent years when secrets were finally revealed and the true horror of what went on in many of these institutions was finally brought to light. John Cameron was born an innocent in all of this, a swaddling baby needing the same love and affection all human beings crave. But John Cameron’s story was not like that. At five months old the course of his life changed forever as he was handed over to the State for his care.

‘Truth telling and truth recovery have seldom been as heart-breaking or necessary as in this powerful story of human vulnerability and failure – and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.’ – JOE DUFFY

Care is defined as ‘the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.’ John Cameron never experienced care. At three years of age he was fostered out to a family incapable of looking after him. Sleeping on straw in an outhouse and set to doing chores that no child should be forced to do, John Cameron’s early years were very bleak. But he did not know any better. John Cameron did have one guardian angel in his life, a local woman, a neighbour, who saw something in this young boy and gave him some much wanted attention when the rare opportunity arose.

One day a big black car pulled up at the door and took John Cameron to Artane, an industrial school that was initially intended for troubled young boys, but became the home of many others when no-one else wanted them. John was frightened and had been given no advanced warning that his life was about to get even worse. Alone and scared, John, now known as Boy 11963, obeyed the very structured and fierce rules of the Brothers who ran Artane, these men with a cruel fist. John was to witness, and experience, traumatic events that remain with him to this day. It is a difficult chapter of his life to read with descriptions that shock and revile, leaving a very real and lingering sense of sorrow behind.

“He was almost grateful when he heard anguished cries because whatever was happening was happening to someone else. The bogeyman was real, and Johnny feared him every night of his life in Artane.”

John Cameron eventually walked out of Artane on Wednesday, 26th September 1951, aged sixteen and never ever looked back. With a determination that belied his upbringing, he had a strength to move on that would see him marry, have children and become a school teacher. But there was always something nagging John. As much as he wanted and needed to move forward with his life he felt a strong need to uncover his history. He had no known relative and knew very little of his beginnings in life so, with his wonderful wife Treasa by his side, they began the search. What they discovered over the years was a tangled web of lies, drama and courtroom shenanigans that shocked a nation.

Boy 11963 is an inconceivable story for many of us who live in such a very different society today. It will shock, sadden and upset many readers as one cannot but visualise the hardship and pain experienced by this man. Now in his eighties, John Cameron, with the encouragement of his incredibly supportive family, has written this inspirational tale of a life forever scarred but certainly not beaten.

Boy 11963 is a tragic story but yet John Cameron, with such fortitude, overcame his very harrowing beginnings and triumphed. He won his life back and went on to achieve success in many areas of his life. John Cameron is an inspiration, a man who shines a light in the darkness, a man whose story will touch the lives of many and bring hope to others.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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