Song for a Raggy Boy

Song for a Raggy Boy

DVD Cover for Song for a Raggy Boy
Directed by Aisling Walsh
Written by Aisling Walsh
Kevin Byron Murphy
based on the book by Patrick Galvin
Starring Aidan Quinn
Iain Glen
Marc Warren
Stuart Graham
Alan Devlin
Dudley Sutton
Release dates
  • 17 October 2003 (2003-10-17) (Ireland)
Running time
100 min.
Country Ireland
Language English

Song For a Raggy Boy is a 2003 Irish drama film directed by Aisling Walsh. It is based on the book of the same name by Patrick Galvin and is based on true events.


The film is set in 1939, on the brink of World War II, in the St. Judes Reformatory School, a ruthless Irish school for boys. Grey, gloomy and ruled by the sadistic Brother John (Iain Glen), the school prefers punishment to rehabilitation. But new lay teacher William Franklin (Aidan Quinn), fresh from the frontline of the Spanish Civil War, fights to liberate the boys from their oppressors.

Two young boys have key roles in the film. Patrick Delaney 743 (Chris Newman) arrives at the school aged 13 and a half. He, like all the boys, is allocated a number which the brothers use. Franklin, however, always uses the boys' names. Delaney is an attractive boy and he receives the unwelcome attentions of a pedophile brother, Brother Mac (Marc Warren), who molests and rapes the boy in the school toilets. The boy tells of his ordeal to a visiting priest in confession only to be told not to say a word to anyone. Word of Delaney's confession reaches Brother Mac who punishes the boy by forcing him under a cold shower naked, then giving him his clothes so they are also wet.

The other boy is Liam Mercier 636 (John Travers). Mercier is one of the few boys who can read and write, but is otherwise a hard case. Franklin befriends the boy and interests him in poetry, some of it written by communist sympathisers. Mercier and Franklin both challenge the authority of Brother John - Mercier by protesting at the vicious beating of two brothers on Christmas Day, and Franklin by stepping in and actually stopping the whipping. Brother John bides his time and, having tricked Mercier into coming out of class, beats him continuously in front of Brother Mac in the refectory. Franklin is eventually told by Brother Mac that Mercier is in the refectory after which Franklin discovers Mercier's dead body. He carries the corpse out of the room.

Livid, Franklin attacks Brother John, calling him a murderer. Brothers John and Mac are taken from the school by the Church authorities (not the Police). At Mercier's funeral Franklin tells the other boys that his death was murder, before kissing the coffin. Franklin decides he has to leave the school, but is persuaded to stay at the last minute by Delaney reciting a moving poem across the playground. Franklin drops his bags and, in a touching final scene, Delaney runs towards Franklin and jumps up to hug him while all the other boys gather round in love and affection for their saviour.


The film took over four years to make because of difficulties getting it started; some were casting problems, others to do with raising finance. One casting problem was finding the ideal boy to play Liam Mercier, who the director felt was vital to cast well. Eventually they auditioned John Travers, a boy from an Irish boxing club with no previous acting experience.

Aidan Quinn had been attached to the script for two and a half years before production. It was filmed on location in Co Cork and Co Kerry Ireland . It was an Irish/Danish/UK/Spanish Co-Production and was produced with the support of investment incentives for the Irish Film Industry provided by the Government of Ireland.

Main cast

The Boys


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