Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Letterfrack Hearings 4 Social & Educational Organisation


Q. Can we move to the next part of the submission, part 2, which deals with the social and educational organisation of St. Joseph's in Letterfrack. Some of this we have touched on already. You refer to the fact that many of the complaints coming to the Commission refer to the inadequate provision of care. Do you have a view or does the congregation have a view as to whether these complaints are reasonable or not?
A. Well, what we would say is that they give the impression of conditions of primitive housing, feeding and clothing and we would not accept that. We believe that they are exaggerated and inaccurate and really do not reflect the reality that pertained in Letterfrack over the years. Maybe it might be useful to look at the sort of provision of care that the congregation provided.

Q. Yes. Well, you set out the facilities in the institution and you deal with the dormitories, there were two dormitories, I think. I don't think any specific issue today concerns us about that?
A. That's fine.

Q. There were washroom areas. Again, we can move on from that. There was an issue about toilets which I will come back to. In the dormitory at night-time there was a night watchman?
A. That's right. At times there was a difficulty where the watchman could be irregular in fulfilling his duty.

Q. Would the brother take over?
A. Where the brother took over, yes.

Q. Each boy had his own bed and the bed linen was changed regularly. What do you mean by that?
A. It was normally changed either weekly or fortnightly so it would have been probably fortnightly. I have talked to various people, some say weekly; some say fortnightly. There was one incident where the visitor from Dublin coming over and examined the linen, bed linen, and discovered that for the period prior to his arrival it hadn't been changed for six weeks and he expressed great concern that that was the case and that that should be allowed happen, but the normal thing, talking to the Resident Manager, the most recent Resident Manager of Letterfrack he would say that it was normally weekly, sometimes
fortnightly.

Q. Yes. You talk about the toilets being on the northern side of the playground. There are issues surrounding the toilets which we can come back to. Well, maybe we can deal with it here. There was always an inadequate supply of toilets there?
A. What you had was a series of outdoor toilets in the north side of the school yard. I think they were adequate for the group that were there in terms of number. There were serious need for improving them and quite a number of visitation reports highlight that and eventually the Department agreed to fund that improvement. There was a question about toilets in the dormitories. In the dormitories you had St. Patrick's and St. Michael's dormitories and there were two toilets on the junction of those two dormitories and in St. Joseph's dormitory there was one. One of the brothers working there explained the fact that when children were out of their bedrooms the dormitories were not accessible to the children. The toilet facilities that were used during the day were the outside toilets, as in most primary schools at the time. I wondered about the fact that there were only two or three toilets upstairs at night-time. He explained the fact that prior to going to bed, when the boys lined up to count to ensure that they were all there, they all went to the toilet before going to the dormitories. In fact the need for toilet facilities wasn't the same need. Having said that in visitation reports it was commented on a number of occasions that there was need for improvement of the toilets in the dormitories.

Q. Then you deal with showers. Showers were taken on Saturday mornings for the younger children and Saturday afternoons for the older boys?
A. That's correct.

Q. The Resident Manager supervised the shower and you say that silence was required during the showers?
A. Yes.

Q. The showers were hot initially and then cold water was introduced to close the pores and prevent boys getting cold. I think you are probably aware there is an issue?
A. There is.

Q. We will discuss that later on under the heading of physical abuse, but there was an issue about the showers being either very hot or very cold?
A. Well, all I would say to that, and I suppose that's why I included it there, there are a number of issues. I think the showers -- many people in terms of taking showers will conclude with a cold shower, or some will anyway. I think the boys may not have understood that. I think they saw it as a form of torture that heating was turned up hot and then cold. I think it's simply a matter of the fact that showers were provided, they were hot and they were turned to cold. Sometimes, as we all know in showers, adjustments in shower knobs is not as smooth and as modern as it is today.

Q. Are you aware that one of the issues which appears with some frequency is that boys were often whipped or beaten back into the showers when they were trying to get out of them because they were either too hot or too cold?
A. Having talked to people who worked there that would be refuted. What we would be saying was that the boys were led to the showers, showers were given and they were then sent up to the dormitory where they got their new clothes or change of clothes. I am aware that there is that allegation that people were punished for jumping out of showers.

Q. Yes.
A. We have no indication that that was the case.

Q. I think it was more than that. It wasn't punished after the event, it was being punished to whip them back into the showers, but I will deal with that later. I think that is an issue that you are probably aware of. You talk about the role of silence and that this was for good order and discipline?
A. Yes, I think the reason I put it there was because I think in the Cussen Report they felt that the role of silence as a disciplinary measure was not advisable, but I think anyone teaching in a school over the 40's, 50's and 60's would have seen children lining up in the yard and prior to going into classroom quietening down and moving into the classroom. It's for safety and often the case at different times of the life of the institution. For instance when the children went to bed so that there could be a chance of children eventually sleeping and so on, there was silence where they could read books, listen to the radio but it was done in silence.

Q. Was there supposed to be silence in the refectory?
A. There are a number of allegations where silence was imposed for a long period in the 40's. My understanding is that there wasn't normally silence in the refectory, but the particular brother involved, there were serious complaints about him, and eventually he was dismissed from the Congregation.

Q. I will be dealing with that later. So far as you are aware there was no general rule of silence in the refectories?
A. No.

Q. There was a playground there which was enclosed, I think, on three sides by two wings of the main building and the toilet block. You describe that?
A. Yes.

Q. There would have been drill, marching and games played there?
A. That's correct.

Q. On the issue of procedures and discipline, which I will be coming back to, there was a brother in charge of discipline; is that right?
A. Yes, the discipline and order was maintained in the playground by the disciplinarian. The disciplinarian would have done many things, but that was one of his roles. He supervised the playground which allowed the other staff a break and at the end of the play period the boys lined up in silence for inspection and an orderly return to the classrooms. The disciplinarian was there. He was often a teacher himself, but that was one of the additional roles that he had.

Q. Would there be boys chosen to supervise other boys?
A. Yes, there was a monitor system particularly in the dining room area where some monitors would have distributed the food and would have ensured the cleaning up after the food. Also in work practice sometimes there were monitors to help in discipline.

Blog Archive