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 5 A Brothers Life......


Q. Yes. You describe how the brothers had an extremely heavy workload?
A. Yes.

Q. What did you mean by that?
A. I think this is something that is very important to understand. Maybe it could be quite valuable to go through a day in the life of a brother in Letterfrack because I don't think we fully realise the burden of care that was on an individual brother working in Letterfrack. I refer you to an overhead which gives the weekday horarium. I will just add to that to complain what impact that had and that's on page 40 and it would be there on the overhead. It says there the weekdays, this is in 1956, the brothers themselves, the boys would have risen at 6:40. The brothers probably would have risen at 5:55 or 5:50. When they rose, they had morning prayer, they would have gone up to the monastery which was some distance away from the school, they would have had prayer and then they would have returned down to the school at 6:40 to get the young people up. When the boys had washed and dressed they would have gone down and the disciplinarian would have taken them then up to the church. At 7:10 they would have had morning prayers with the disciplinarian, guiding them and leading them. That was another role of the disciplinarian to guide them in prayer. Then there would have been mass at 7:30 followed by breakfast. Now at the breakfast the boys, in other words, would have left the chapel, they would have gone down with the disciplinarian to the dining room, which would have been just off the school yard. In the meantime the brothers themselves would have gone to the monastery and had their own breakfast. Following that the brothers, particularly the brothers who were in the school, would have gone quite quickly down to relieve the disciplinarian so he could have his breakfast. They would have then embarked on what's known as charges or chores where the boys cleaned and tidied the dormitories under supervision. Then the dormitories were locked and out of bounds for the rest of the day. There was sweeping and dusting of the dining room, chapel, sacristy and so on. These would be the sort of things that happened. Then there was an inspection of the boys by the Resident Manager at 9:00 prior to them going to school. Then the brothers would have thought in school from 9:00 or 9:15 until 2:00 with a break for a light collation at 11:15. So the brothers then would have taught, in other words, their time in school. Then in the
afternoons they would have taken some of the younger boys for knitting classes or seen that they did knitting classes and the older boys went to trades. There was a tea break and then the brothers took them
for games, band practice, music. Then they supervised the recreation at 5:45 and then at 6:15 they taught religion for half an hour. They had night prayers before supper. At supper then the brothers would have gone up to the monastery for their own tea while the disciplinarian would have supervised the supper with the kitchen brother. That was followed by recreation and then the boys would have gone to bed in or around 8:30. The night watchman would have arrived in or around 10:00. Effectively you could say that the brother dealing with the boys was up from 6:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night.

Q. Did those brothers get many holidays?
A. The only holidays that the brothers really got was during the summer month where they got a month. Effectively they were working seven days a week. The weekends were more difficult for them because they hadn't got the luxury of having a small group in school for four or five hours, they had instead the whole group which had to be supervised.

Q. Did the brothers rotate very often or did they stay in St. Joseph's in Letterfrack for many, many years?
A. The short answer is that they stayed for shorter periods rather than longer periods. I think I have in one of the ...(INTERJECTION)

Q. I don't think we need to go into the expressed details.
A. Generally speaking, a Resident Manager would have been there for six years. He would have been appointed for six years.

Q. The brothers?
A. The brothers would have been there, some of them were there for a long period, maybe up to 10/12 years, others were there for 2/3 years. I have a list of all the brothers and it would give you an indication. A lot of them I would say three or four years would have been the amount and some of them one and two years.

Q. Yes. When the brothers were there did they live in a confined environment, would they have had much in the way of privacy?
A. You see the brothers who were teaching in the school, who were mainly the young brothers, they were with the boys almost 24 hours a day; in other words, from 6:00 to 10:00 at night. They would have had very little free time during that period. They slept then in small bedrooms at the end of one of the dormitories. Often those rooms were very simple. There wasn't heating for a lot of the time. That was their place of living and then they went up to the house for a short period of recreation at night-time, but effectively speaking they were on the job seven days a week.

Q. Did they have anything in the way of luxuries, were they allowed smoke or were they allowed alcohol?
A. Well, brothers who were finally professed, that is who had spent nine years in the congregation and had made their final profession were allowed smoke if they wanted to. Brothers who are not finally professed were not allowed smoke generally. Some would have had alcohol, but certainly the primary professed brothers wouldn't have had. There was a film every week for the boys. The visitation report said about the young brothers, that they shouldn't watch the films.

Q. Yes.
A. It was quite a strict gime or an aesthetical regime.

Q. I think you refer to this later on in the submission at page 54. You say: "The brothers worked in Letterfrack at enormous cost to themselves. The work was hard, unrelenting and often unrewarded." You talk about the long days and you said: "Because of the intensity of the work load there was little time for the brothers to communicate at any decent level." Do you think looking back on it now that this fairly bleak regime you have described posed any dangers for the people under the care of the brothers?
A. Well, I have talked to brothers who worked there and particularly brothers who were sent to Letterfrack as fairly young brothers. I was talking to one two days before this hearing and he said they were happiest days that they had. The work was hard. It sounds strange but the work was hard but there was a good rapport generally among the brothers. They supported each other. The life was hard but they were used to that. Generally speaking the relationship between the boys and the brothers were good. That's not to say there weren't difficulties. Talking to a lot of brothers who worked in Letterfrack they found it quite a positive view. Looking back now they realised that the idea of working over 100 hours a week is not a balanced life work system.

Q. What did you mean precisely where you said there was very little time for the brothers to communicate at any decent level because of the intensity of the workload?
A. Basically what I am saying is that they hadn't that time to go for long walks together, to go to a film, to go for a meal outside the normal work. The normal child care now is 39 hours a week. Outside that a person has a life. Their total life was in the service of the young people.

Q. It was a very stressful life that you are describing?
A. Well, it was a very intensive life. I wouldn't say a lot of them could say that they were stressed. Some were stressed, but I would say it was very intensive. It wasn't the sort of balanced lifestyle that we would talk about today.

Q. Do you think the lifestyle you have described was conducive to some brothers at least being stressed?
A. I do. I think some brothers were stressed. I think some brothers found the going very tough, very difficult. I think that was the value of brothers being there for a short period, but a lot of brothers that I have talked to found it a marvellous experience and has helped them or did help them in their normal work in school following their time in Letterfrack.

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