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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Letterfrack Hearings 6 Medical Experiments


Q. I see. You go then in the submission to deal with admissions and we have talked about this already, the type of boys who were admitted. You say: "When boys were admitted they were given a meal, a shower and a change of clothes. The change of clothes was necessary for many boys arrived in poor clothing." What about boys if they arrived in good clothes, were they allowed keep those clothes?
A. To be honest I don't know. I would imagine so. I know is that a lot of them who arrived would have arrived in pretty bad shape.

Q. Yes. They were seen by a resident nurse and they were weighed, I think, and their height and weight was entered in a medical chart?
A. That's right. The whole admission of children was done in a very orderly fashion. It was a system that was in place. The Resident Manager would have received a phone call the previous day before the child appeared in court and the Garda would have asked was the Resident Manager prepared to take the child. Then following the court hearing the boy was escorted by the Garda in plain clothes by taxi from Galway. Then the Detention Order was handed over and the pupil became the responsibility of the school authorities.

Q. Would the brothers be given much information about the boy or his background?
A. Yes, there was a form, form A, where details of the background of the child was handed to the Resident Manager and he was asked to return it so he wasn't given a copy. Very meticulous notes were taken by one of the brothers and they would have been noted down in a book so they would have some information about the background of the boys. I think it's worth highlighting the work of Denis O'Sullivan who did the Ph.D. research in the Irish Industrial School and he when he talked to the boys, one of the things they were quite impressed was the fact that brothers did not mention to them or ask them on arrival why were they coming to Letterfrack and they appreciated that. They were being treated as boys and not as criminals. I think it's an interesting impression that the boys had that they weren't asked why they were being brought to Letterfrack.

Q. Yes. You describe the routine, the daily routine and we have already seen something of that when you were illustrating the work of the brothers. I think it changed and became more updated as the decades went by so certain things were relaxed in the 70's?
A. Yes, in the 70's. In the 60's the Resident Managers began to wonder was it wise to be asking boys to be going to mass every day and they felt it wasn't really and that it would be better if they acted like normal Christians and went once a week.

Q. I think there were other improvements, there was television and there would have been more games facilities and so on, but they are fully set out there in page 41 and 42. Can we move on to the issue of the diet of the boys?
A. Yes. I would say the diet generally of Letterfrack was balanced and healthy. They got regular meals. I think, looking at the annual visitation reports, they were probably the most stringent and critical in ensuring that the dietary requirements were maintained. Obviously it depended to some extent on the ability and competence of the cook at the time. It is true that in 1939 one of the congregation visitors said that the boys did not appear well nourished?

Q. I think if we just put that up on the screen, a portion of that letter. It is stated near the top: "They are not getting sufficient bread, butter or milk, with the result that quite a number of them are delicate." Then further down, the next paragraph, it says: "If I am expected to be responsible for the conduct of the boys, it would be necessary that provision be made for the proper feeding of the boys and facilities be given to me for their entertainment, particularly during the long wet days." This was apparently signed by a Br. Langan?
A. Yes.

Q. Who is Br. Langan?
A. Br. Langan would have been one of the brothers who was working in Letterfrack. He would have been there from 1939 to 1941. He was commenting on the fact, this was war time, that resources were not very available and children were suffering so he wrote about that. As an immediate result of that they added to the cow herd to increase the supply of milk. Probably another worrying one was in 1940 when a former resident of Letterfrack was visiting Cabra and he was talking to one of the brothers and the brother was asking was he enjoying the food of Cabra and he said he was and he felt that the food in Letterfrack was such that he had to eat turnips in the fields. Now, the brother was very surprised at that and immediately wrote to the Provincial. I highlight that because it shows that brothers were not slow in bringing complaints before the leadership and ask the leadership to immediately act on it. In fact, the brother in charge of that kitchen at the time was unfortunately found to have been abusing children and was dismissed.

Q. I think just to turn to that letter of 9 June 1940. 109 In the course of it the author of the letter, which was a Br. McSweeney, he asked the boy: "Well, Matt, how do you like Cabra, better than Letterfrack? Oh, yes, Brother. Why do you like this place since all the boys are deaf? Because I get enough to eat. Surely you don't say that you did not get enough to eat in Letterfrack? He then said very shyly, 'you would be always hungry there, you would only get a wee bit of bread for lunch and we would eat the turnips or mangles when out on the farm'."
A. That's the one I am referring to. Whether he would eat mangles is another thing, but he certainly might have eaten the turnips. In the 40's there was still that concern about food. In 1941, you can see it's mainly in the 40's, the visitor complained that they were getting minced meat all the time and it was cold. There was a problem.

Q. Yes.
A. There was a problem with food there. The strange thing is that the school inspectors at the time who were visiting were saying that it was satisfactory. It just highlights the fact that their inspection were quite perfunctory. In 1953, again there was a call to improve things even though the judgment was fairly good was given. They were aware that there was need. From the 50's onwards generally it would be fair to say that food was much improved. If you look at page 45 you have the menu that they got in 1946: Breakfast, tea, bread, margarine, butter or dripping; lunch, bread and soup or milk for smaller boys; dinner, potatoes, meat, soup and vegetables. Fish took the place of meat on Wednesdays and Fridays; tea, bread, margarine and tea. Plus the fact that there was a bakery there and there were 160 loaves baked each day. The farm supplied the milk, potatoes, vegetables, meat and later eggs and poultry. By the end of the war time shortage the food continued to improve and in the 1950's the boys were getting a varied breakfast, German sausage three times a week and egg once a week and so on.

Q. Yes.
A. You will see that in 1956 the inspector for reformatory and industrial schools arrived and he said: "I found the boys a cheery lot and I gave them ample opportunity to complain about the food or discomfort and they all seemed quite happy." He did encourage a better variety in the diet at the same time and he notes the following year that the diet was varied. You will have there on page 46 then in the mid-60's the breakfast: Porridge, tea, bread, margarine, black pudding and sausages. Then for lunch: Tea, soup and milk. This would be the 11:00 break. Potatoes for lunch, meat and vegetables and desert. The meat was varied: Pork, beef, mutton and bacon. A lot of the mutton was got from the farm, beef too and pork. Foul were given on special occasions and weekly when available because there was a poultry farm set up. Tea: Bread, margarine, tea, cheese twice a week, black slab cake and so on. You can see that the menu in the 60's was fine. The inspector said that there was improved and better cooking facilities than there had been and in the 70's there was a different menu for each day of the week. It would be fair to say that the problem was in the early 40's. It's interesting to look in the 70's in the paper, "A Cause for Concern", a brother did some research where we examined the height and the weight of boys and that overhead may be available. You see there that a boy aged eight and a half to nine and a half, he had spent 10 months in the school and he had increased in height by two inches and 11.5 lbs. I skip then to 10 and a half years to 11 and a half years. In Letterfrack for 23 months and he had increased in height four and a half inches and put on 20 and a half lbs. I think it's just showing, unfortunately other than that little bit of research we don't have the medical cards where we would have in a place like Artane, they don't seem to have been kept, but the nurse would have measured and weighed the boys on a monthly basis to ensure that in fact they were getting enough food. I think it would be, with few exceptions, I would say the visitor's comments on food matters during the period are favourable in the 40's, towards the end of the 40's, the boys are well fed they said. The food is plentiful and suitable and varied. The boys appear well nourished in the 50's. In the 60's it said the meals are plentiful, wholesome, varied, well cooked and neatly served. Often the cook at the time, which would have been a brother, was commended for the standard of catering and also for the cleanliness of the dining room. Now, there are exceptions to that in the early 40's.

Q. Yes. Can we move on then to other issues. I don't think anything of significance arises on the issue of clothing. I think a lot of the clothes were made in the school, but there was an attempt that when they were out in public to ensure that they were properly dressed in good clothes and I don't think there is any issue that I want to explore?
A. No, I think it's interesting to note, I think it was the Tuairim Report.

Q. In 1966?
A.Yes, commented on the quality of the clothing and how the boys were well cared for and neatly dressed in bright casual clothes and so on, which showed that it wasn't just everyone being dressed in the same way with standard clothing. In fact, in some of the photographs you will have there ...(INTERJECTION)

Q. I was going to say that, there are photographs which are in the submission. The next section then deals with medical care and hygiene. We have dealt with a lot of the items there. On page 50 you mention that each year Dr. Anna McCabe the Medical Inspector of Industrial Schools would carry out a thorough examination of the premises and of the boys. She seems to have been pleased with the way the boys were kept and the medical files were kept. You then say that in 1960 the Superior expressed dissatisfaction with the state of the infirmary. I am just going to put that letter up there because there is something I want to ask you about in that. He says: "A few boys suffering from pneumonia were went to Clifden Hospital during the past few years due to the fact that our infirmary here are totally unsuitable for the reception of patients."
I think you say that action was taken immediately to try and deal with this problem?

A. Yes. I think one of the things with regard to the infirmary would be things like central heating, that there wasn't central heating generally in Letterfrack at that time in the infirmary so it was obviously needed. There would have been fires and so on there. The Superior was not happy with the state of the infirmary even though Dr. McCabe at the time would have expressed satisfaction generally with the conditions. I think it highlights really that the brothers wanted the best and were saying that in fact if children did have pneumonia that it wasn't a suitable place for them and I think it's to the ...

Q. Indeed the brother says further down, he says: "I cannot afford to take any risk where the health of the boys is concerned. " I want to ask you about the next sentence. He says: "I fear that at times Dr. -- and I am not going to mention the name, it's not Dr. McCabe, it's another doctor -- is too anxious to experiment on the pupils of this school. No parent would allow this." What did he mean by that?
A. I do not know.

Q. You have no idea?
A. I have no idea. I saw the letter and see the phrase. Talking to people who were there in Letterfrack at the time and who knew the doctor would commend him for his care of the children. They would say some things about his own life and his own private life, which isn't relevant, but there was no indication at all about that phrase and I just don't know what it means.

Q. Would you agree it conveys a definite anxiety on the part of the author of the letter. He says "no parent would allow this". It comes after the sentence, "I cannot afford to take any risk where the health of the boys is concerned."
A. Yes, it's a mysterious phrase, it's a worrying phrase, but we do not know what it means. There is no other resources, no other contemporary documentation that would highlight what that concern was and talking to any of the brothers there doesn't seem to have been any concern expressed.

Q. I see. The next issue you deal with is bedwetting. I think in common with other institutions this was a problem which was there but you state that no living brother who was in Letterfrack in the period under review recalls that there was ever any punishment meted out to a boy for bedwetting?
A. Yes, that's true. We couldn't say that of all our institutions. I think there have been cases which are documented where there may have been some boys punished for bedwetting, but certainly talking about brothers in Letterfrack there has been no brother who said that he saw or heard of any punishment. You referred to another document, the "Cause for Concern" that I mentioned and I am aware in that something was said about a boy being asked to clean his sheets in the sink. I would say that's highly unlikely. I would question it very much. Sorry, it's not in that, it's in another document.

Q. I see. Another document by the same person?
A. Yes.

Q. I see, yes.
A. I would highly question it because there were very good washing facilities in Letterfrack and I have talked to a boy who took care of the mattresses when they were the subject of bedwetting and they took great care of the mattresses to ensure that they were perfectly dry and suitable for the boy the next day. In fact there was a lot of care taken to boys who had that problem of bedwetting.

Q. I think the author of that document "Cause for Concern" in a statement made to the Garda did say: "That bedwetters would be humiliated by being singled out and verbally abused in front of other boys and were made to wash and dry their own sheets." Before you answer that I have to say that the same person in another statement or article he wrote said that he was never aware of boys being punished?
A. That's right. I mean there is a lot of problems with that first document and the reason/motivation for it, but I don't think we need to go into that publically. With regard to bedwetting I would say most of the problem with the boys on bedwetting was from their peers. It was a difficult thing for a boy to be seen to have wet the bed by his peers and I would say if any sort of shame was heaped on the head of boys it probably was from their peers, which would be a fairly natural thing in a school or boarding school setting.

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