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.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Letterfrack Hearings - Dead Children





Q. Yes. Can I ask you to move on then to the next area which I went to discuss with you which are deaths in Letterfrack. I know the Christian Brothers have some things to say about suggestions surrounding deaths in Letterfrack. Maybe you would like to deal with that issue?
A. Okay. I just would like to come back after that to the quality of the relationship between the boys and the brothers and maybe we could do that.

Q. If you want to do that now?
A.
I think I maybe would do that now because I think it fits in. I am conscious that there have been over the last years since the apology of the Taoiseach a lot of complaints, 449 complaints about the experience of boys in Letterfrack. Prior to that, to the television programmes and to the apology of the Taoiseach, we had twelve complaints. Now, Professor Denis O'Sullivan in the late 60's asked permission to do his Ph.D. on the industrial school and its impact on children as a socialising agency. He applied to the Resident Manager who said you can come whenever you want. He used to turn up from around 1968 onwards, unannounced, and he would turn up and he would
interview boys, teachers and whoever he wanted to. He in terms of the relationship between the boys and the brothers he quotes various comments which you have there. I won't go to them all, but for instance he says:

"I have never spoken like friendly to a teacher before, it's hard to get used to. I hated teachers, all my mates did too. It's different here. If they saw me they would wonderwhat happened to me. They would probably think I had gone soft."

Another one said:

"Boys where I come from don't understand about Letterfrack, you have to act differently here. The worst part of life in Letterfrack is when you feel like doing a bunk andeveryone says 'to have sense, cop yourself on'."

The inter-Departmental visit in 1962, which was a significant visit, said:

"The boys seemed happy and not at all cowed and there appeared to be a good relationship between them and the brothers. The manager seems a sensible, humane man."

The visitation records where the brothers visited Letterfrack on an annual basis commented on the good natured quality of the boys and on the generalatmosphere of the place. One visitor said:

"The boys seemed to feel a happy freedom."

It is true that in the early 40's no such comments exist.

Q. Would you agree that it's also the case that there are a number of complaints of abuse against certain brothers in Letterfrack during that period you referred to?
A. I am. At the time there was no knowledge of those complaints, but I am aware of that. I am also aware that a lot of boys at the time were not aware that there was any problem with physical abuse or sexual abuse and we have Garda statements signed by boys who were in Letterfrack saying that at the time they were there they were not aware of any form of physical or sexual abuse.Just continuing with the visitor, he says:

"The four brothers in charge of the school are earnest and efficient and treat the boys with kindness and sympathy so that a cheerful happy atmosphere pervades the classrooms."

He talked about the boys being cheerful and bright. It says:

"The pupils are well taught and receive a very sympathetic treatment from all the brothers."

Q. I don't want to cut you short. I mean it's clear there are other quotes there which are positive and rather than going through them individually what you are saying to the Commission is that there were reports indicatinga good relationship between the brothers and the boys?
A. That's it. I think just highlighting the fact that these are contemporary comments at the time when the institution was there, that these were the reports of people who were living there at the time even though maybe subsequently the comments are quitenegative.

Q. Yes.
A. You want to go to deaths?

Q. Do you think when you are talking about contemporaneous reports, that back in let's say the 50's and 60's, if we take that period, if somebody was to make a complaint, whatever about
physical abuse, sexual abuse by a member of a religious order, how do you think that would have been received?

A. I think we will maybe wait until we deal with the allegations of abuse because what you have there is actual letters written by boys about sexual abuse that they experienced and the Resident Manager, certainly talking to two of them, one of whom is dead now, they were very insistent that a boy had free access to them at all times. In fact, what you see there is that
when abuse did take place, the recorded ones that we have, the boys were able to give the sort of complaint that they wanted, but I have no doubt that there were others who weren't.


Q. Okay. The impact of institutional care on children is another area of your submission. I think we can move on because I think that's a kind of ageneral thing which can be dealt with under the other headings?
A. Okay.

Q. We have already spoken of the impact of institutional care on brothers and their workload. Going back to the topic I was raising a moment ago on deaths in Letterfrack. First of all, could you give some information to the Commission on the number of deathsover a period and put them in historical context?
A. Okay. Well, between 1891 and 1956, 74 boys were interred in the cemetery of Letterfrack. Between roughly the same period 1896 and 1970, 26 other boys from the school died after being
discharged from Letterfrack to employment or sent home and were buried in cemeteries around the country. You are talking about 100 boys died in Letterfrack over the period of its existence. I think a particularly difficult time in Letterfrack was in 1918 when seven boys died within a period of seven days. This was a time when one source records the great flu as claiming 14,000 lives in a three month period in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Christian Brothers in their history of the institute refers to the impact of that experience where it said the boys were stunned but also numbed because of the many companions who had died at that time.


Q. I think that number that you referred to was an exceptional number in a short period --

A. Exactly.

Q. -- and related as you say to that great flu epidemic?
A. So generally in terms of deaths, you have in your appendix No. 7 details of the deaths in Letterfrack. You have there the name of the person, their date of birth, their date of death, the
cause of death and the details of their death. They go from pneumonia, TB, meningitis, cardiac failure, encephalitis, asphyxia due to drowning, one boy died while on holidays, epilepsy and an accident when the boy had been discharged. In a sense what we have here is quite a number of boys who died
but not a percentage higher than the normal rate of deaths that you would have in the country. There was a cemetery close to the brother's residence in Letterfrack with wooden crosses erected over the graves of the boys you died.


Q. You have given a description of the cemetery, I don't think it's necessary to go into that. There was something that happened in 2002 concerning that cemetery and allegations that boys had been secretly buried in unmarkedgraves. Would you like to deal with that issue?
A. Yes, I would. There were allegations in 2002 that residents had been secretly buried in unmarked graves both inside and outside the cemetery in Letterfrack. We found those allegations regrettable and we know that they are not true. A lot of members of the congregation, and particularly those who worked in Letterfrack, were very upset because of those unfounded complaints. Each of the 100 boys who died in the course of the 86 years during which Letterfrack was an industrial school died as a result of sicknesses or because of fatal accidents or illnesses. Those fatal accidents occurred when the boys were no longer in Letterfrack. There was a case that brought a lot of media attention in 2001 when a young boy died while he was on holiday in 1970. There was allegations in the media that he had died as a result of being struck. Because of the pressure the Garda held an Inquiry, the body was exhumed and it was examined and the postmortem states, and Iquote:

"There is no evidence that any violent act caused or contributed to his death."

Then there were a lot of allegations about the tragic death of a former pupil in Letterfrack where he died as a result of an accident?

Q.
Just before you move on to that, dealing with that postmortem report, it does postulate that perhaps that boy had died of a middle ear infection?
A. Correct.

Q.
"Which spread to the brain causing encephalitis or a cerebral abscess which, if untreated, would have led
to his death."
Then the following appears:
"This would have been painful and he would have complained of sore neck, earache and headaches."

Is there anything in the medical records to show that a boy was being treated for painful ...

A. I would have to check that from the medical record, I just haven't got that information here, but I would just have to check that. It could well be thatthere was, I don't know.

Q. It seems to suggest that the cause of death was clearly not related to a trauma, but was related to something which would have been quite painful andongoing for some time.

A. Yes. He was on holidays, whether it began whether he was on holidays, I am not sure.

Q. I see. Would you like to go on then?

A. The tragic death of a former pupil in Letterfrack. One of the newspaper articles said that his neck was broken in a farming accident and said this happened on the brother's farm. Then they talk about another death and how a short tempered Christian Brother shoved lads nearest to him, the whole group toppled on top of him and when the melee cleared John was crumpled dead at the foot of the stairs. Those are totally false. The Tuam Herald at the time in 1953 talked about the boy, who was a fine lad, who was killed almost instantaneously it says on Tuesday evening when a donkey and cart, which he was driving on the farm near Tuam, overturned and pinned him underneath. The brothers hadn't a farm in Tuam and obviously the boy had died away from Letterfrack. Similarly the other boy who had, according to the papers, been shoved by a Christian Brother, it
says that he passed away unexpectedly with feelings of deep regret away in the employment of a Mr. McGuinness. He passed away unexpectedly and he was buried in Letterfrack and an inquest was not considered necessary. In other words, he had suffered himself from infantile paralysis and died in his sleep. In fact there seems to have been a huge concern that boys were buried secretly, died, and there is no shred at all of truth in that.


Q. I think in September 2002 the News of the World claimed that a single headstone was erected in the dead of night in the cemetery and made somecomment about that?
A. It's untrue. I just haven't got the booklet here with me, you probably have it there -- oh, I have it here. In fact the situation was that in the early 60's, Hurricane Debbie I think it was, knocked a huge number of trees in the Letterfrack area and as a result a lot of the crosses were damaged and it was decided to erect in daylight the headstone. It was ordered from one of the monumental sculptors in Galway and it was erected in the normal fashion. There was no idea of anythingbeing done in any secretive way.

Q.
In the course of this article apparently it was claimed that 17 boys had died and were buried in irregular circumstances and that the dead boys were simply wrapped in blankets and dropped in lime which quickly dissolved their bodies, wiping out any tracethat they ever existed. Have you any comment on that?
A. It's absolutely untrue. They died at different periods. They would have been buried in coffins so the idea that 17 would be buried together who died at different times sounds ludicrous. Every boy who died there was buried in the normal Christian fashion. They were marked and when all the crosses were destroyed by either the wind or by invading cattle in the area or where it wasn't clearly identified where each boy's remains were, they erected this headstone. Now, what the paper did was they looked at the deaths as noted in the headstone and they did rather shoddy research and claimed all sorts of things that the deaths weren't registered which is not true. They just hadn't looked and done their research properly. Every death in Letterfrack is fully accounted for, death certificates are available, and where they were buried in most cases it is known. For those who were buried outside Letterfrack there may be one or twocases where ...( INTERJECTION)

Q. Did you inform the News of the World that they were misled?
A. We did.

Q. What did they do about it?
A. Nothing.

Q. I see. I think in an article on 22 September 2002?
A. Yes.

Q. I don't know if it's the same article, there was an exclusive that they published in the course of which they said: "That murdered gangster Martin 'The General' Cahill was sent there -- meaning Letterfrack -- as a lad and later put his shocking brutality down to what he learned from the brothers he called the 'Mad Monks.'" Is there any record in St. Joseph's Letterfrack that he was eversent there?
A. I am not sure there is. I would just have to check that, but my memory is that he wasn't there. I wouldn't be 100% sure of that.

Q. The author of this article that's attached to your submission states the records of the Christian Brothers do not show that Martin Cahill was ever apupil in St. Joseph's school Letterfrack?
A. Yes.

Q. You have nothing further to add?
A. No, that says it all.

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