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.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
The things I remember from those places, what stands out now from the distances of time are the ludicrous things. Does anyone remember getting Epson Salts? Remember how they used to give it to every inmate of the Institution, never individually? And then how much everyone spent the next few days running backwards and forwards to the toilets!
Even the application of Iodine was administered "globally" so to speak. If anyone had nits in their hair everyone had their head shaved by the nuns or if an outbreak of scabies happened - an outbreak of scabies in one of those places would be two boys scratching - everyone would be stripped naked and calamine lotion (I think) would be painted all over our bodies.
Even the process of writing to your relatives was ludicrous. We were all seated in the classroom and the Brother would write onto the blackboard a generic letter:
Dear Mammy and Daddy,
I hope you are fine and in the best of health as I am T.G. The
weather here is not too bad.
This week I learned three new prayers and one new hymn. I took
part in a Feis and in the Irish dancing I was praised. Next week
we are visiting Mooncoin for another Feis.
I am doing very well at my lessons and I am behaving myself.
I close now with best wishes to you.
Your ever loving son
Of course it didn't matter at all whether you had, or even knew, a Mum or Dad. In my case I had no memory of my parents yet I had to write this absolutely meaningless letter every month. In fact the process of writing these letters only compounded the loneliness I felt as I no one to write to and I wasn't allowed to write to my brother or sister who were in ....other places themselves .
But most of us had to endure these things. Eventually the Powers-that-be "alloted" children like me to people on the outside, members of the Catholic God-Parents Guild, who we could be pen-pals with. Yet, and this is the really ludicrous thing about it all, we STILL had to write that SAME generic letter to our pen-pals, even the opening and closing of the letter had to be exactly like the Brother had written on the blackboard.
So I was writing to pen-pals as "Dear Mammy and Daddy" and signing off on the letter as: "Your ever loving son" .... !!! How LUDICROUS was THAT?
Naturally in my life I've always been able to see ludicrousness in everyday situations and I've been able to have a good laugh at apparently serious situations. In a way I find most of life to be almost like a Monty Python Sketch! And, on the reverse of that, I've been able to see the serious side in very funny situations. As an example I find the Dead Parrot sketch in Monty Python as a serious lesson in assertiveness.
But the letters I had to write in those places, letters to imaginary parents and signing off as an imaginary son,ALWAYS did make me wish I did have a Mammy and Daddy to write letters to. I used to make up letters in my mind to them asking them to come and take me away from where I was. Eventually I would actually put my letter onto paper with all my thoughts and wishes and carefully hide the letter in a hole in the wall of the yard. I must have placed a few dozen letters into that hole. I used to check to see if the letters were taken but they never were.
And well into my adult life I returned to THAT place and found they'd demolished it completely, my letters and all.
I've alway wondered if my letters were ever found amongst the debris.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
|Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Every child in industrial schools "tried to run away, or ran away at some stage", a former school manager told the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse yesterday. Father Joe O'Reilly, provincial of the Rosminian congregation and a former manager at St Joseph's industrial school at Ferryhouse, near Clonmel, told the commission's investigation committee that "absconding had always been an issue in every industrial school, in every school to some degree... In my experience every child tried to run away, or ran away at some stage." Boys did so to escape abuse, or because of excessive punishment, being misunderstood, being lonely and homesick, bullying, resentment at being in the school, as a lark, or as a challenge to the system, he said. |
Absconding had a "very unsettling effect" and there were times when staff were "truly in danger of losing control of the place". At one time they considered closing down the school for a time, such was the problem. Boys who ran away were "almost universally caught", or returned themselves. Punishment mainly involved "the strap". Boys had their heads shaved for a time, but this was stopped by the school manager. Bed-wetting was an issue "then as now", involving between 20 to 30 per cent of boys. A section of dormitory was reserved for such boys, known as "the sailors' dorm". Other boys resented sleeping near that dormitory and ridiculed colleagues with the bed-wetting problem. He agreed bed-wetting had been treated by school authorities as a discipline problem, for which boys were punished.
He had heard such boys had been made carry wet mattresses on their heads, but believed this was as they brought mattresses to be dried. Drying sheets was "a big issue", with the limited facilities. Previously Father O'Reilly told the committee that on opening, St Joseph's had a licence to accommodate 150 boys. The vast majority stayed six years, before leaving at 16. However, from the 1930s numbers exceeded that, and were over 200 in the 1960s. At any time there were approximately 10 staff, about half of them priests and half of them brothers, with two prefects responsible for keeping discipline. These slept in a room off each of two dormitories. In addition there were four or five lay teachers in the school. Today at St Joseph's 36 boys are cared for by about 60 care workers with an additional 30 staff in auxiliary roles, he said.
The "vast majority" of boys in the school had committed no offence. In 1950, of 182 boys there, just four were sentenced for breaking the law. He felt admission to the school must have been " an absolutely terrifying experience" for "a frightened, trembling child", arriving in the school's dark corridor, usually accompanied by a Garda, to be then "despatched to the main yard where they encountered a huge number of children". About half of the boys came from Dublin, with the rest mainly from Limerick, Cork, Waterford, and Tralee.
Most staff, many with little education and none with training in child care, were from rural backgrounds. "Food was a constant issue," he said, with its quantity and quality remaining a problem until the late 60s. "Most children were hungry in any school in the country at the time." He said the capitation system, whereby schools were paid grants per boy, forced managers to have greater rather than a lesser numbers, and when these dropped it was raised with the Department of Education and with politicians, he said.
Patsy McGarry Irish Times
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: The investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was told yesterday that a boy, prevented from attending Pope John Paul's Mass in Limerick in September 1979, was raped by the brother left in charge of him.
Father Patrick Pierce, manager in 1975-91 of St Joseph's Industrial School, Ferryhouse, Co Tipperary, told the committee the boy had not been allowed accompany his colleagues to the Pope's Mass as punishment for absconding. The brother who raped him had been a prefect at the school and volunteered to stay back with the boy.
Father Pierce, who was recalling that in November 1979 he first learned about the abuse of boys at St Joseph's by "Brother X", became upset while giving his evidence. "Little did we know we were living with an abuser," he said, and "in the very unit \ younger children would be better protected."
He recalled how that night he had left some staff home, as was the practice, when he decided to drive around to see whether there might be any sign of two boys who had absconded that day. They were from the south, and he headed in that direction. Six or seven miles farther on he found them. They had thumbed him for a lift.
They got in the car. He asked why they had run away. The boy in the front seat said they had been beaten up, and Father Pierce responded along the lines of "Pull the other one". He noticed the front-seat boy went silent, then broke down "and said Brother X was at him".
Father Pierce recalled "immediate impact". There was silence until they got back to the school. He took the boy to his office, cautioned him as to the seriousness of what he was saying, and they talked more. He suggested to Father Pierce that another boy could back up what he said.
The second boy was brought down from a dormitory. It was he who had been raped by Brother X while the rest attended the Pope's Mass in Limerick. Both boys "unfolded a most horrific story of what had been happening to them". They agreed to face X with their allegations.
Father Pierce interviewed X the next day. He denied the allegations at first, then, when told the boys were willing to confront him, backed down.
He was confined to his quarters and removed from the school the next day. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Dublin. Three weeks later he was returned to his own home and later was dismissed from the Rosminian congregation.
The Rosminians' Irish provincial at the time was closely involved in all decisions concerning the case. Father Pierce reported it to the Department of Education, informed X's local parish of what had occurred, as well as a judge at the Children's Court in Dublin which X had been known to attend regularly prior to his joining the Rosminians.
Gardaí were not told then. "I have to honestly say I didn't know about reporting to the gardaí. I probably should have," Father Pierce said.
However, when the Conference of Religious of Ireland issued guidelines on dealing with sex abuse cases in the early 1990s, he then reported the case to a Garda superintendent in Clonmel. X was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment, three suspended.
Father Pierce recalled that, although one of the boys said in court he had forgiven X, he (Father Pierce) still found this difficult. He had visited others in the prison where X is detained, "but I have never been able to bring myself to see him".
© The Irish Times
Scandal of our child care Institutions 1954
As sound bites go, it was a good one - Taoiseach and Minister for Education Eamon DeValera was getting his retaliation in first by condemning himself out of his own mouth. His comparison of parts of the Letterfrack in Galway to the worst cell in Kilmainham Jail was guaranteed to garner headlines.
However, the Minister's timing in issuing this certainly justified criticism of the Letterfrack child care facility was interesting. It immediately preceded the publication of the annual report of the inspector of Reformatories & Industrial Schools, which contains probably the most damning picture yet of an entire system in crisis.
As a result of Mr DeValera's colourful analogy, much attention given to the report centred around Letterfrack, where conditions are so indefensible there isn't even any point in making the attempt. The Minister, of course, has an answer to that: extra money has been allocated to eliminate, and anyway, the entire facility is being replaced in the near future.
What the Taoiseach and Minister might find considerably more difficult to deal with is the extraordinary picture painted by the inspector of Reformatories & Industrial Schools of chronic mismanagement and glaring maladministration in the area of child care, for which, of course, the Minister has ultimate responsibility.
Indicating the low priority accorded to the care of children, DeValera didn't even bother to issue a statement on the inspector's annual report. He showed no such reticence, however, when he announced additional (and much needed) investment in the area of the care of children in the Institutions.
Dr Anna McCabe is the new Medical Inspector of Reformatories & Industrial Schools, taking over from another doctor, who for years repeatedly and forcefully criticised the system. What Dr McCabe has done in her 550-page report for 1954 is to hone those criticisms into a list of headings, of which the majority - somewhat startlingly - do not relate to the need for additional funding.
Of her eight main problem areas, six relate directly to bad management. These are: lack of information management capabilities within the Institutions; lack of clinical governance systems; management deficiencies within the service; lack of accountability for failure to deliver proper child care services efficiently; resource mismanagement.
This conclusion is in stark contrast to what we hear from those managing our Institutions, namely the Religious Orders - that the problems all come down to lack of money. While it is certainly true, as the inspector points out, that the entire area has for decades been starved of funds, it is far from the full story.
Describing management capabilities as "primitive", Dr McCabe outlines the phenomenon of warring factions within different areas refusing to co-operate with each other or the Education Department. What she identifies as an "unhealthy defensiveness" and "isolationist" operate to neglect fundamentally what is of central importance in any quality child care service - the needs and priorities of those who use the service.
JOANNA (not her real name) is one of those who has used the service for almost a decade. She has no doubts about who is to blame for the way she was treated. "It's a draconian system. There's a clear divide between them and us, nuns and children. It's about power and how they have it all and, in my case, they spent years making me feel worthless and defective," she told me. "What the Institutions do is degrade you as a person. No one ever bothered to find out anything about me personally, or any reason why I was in detention. They labelled me as a 'useless child'".
What is described for Institution after Institution in the inspector's report is a model of child care which is dominated by the Resident Manager, with little or no input from anywhere else . Psychologists, social workers etc., are clearly regarded as marginal within the system. The priest or head nuns rules like Stalin.
While it is certainly true that lack of funding plays a significant role here, it is long past time that we began asking fundamental questions of Resident Managers about their largely unchallenged domination of a system which causes so much misery to so many children trapped within it.
Friday, July 22, 2005
DIED AS A YOUNG BOY
And on the second one
AGED 4 YEARS
Bernard cannot be in both graves - and trying to elicit information from gibbo's gang is a waste of time as their figures change - and keep changing.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
.... A TRAINING COLLEGE ??? - TRAINING FOR WHAT CAN I ASK??? - HOW DO YOU TRAIN SOMEONE TO BE CELIBATE???? DO YOU JUST SAY:> STAY AWAY FROM WIMMIN - BUT LITTLE BOYS ARE ALRIGHT???
He later pursued higher studies in moral theology at the Angelicum in Rome. ..... MORAL THEOLOGY ????
A CATHOLIC PRIEST LEARNING MORALS; NOW THAT'S A TURNIP FOR THE BOOKS. I MEAN:> MORALS AND PRIESTS ARE CONTRADICTORY - NOW IF WE WERE TALKING ABOUT IMMORALITY AND THE PRIESTHOOD I COULD UNDERSTAND.
From 1973-74 he was Curate in St Brigid's Parish, Cabinteely. .... NOW DERMOT CAN YOU TELL US IF YOU EVER VISITED ANY OF THE FOLLOWING PLACES DURING YOUR TERM IN CABINTEELY:>
Carriglea Park Industrial School for Senior Boys, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Cottage Home, Tivoli Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Our Boy's Home, 95 Monkstown Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
St. Joseph's Orphanage, Tivoli Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
The Bird's Nest Home, 19 York Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.
AFTER ALL THESE PLACES ARE QUITE CLOSE TO CABINTEELY.
He entered the service of the Holy See in 1976 in the Pontifical Council for the Family. -
FOR THE FAMILY ??? - NOW WHAT DOES THAT MEAN, AND TO CONFUSE THINGS EVEN MORE THE MENTION OF HOLY SEE HAS ME STUMPED BUT BACK TO THE FAMILY NOW THIS IS AN INSTITUTION THAT THE catholic church WANTS TO HAVE LITTLE TO DO WITH, UNLESS IT CAN CONTROL ALL, YES ALL, ASPECTS OF THE FAMILY. THE CHEEK, THE ARROGANCE OF THE church ... IT CAN'T HAVE A SAY BECAUSE IT DISAVOWS THE FUNDAMENTALS OF FORMING A FAMILY.
In 1986 he was appointed Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and in 1994 Secretary of the same Pontifical Council.
JUSTICE AND PEACE !!! NOW THERE'S TWO THINGS THE church REALLY LOVES BLOWING ON ITS TRUMPET. BUT OUR EXPERIENCES OF JUSTICE AND PEACE FROM THE church ARE THE THINGS THE church WISHES TO BE SWEPT UNDER THE CARPET.
On 5th December 1998 he was appointed Titular Bishop of Glendalough and received episcopal ordination at the hands of Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Basilica on 6th January 1999. During his service at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Martin represented the Holy See at the major United Nations International Conferences on social questions held in the 1990's. SOCIAL QUESTIONS ???-IS THE church FOR REAL??-WHO GIVES THIS BODY OF "ORGANISED CELIBATES" THE RIGHT TO TALK OF SOCIAL QUESTIONS. IT TRIED TO MOULD THIS NATION INTO ITS OWN IMAGE - AND WE WERE THE VICTIMS OF ITS SOCIAL ENGINEERING.
He also took part in activities of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, especially on the theme of international debt and poverty reduction. ... TOOK PART IN ACTIVITIES .... BANCO AMBROSIANO RING A BELL WITH ANYONE?, OR HOW ABOUT 620 MILLION POUNDS BEING THE PROCEEDS OF ONE OF THE NAMED RELIGIOUS ORDERS? YES 620 MILLION POUNDS !!! NOW THAT WOULD CLEAR A LOT OF DEBT.
He spoke of the Church's Social Teaching at conferences organised by the Bishops Conferences of the United States, ... DID ANYONE AT THIS CONFERENCE MENTION THE BOSTON ABUSE SAGA??? Australia - THE HORRORS OF THE CHILD DETENTION CENTRES RUN BY THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS, WAS THAT MENTIONED IN AUSTRTALIA OR THE CHILD MIGRANTS??, Peru, Scotland, the Council of Latin American Episcopates (CELAM), the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), and the Commission of the Episcopates of the European Union (COMECE). He was a member of various Vatican Offices, including the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee Year 2000.
GOSH FOR A DUBLINER HE'S BEEN ALMOST EVERYWHERE!!! It was around this time that he became known as the man who presented 'Mr Bono' of U2 to the Pope. .... HI JOHN PAUL, THIS IS YER MAN, YOU KNOW THE SINGER WITH THAT POPULAR BEAT COMBO - U2 - BONO.... BONO??? NEVER HEARD OF HIM...
In March 2001 he was elevated (ELEVATED??? IS THIS WHERE THEY PUT THEMSELVES ABOVE THE DEMOCRATIC LAW??? ) to the rank of Archbishop.
ONWARDS AND EVER UPWARDS AND THEN HE GETS A JOB IN DUBLIN . . .
LIFE JUST ISN'T FAIR.
This Photographs was taken using a Kodak CX6200 Digital Camera - the picture was taken on September 18 2004 - This photograph is not part of a video made by people in Ferryhouse. Frames lifted from that video are available on another site and other photographs that I have worked on, including those depicted here, are also on that site without any acknowledgement to me and without any permission being sought from me from the scoundrel.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
In Woodstown we were allowed (sometimes) to be children. That said there was still a certain amount of regimentation even while we were in Woodstown ... but, all in all, the time we spent in Woodstown was mostly stress-free.
I used Photoshop to clean and enhance the photographs and I used a video-editor to create a photostory. I was going to add music but it would have made the file massive. One song mentioned as the background music was the old old song ... If I Could Choose ...
If anyone wants a copy of the video by email please send me a message - the file is nearly 3 megabytes and you will need Winamp or Windows Media Player to view it - I recommend Windows Media Player.
Much Appreciation to USOC for the Pictures ...
LINKS to photostory: .. http://www.zippyvideos.com/69686999642175.html
Friday, July 01, 2005
Q. Yes. Can we move on to the issue of physical abuse. You are aware, I am sure, that there have been a substantial number of claims by former pupils in Letterfrack of physical abuse?
Q. I think you concede at the bottom of page 87 of your submission that "assuredly there were lapses by individual brothers". You says: "The record shows that when a serious breach of standards occurred the matter was reported at the annual visitation when the congregation authority visited the institution."
Q. Can we just look at some of the complaints about abuse over the period of time. On 11 November 1940 there was a complaint in relation to a brother?
A. Yes, we are on page 90?
Q. Yes, at page 3 of that report.
Q. Apparently Br. X took a serious view of his responsibility as a disciplinarian, but for the reasons stated and other serious reasons I came to the conclusion after long deliberation that he was not a proper person for the position. This was from Br. McGrath?
A. Br. McGrath, yes.
Q. In fact, the other serious reason seems to be referred to on page 2 of that letter where he talks about a brother mentioning especially his visits to the boys ref between 12:00 and 2:00 when the same brother, this brother referred to on page 3, had no class work and, as the other brother put it, his talk sickened me. It's not very clear what he meant by that, but that seems to throw some light on the reference. Certainly he was complained of as a disciplinarian. Then there was a further note or letter from Br. McGrath saying: "I take the points underlined in my previous letter." The first item then is punishment. It's up on the screen there, but
it's probably not very convenient for you?
A. It's okay.
Q. It says: "Punishment. A stick is the general instrument used and even with this he goes beyond the rule. I have seen recently a boy with swollen hand, palm and thumb. The steward on [the] farm remarked he was not able to milk for some days. A boy was stripped and beaten in his -- he names the brother's room -- he has put boys across his bed in room and even in unbecoming postures to beat them behind. The boys are absolutely afraid to divulge who punished them and won't even answer questions truthfully through fear of being punished again. Only this week I caught two little fellows crying and I asked them what had happened. They would not tell me. Br. X was in charge at the time." That suggests that there was a serious situation with that brother?
A. There was.
Q. That boys were afraid to report matters. I know we are going back some time, but I am suggesting it indicates that, would you agree?
A. Yes, what it indicates is that this complaint which happened in 1940 was meted out to some boys and the community considered it as brutal. In fact, the event became known in the village and the community were divided over the incident with many disassociating themselves from the brutal treatment. So the Superior as you say wrote to the Provincial that this wasn't a proper person for discipline. So in terms of the boys, I would say that the boys were scared of the brother. Certainly he wasn't a suitable person to be involved with discipline.
Q. Do you think that was the same incident you referred to that gained notoriety in the village --
Q. -- or in the town rather. There is another letter from Br. McHugh. Who is Br. McHugh, it's in April 1945?
A. He was one of the brothers in the community at that time.
Q. To the Br. Consulter. In this he refers to a brother, it's actually a different brother?
A. It is a different brother, yes.
Q. "It came to my notice that he ill treated the boys with a piece of leather on two days." He went on in the course of a rather lengthy letter to describe how he punished a boy for carrying on immorally with other boys?
A. He alleged that, yes.
Q. That he alleged that. When this boy was interviewed he said that this had never happened, but suggested that they were so terrified that they confessed to something they hadn't done. The author of the letter refers to that and I think he even used the word torture on the last page of his letter. He said: "I believe what made the boys fall in with what he had wished to believe was his leading question, some of which should not be used and the dread of torture. Without being uncharitable he can inflict terrible punishment on children and the boys seem to have an awful dread of his anger."
A. That was obviously the case. I see the brother writing to the Provincial at the time was aware that this sort of behaviour shouldn't continue and was complaining about it and saying this brother should not be considered suitable for -- at the end of it he says, I don't have the quotation, but he basically says this person should be removed from Letterfrack. The tragedy is that he was actually sent to another institution. I cannot understand why that has happened.
Q. Yes. There is a letter dated 8 April 1940. This is written by a Br. Maher. Who was Br. Maher?
A. He was a member of the community at the time and he is referring to the incident.
Q. The first of the two incidents?
A. The first of the two incidents, yes. The community were quite upset over the incident and were writing to the authorities about it.
Q. He says in the course of this letter: "The instruments used and the punishments inflicted are now obsolete, even in criminal establishments, were it not for the frequency of the acts." This was pre 1954?
Q. There wouldn't have been as many boys there for criminal offences at that time; is that right?
Q. A lot of the boys there would be boys who would now be described as boys put into care?
Q. We have a brother talking about instruments used and punishments inflicted which were obsolete even in criminals establishments?
A. Yes. In the 1908 Act I think the instruments may have been a cane, a strap and I have forgotten what the other one is. My understanding is in those instances that it could have been a whip and obviously people were saying that is -- I think they may have been allowed in the turn of the century, but anything like that was considered totally against the ethos of the Christian Brothers. Hence the community were very determined to write to the Provincial and to complain about that sort of behaviour.
Q. There is a letter of 4 October 1943 to the Resident Manager from -- it appears to be the secretary or an inspector. It says: "The Minister for Education has before him a report of the Department's medical inspector and says the school appears to be well conducted. It appears, however, that she found one boy suffering from a black eye and was informed that it was a result of a blow from one of the brothers for talking in class." The minister looks for an explanation. The explanation appears to be written at the bottom: "The resident Manager regrets the occurrence indicated and he has no doubt that there shall not be a recurrence of this nature. The brother while remonstrating with his class happened accidentally to strike the boy, who stood behind him, with his elbow in the face."
Q. Does that seem to you like a plausible explanation?
A. It doesn't.
Q. Very good, I will go no further. Do you know who the Resident Manager would have been at that time?
A. Which year?
Q. That would have been 1943?
A. I do. It would have been Br. Murray.
Q. There is no signature there but it just says Resident Manager. There was a reference, you have mentioned a whip, but there was a mention of a horse whip used in one of the documents?
Q. Was it known to the Christian Brothers that whips were sometimes used?
A. No. From my understanding the normal way of corporal punishment in a school was done by a strap. That was the normal way that corporal punishment was administered in schools. The idea of a whip would be totally contrary to any recognised practice and hence the outrage when it happened.
Q. Yes. There was I think a protocol of punishments that were entitled to be used and there were directions from the Department of Education; is that right?
A. Yes. If I can just find it here. When dealing with corporal punishment the normal -- it's on page 90 -- section 54 of the Children's Act of 1908. It's quite measured where it talks about forfeiture of rewards and privileges, confinement in a light room or a lighted cell, moderate childish punishment and chastisement with a cane/strap or birch. That was the official permitted levels of punishment of children in the 1908 Act.
A. However, what we have described there go beyond that acceptable level of corporal punishment. Indeed I think it would be fair to say that most of the confinement in lighted rooms and chastisement for longer than two days would not be acceptable and was never acceptable to the brothers.
Q. I think that reference to the horse whipping was in May of 1940, it was the visitation report. In fairness it was an internal visitation report that the visiting brothers picked up?
A. It was.
Q. It would appear that some few of the boys were guilty of improper conduct and the Superior commissioned Brs. X and Y to punish them.
Q. They did so as the boys were returning using a horse whip rather freely?
A. Yes. That's Br. B on page 90.
Q. Yes. It says: "These two other brothers and the teachers witnessed the treatment from a distance and later in the community -- Brother so and so -- when reference was made to the chastisement characterised it as brutal". That's what you are saying?
Q. The two other brothers mentioned concurred with that description. That was the subject of gossip in the shops and in the villages?
Q. All of this I suggest would have been totally contrary to the punishment protocol set down by the Department of Education?
A. It would, yes.
Q. If we just take a brief look at some documents. This I think is a circular from the Department of Education that's up on the screen. It says in terms of discipline: "The manager or his deputy shall be authorised to punish the children detained in the school in case of misconduct. All serious misconduct and the punishments inflicted for it shall be entered in a book to be kept for that purpose which shall be laid before the inspector when he visits." That would have been a Punishment Book?
A. Punishment book, yes.
Q. Are there any Punishment Books for Letterfrack?
A. There are no Punishment Books, no.
Q. Why not?
A. My understanding is that they were, but they are no longer available, I don't know why.
Q. Are there many other types of documents missing?
A. No, there is very detailed documentation in Letterfrack, but there is no Punishment Book.
Q. Yes, it might interest you to know this is the second time at a public hearing we have had an institution where they have had a lot of documents but no Punishment Book. You have no idea what happened?
A. I haven't.
Q. Did they exist at one time?
A. My understanding is they did. If my memory serves me correctly when Professor Denis O'Sullivan visited in the late 60's there may have been one there, I am not sure, my memory isn't clear on that. They are not available now.
Q. Yes. The next document I would like you to look at is a circular to managers and teachers of national schools in regard to corporal punishment which is dated October 1956?
Q. Sorry, it's September 1956. It says in rule 96: "That corporal punishment should be administered only for grave transgression. In no circumstances should corporal punishment be administered for a mere failure at lessons."
Q. Would you accept that in Letterfrack sometimes punishment was administered for failure at lessons?
A. Well, I don't know, but I would imagine it could have been. I just refer you to our own congregation documents on page 88 which said: "It is clearly stated that corporal punishment was not to be used for failure at lessons or during religious instruction class."
A. Now, I would be inclined to think that that was breached on occasions.
Q. Yes. We know that one of the brothers who has been convicted made a statement to the Garda -- well, he made a number of statements -- and in the course of one of the statements, and the names, Chairman, have been taken out, in the course of this statement he refers to the fact that he was under pressure: "I was under pressure to have the lads in my class able to read. Half of my class including -- he names a boy -- were illiterate and in my anxiety to pass my exam I used excessive corporal punishment i.e. the use of a drumstick to try and teach the lads to read. In relation to this boy I would go to his dormitory at night to help him practice his reading. I would stand him in front of a window ledge with a book propped up against the glass. One of those books would have been "The Green Man in the Hat". I would also have one or two other lads standing there at the same time learning to read. I would have a drumstick with me and I would use this as a means of punishment if one of the lads got his reading wrong. I would hit them on the knuckles, hands and sometimes on the head, I regret to say." That I think would be clearly against the rules?
A. It would.
Q. In this document, which I had up a moment ago on the screen, which was October 1956, the circular to managers and teachers, in rule 96.3 it says: "Only a light cane, rod or leather strap may be used for the purpose of corporal punishment which should be inflicted only on the open hand. The boxing of children's ears, the pulling of their hair or similar ill treatment is absolutely forbidden and will be visited with severe penalties." This was something which was well known, I think it was regularly circulated, this type of document?
A. It would, yes. As I say our own documents and Acts of Chapter would reiterate that where they say: "Punishment authorised was the leather strap and punishment could only be administered on the hand."
Q. Yes. I want to just ask you about something at page 91 of the submission of the Christian Brothers. The last paragraph in that page says: "What is clear, however, is that the leadership in the Christian Brothers was available to the membership for legitimate complaints to be made and decisions were taken in the light of complaints. In the light of current understanding of the nature of abuse, some of the decisions cannot be considered as responsible. However, the knowledge of the nature of child abuse at the time was very elementary and was as previously stated limited to viewing abuse as a moral problem that could be involved by removing the person from what was known as the occasion of sin." Now, I don't know if that's intended to refer merely sexual abuse or any form of abuse?
A. I think it would be with reference to any form of abuse. Just to say that we would consider, the Christian Brothers would consider that physical abuse and sexual abuse are equally reprehensible.
Q. Indeed. Further up on page 91 you give examples of how brothers in the community weren't slow to complain to the authorities if excessive punishment was used. You refer to a brother writing to a Provincial in 1945 complaining about harsh discipline. He described a boy with a swollen cheek as a result of being punished and that brother was removed?
A. That's right.
Q. Do you think that in all cases the complaints of people were taken seriously whether they were made while the boys were there or subsequently?
A. Well, I think just from those individual cases there, one or two in the 40's, one in the 50's and one in the 60's, I think they were taken very seriously. They were brought to the authorities and they acted in response to those very serious claims. How they responded, I think if we judge it by today they will be seen as inadequate, but I think the positive side is that action was taken and a response was given and that brothers in the community, which probably wasn't an easy thing to do, and that was to complain their colleagues to the authorities. In fact, it created quite a bit of tension in some of the communities as you probably see in the documentation. It does show that the idea of good people standing by and not doing anything was not the case in these instances.
Q. Yes. Can I ask you do you know of a former pupil, he is now deceased, Mr. Tyrrell?
Q. He had written to complain about his time in Letterfrack?
A. That's correct.
Q. I just want to take you through some of the correspondence.
Q. He wrote a letter -- I don't know if it's dated?
A. It's 1953 or something.
Q. I think it may be around then. It is actually, you are quite correct, it's at the very end of the letter, August 16 1953. He said he was a boy in Letterfrack for about eight years from 1924 until 1932. He made specific complaints about certain brothers, but he does say on page two of his letter: "The brothers whose names have just been mentioned -- these were in page 1 -- were good and kind to the boys." It seems he wasn't somebody who was condemning all the brothers there, he was discriminating. He says: "I am sorry to say that the names I am about to mention were bad and cruel -- then he names three brothers. He says these men were a disgrace to the Christian Brothers." He says the brothers were tyrants and another brother who was the cook in the cook house and the refectory took great pleasure in beating boys for no: "He was a sadist. For beating us he used a piece of rubber motor tyre. Almost daily we were flogged by one or other of these brothers. Dozens of times I left the dining room with my hands bleeding. On one occasion I was beaten so badly by -- he names a brother -- that my nose was broken. After my nose was broken I couldn't breathe correctly -- he complained about that. On several occasions after a meal I was taken to the pantry, which was at the end of the refectory, by -- and he names a brother. He would lock the door and make me undress and then he described how he was made sit on a stool and he would be put over his knee and flogged savagely." There was further correspondence from Mr. Tyrrell, another letter on 18 August 1953 in which he said that it's difficult to believe that such brutal punishments could be inflicted and so on and he hopes at the end of this letter, he hopes that changes have been made and that boys are no longer cruelly treated. There is a letter of 27 March 1957 to Maxwell Weldon & Company, a firm of solicitors?
A. That's right.
Q. It's not clear who it is from, but it appears to be from the Christian Brothers: "Dear Mr. Maxwell, Many thanks for your letter of 26 March re: Ms. Kennedy etc. I will let you have a reply within a few days. This evening I had a "gentlemen" named Tyrrell, ex-British army, to see me. He said he was an ex-pupil of our industrial school in Letterfrack and that the doctors had said that all his troubles were due to the hardship he got whilst in Letterfrack. I took it that he was working on the blackmail ticket and after listening to him for some time I gave him your name and address as our solicitor. I know you will know how to deal with him if he approaches." What was all that about?
A. Well, I don't know.
Q. THE CHAIRPERSON: I think we can read that one as well as you can?
Q. MR. McGOVERN: It was fairly dismissive?
A. It was.
Q. If you could look at just one or two more documents in relation to this?
A. I think just with regard to those letters, he mentioned three brothers in the letter, if I remember correctly, two of whom were in Letterfrack and one of whom was not in Letterfrack. The two brothers who were in Letterfrack at the time were the two that are mentioned with serious complaints of abuse so there is no doubt that abuse took place by those two brothers.
Q. I think one of them had been mentioned as far as back as 1917 in correspondence?
A. That's correct.
Q. Had he been somewhere else in the meantime?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. McGovern, could you just stop for a second. Could we get the time reference. The letters, the handwritten letters from Mr. Tyrrell.
MR. McGOVERN: Yes.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Did they come before the letter to Mr. Maxwell?
MR. McGOVERN: They did, yes. Let me double check that. About four years before.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I am sorry, I should have been following.
MR. McGOVERN: I will go back and I will find it.
THE CHAIRPERSON: He is writing to Letterfrack; is that correct?
MR. McGOVERN: Yes. Let me just double check this, Chairman.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Is that right, Brother? Mr. Tyrrell is writing to Letterfrack saying that not everybody is bad but there are some people I am complaining about.
MR. McGOVERN: It is post marked 1953.
THE CHAIRPERSON: It does seem extraordinary that afterwards when he is still going on about it, obviously Mr. Tyrrell is still unhappy about it, that he is now being dismissed.
MR. McGOVERN: It is.
THE CHAIRPERSON: As I say we can all read the correspondence, it's unfair in one way to ask you to read it and tell us what you think it means because we won't pay any attention if we don't agree with you. I just wanted to clarify that letter comes after the sequence of correspondence?
MR. McGOVERN: Yes, Chairman. The first letter is August 16, 1953 and we have the post mark of 17 August 1953 on the envelope. The next letter is 18 August. Then the letter of 27 March 1957 is the letter from somebody unidentified to Mr. Maxwell, but he is referring to this gentleman calling to see him: "This evening I had a 'gentleman' named Tyrrell, ex-British Army, to see me." It's not referring to the correspondence but to --
A. -- to a visit.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I see. It may be that he didn't know what we now know which is that this had been the subject of correspondence. Who knows. We have to put those pieces of the jigsaw together to work it out.
Q. MR. McGOVERN: Indeed. There is a further letter of 13 April 1965, this is moving on now some years, which is up on the screen. It is from a Jesuit priest, Fr. Nash. It's to Reverend Brother Clancy, who is Br. Clancy?
A. He would have been the Superior General at the time.
Q. Yes: "The enclosed letter and documents reached me here this morning. I need hardly assure you that I do not accept these statements at their face value, but it is right at the same time that you should know what this man is saying. I was going to suggest that some responsible person should attend the meeting so as to be able to offer a reply." Then the correspondence is there and there is more correspondence from Mr. Tyrrell, it's a letter dated April 11, 1965, in the course of which he says: "That three brothers he named should have been hanged for their crimes against children." This was ongoing and then there is another document which is -- sorry, Chairman, bear with me.
THE CHAIRPERSON: No, no, take your time.
Q. MR. McGOVERN: "Memories of an Irish Boyhood, Letterfrack, 1925 to 1932" from Peter Tyrrell. We have this from the Christian Brother's discovery. He talks: "About how life became even before difficult in early 1927 when a certain brother took over the kitchen and the refectory. This brother, he said, forbade us to talk during meals for weeks or even months at a time. Any infringement of his rules were punished by blows on the head, face and back with a long piece of rubber cut from a motor type. When grace after meals was over there was a stampede to get out of the refectory as the last one was usually beaten. On Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. we were compelled to stand under the showers in the bathroom which were usually too hot or too cold while Br. X beat us on our naked bodies. That practice continued for five years." This was something I was referring to earlier. Do you have a comment to make about that?
A. About the showers, is it, or about the whole thing?
Q. About the showers.
A. About the showers. Just from my knowledge of the institution the brother that he refers to would not have been the person in charge of showers. The normal thing that took place in Letterfrack was that the Resident Manager and the teachers were involved in the administration of the showers. That's my understanding from the documentation. The Resident Manager would have been downstairs in charge of the showers and the two teachers would have been up in St. Joseph and St. Patrick's corridor and would have sent the boys down in groups of 20. In terms of person, at least my understanding is that it was highly unlikely that the person who was involved in the kitchen was the person who was going to supervise the showers. Having said that memories are distant and he would have been talking about 30 years previously so he may have mixed up names.
Q. Yes. I think Mr. Tyrrell had been a member of the Committee involved in drawing up the Tuairim Report?
Q. I think he had a sad end. He set himself alight in London?
Q. He died. When you look back at the correspondence and the meeting he had?
Q. Does that suggest anything to you?
A. I think it was a totally inadequate response. We have been dealing with allegations of abuse over the last 10 years and certainly one of the things we would always do is listen to the person who has the complaint and pay great attention to it. We would assure them that we would investigate it and we would look to see is there any voracity in it. I think there was certainly in the past, and say 10 years ago when the issue of child abuse came to the fore, there was general disbelief that this could happen. I think generally people were saying this couldn't happen in the brothers and I think there was general horror, disbelief, denial. I think with time we have discovered that it has happened in the past. Certainly the leadership of the time, it was probably one or two cases that they were dealing with and probably saw it, particularly when he was mentioning a brother who wasn't in Letterfrack amongst those three, they were probably holding on to that idea 'it's not all true, therefore can't any of it be true'. I think that was unfortunate.
Q. There was a statement made to the Garda by one of the two brothers convicted in more recent times. I am putting up the statement -- it's redacted, Chairman -- by one of the two brothers who said that he is a former member of the Christian Brothers Order. While we are on that topic, the other brother who was guilty of the more gross sexual abuse, is he still a member of the Christian Brothers?
A. He is.
Q. Will he remain so? 3
A. It's always a dilemma that we have when a brother transgresses seriously in the area of sexual abuse. Do we dismiss him from the congregation and leave him to go into society without any controls or do we keep him in the congregation and ensure that there is proper supervision of him. It's a thing that has been debated very much and there would be a lot of divergent thinking on it. Some people would say they should be immediately dismissed from the congregation.
Q. Earlier in your statement or submission you refer to the dismissal of a brother in the congregation as one of the satisfactory ways in which they were dealt with and there were other ways, when I was asking you why they were never reported to the Garda and you said internally they were dealt with in a number of different ways, one of which was dismissal?
Q. I am just wondering?
A. Well, I suppose there is a divergence of opinion there. Quite a number of brothers would feel that if a brother betrays the trust of the congregation he should be dismissed immediately. In a sense that's an easier thing to do. He is sent out and he is dismissed. There are other people who are saying 'if we just dismiss him and leave him out there, what can he do, is he free to misbehave'. We have this brother who is in jail at the moment and we have to make a decision when we comes out do we dismiss him. We may dismiss him, but we also have to look at seeing can we protect society from a person who is like that within the congregation as a service to society.
Q. Anyway I was digressing from the statement. He said: "I started in Letterfrack the same time -- he mentions other brothers. When we arrived in Letterfrack we were instructed how to impose discipline and keep control of the boys in the school -- then he names two brothers -- told us how to carry out the punishments. These punishments consisted of the following: Boys were made to run in a circle around the yard in total silence in an almost hypnotic state to the point of exhaustion. This was done wear them down mentally and physically. It was demonstrated on us on arrival so that we would know how to do it. I carried out this punishment myself and I saw it taking place on other occasions. While the boys were running, they would be kicked in the backside or beaten with a leather strap if they slowed down or fell behind. Another punishment was the placing of a chair in the middle of the yard and making a boy sit on it while the others were made to kick footballs at him. This could go on for half an hour or more. Another form of punishment was to make a boy sit or kneel in silence in the dining room during meal times. He would not be fed or spoken to on these occasions. 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. They would also be also be beaten with leather straps." Now, I have to say to you that he makes another statement where he says they were never beaten to his knowledge. I am just saying that to you. He describes indeed how they would have been bent over a chair and beaten on the bare backside: "I have seen boys beaten in the showers -- on the next page -- if they jumped out from under the water. I did this myself. They would jump out of the showers if the water was too hot or too cold. This happened on a Saturday evening which was the time set out for the boys to have showers. Boys were beaten on a regular and continual basis by members of staff at Letterfrack. The policy with regard to the perceived breakdown of discipline was to target the culprits and make a show of them." Do you have any comment to make on that?
A. I do really. I would question that document. It's a document written in my view to some way justify the abuse that was perpetrated by that brother. Talking to former brothers in Letterfrack, I have never come across any of that description of punishment and abuse. I just wonder about it. I would doubt it and in fact I would doubt a lot of that document.
Q. But he does describe a fairly harsh r gime?
A. Yes, which having talked to brothers who lived there over the years they would not be talking about that, they would say it was a place that required a lot of care, a lot of time to the boys, but I refer to the statements of three former pupils in the 60's, which would be about the same time, who made these statements to the Garda and said they saw no evidence of sexual and physical abuse. I just wonder. It's just one man's view of the situation in Letterfrack, but a lot of the brothers I have talked to who were there wouldn't have that experience.
Q. The other brother, the brother who is in jail for the more serious offences, made a statement or a number of statements to the Garda . In the course of one he refers to the allegations about a person where he is alleging that: "I lashed out with a carving knife in the kitchen in St. Joseph's and in so doing that his thumb was cut on his left hand. I can't remember that happening, but I accept that the possibility of such a thing happening is probably true. I accept that I did have a vicious temper when I was in Letterfrack. This was borne out of frustration of being stationed there and eating on my own, lack of community company and no leisure time." This gets back to an issue we were discussing earlier of the stresses the brothers were under?
A. You see I find it very difficult to respond to individual statements that I presume in the private hearings will be dealt with and people will respond to them; therefore, I find it quite difficult to respond himself to them. I do know the brother is in jail and I am sure he will respond about those allegations himself.
Q. When you look back over the time that Letterfrack was being run by the Christian Brothers, what is your overall assessment of the work that was done there and what it achieved?
A. If I could show, I just got information about three days ago and there is an overhead there where it compares the academic achievement of boys in Letterfrack as opposed to the academic achievement nationally. I only got this material from the statistic session of the Department of Education at the last moment. In that ...(INTERJECTION)
THE CHAIRPERSON: I just wanted to make sure that we got the thing up on the screen. I knew it was coming down the line.
A. They are the statistics that they have available or have made available as to the national percentage of people who got the Primary Certificate from 1943 to 1965. You will see that in terms of Letterfrack it certainly has a creditable success rate in the Primary Cert. I say that because Letterfrack, I would say, since its foundation provided shelter and education for almost 3,000 boys and for almost 100 years I would say that the brothers toiled selflessly to offer these young people a way forward in their lives. It was demanding work and often work that was hidden and unrecognised and it demanded sacrifice and commitment. I would say that many boys benefitted from their education and care that they received, but there were problems. Boys were abused in Letterfrack, sexual and physical abuse was perpetrated by a number of brothers individually and in isolated incidents and by lay staff. Secret acts of abuse were carried out leading to deep psychological damage to those who were abused and the Christian Brothers would be deeply sorry that this took place. It should be noted with the caveat that you have mentioned that there was no cover-up within the organisation when individual brothers were discovered to have abused and action was taken swiftly and efficiently. In most cases the brothers were dismissed when they were discovered to have abused children. Unfortunately, however, there were some few instances where the action taken would be judged totally inadequate by present standards. In addition, there were brothers who abused and at the time were not discovered to have committed that offence. That meant that boys were abused and nothing was done because nothing was known and that was tragic. To all those who suffered abuse in whatever form it happened the Christian Brothers express their deepest sorrow and shame that such should have happened and we repeat our apology of 1998 when we apologised unreservedly for those who were abused. Our hope is that those who have been hurt as a result of abuse may somehow experience the healing that comes from telling their story. We welcome the Ryan Commission's decision to offer people the opportunity to tell their story. We hope that the final report will present a true picture of what life was like in residential care. We do believe, and I think this is important, to honour the 85 brothers who worked in Letterfrack that the vast majority of them worked tirelessly in residential care. It's vital to avoid accusing every brother of crimes of those who abused children. Only when we are able to distinguish between the light and the dark can we come to some appreciation of the contribution that residential care made to the nation of Ireland while never forgetting the serious harm done to some.
Q. I know you would like to finish then, I don't want to ruin your ending so to speak, I am sorry, and I am not being flippant, I don't intend to be, but just to go back to that chart. It does show Letterfrack as something of a centre of excellence. I am just wondering about this, I think it is accepted and you have already said as much that Letterfrack was comprising of mostly boys from socially disadvantaged areas and deprived backgrounds. It looks strange to me I have to say to find that the Letterfrack results appear to be better than the national average and that's why I am wondering whether all the boys in fact went through to do their Primary Cert?
A. Yes, I can assure you that it did happen. We have looked very carefully at the statistics of the people in the school and we have all the details, each class, how much were in class one, two, three, four, five, six, so in actual fact we are absolutely sure that the statistics that you saw earlier ...(INTERJECTION)
Q. Table 8, I think.
A. Table 8, yes. Not everybody did sit. You can see that the first column shows the number and then maybe six out of the seven sat. In fact they are the results. I would just further like to comment that we skipped over a little bit about the cultural activities that took place in Letterfrack. I mean there was drama, there were musicals, there was sport. In fact there was an enormous amount happening. The school used to travel all the small towns around the West of Ireland putting on shows. I am just saying that to show. If it was a harsh r gime, as it can be sometimes painted, you would hardly expect brothers to be spending time putting Irish dancing, gymnastics, drill, music, theatre, harmonica, flutes, obviously the vast majority of brothers were trying their best to make up for all the lack that was there, but that doesn't take away from the abuse and that's the tragedy.
MR. McGOVERN: Thank you very much indeed
Maurice Tobin, the Christian Brother who pleaded guilty to 25 sample counts of sexually abusing young boys at Letterfrack, was described in court by his barrister as being of below average intelligence. A cook at the Galway institution, it was stated that he did menial jobs all his life and took his frustrations out on the unfortunate victims. Could this be the same Brother Tobin who appears in internal Christian Brother reports as "sub-superior" or second-in-command of Letterfrack in the 1970s, and who had also held the senior post of "councillor" within the same community? Far from engaging merely in menial work, Brother Tobin had become a senior leading figure within Letterfrack.
The Christian Brothers have resolutely refused to release any of their voluminous archive on industrial schools into the public domain. They closely guard their secrets, making it difficult for even the Garda to discover such basic information as which Brothers served in particular institutions and schools at specific times. However, some years ago, I managed to get sight of some of the Brothers' Visitation Reports for Letterfrack. These were reports of a senior Christian Brother dispatched to the various institutions to give an internal annual account of their operations.
They typically contain comments on how the institutions were managed, their financial and physical conditions, and the moral and spiritual standing of individual Brothers. Particular attention was paid to how regular and punctual was their attendance at daily Mass. References to the boys were scant, and often concerned their performance at Christian doctrine. The now-convicted paedophile, Brother Tobin, appears from time to time in the Visitation Reports. He was at Letterfrack from 1959 until its closure in 1974, and was reported as being very devout. He was praised for his efficient stewardship of the kitchens. He was also in charge of the poultry farm, worked by the boys, which had at one stage almost 500 chickens. It was a small industry, with produce sold around the county.
There are no direct or clear reports of child abuse contained in any of these Visitation Reports, but then this is not surprising. In Australia, for instance, the evidence of awareness at the most senior levels of paedophilia there within the congregation comes only from the correspondence between the Australian leadership, containing graphic descriptions of child abuse, and their superiors in Dublin. What the Letterfrack Visitation Reports say about Brother Tobin (sometimes referred to as Brother Benan or Benedict) is that he exerts "complete control" over the boys. During the 1970s, when he had assumed his senior role within the Letterfrack community of Brothers, he is described as living "an almost hermetical life", supervising the boys' meals and eating alone.
Somewhat chillingly, in the context of Court testimony from his child victims, the report states that his other duty "is to supervise the boys' showers". The report continues: "He maintains good discipline though his methods may be a little crude at times". It is concluded that he "seems ripe for a total change of environment", and a transfer is recommended. Brother Barry Coldrey, the Australian Christian Brother who has written so honestly about the deep-seated problems of child abuse within the congregation internationally, has referred to a kind of obliquely coded language used in internal documents throughout the decades to indicate likely child sexual abuse. Although we still know little about most of the Irish documentation, it is unlikely that it should be any different in this regard. However, it is not clear whether any of the above references to Brother Tobin indicated any awareness at senior levels within the congregation that he was an active paedophile.
On the other hand, what is evident from the numerous accounts from industrial school survivors is that the children themselves were acutely aware of which Brothers were dangerous to them, and which were safe. In this context, it is difficult to credit that the Brothers themselves were not similarly aware. In sentencing Brother Tobin to 12 years in prison, Judge Harvey Kenny wondered "how such violent sexual assaults were allowed to go unchecked in Letterfrack". However, only a thorough examination of the complete internal records will reveal the full truth of any awareness or cover-up of paedophilia within the Christian Brothers in Ireland.
St Joseph's Industrial School in Letterfrack remains the location of one of the most haunting images to emerge from Ireland's 52 industrial schools. It is of small boys forced to run endlessly around a bare stone yard for hours in the wet and the cold, holding their sheets above their heads. These were the bed-wetters, and the idea was that they had to run until their sheets were dry. If they slowed or flagged, they were beaten. The problem, of course, was that in the persistent rain and mist of Connemara, the sheets just got wetter and heavier. But still the children were made to run for hours.
This kind of warped, sadistic cruelty was the hallmark of Letterfrack.
The compelling court testimony from the victims of child rape and criminal assault at the hands of Brother Tobin is the latest in a long line of accounts of the horrors of Letterfrack. One of the earliest reports of such abuse came from Peter Tyrell, who was detained there as a child during the 1930s. Tyrell was a member of a group called Tuairim (opinion), which produced in 1966 a report on industrial schools called 'Some of Our Children'. Tuairim had branches all over Ireland and published a series of pamphlets on a wide range of issues. It was, however, its London branch which tackled the highly sensitive subject of the industrial schools.
The Tuairim report was highly critical of the system. It made specific reference (unusual at the time) to the beatings received by boys within the schools. While it considered that such corporal punishment was "either unsuitable or excessive", it ultimately ducked the issue. In the absence of verification, it said, such reports of beatings "must be considered hypothetical". It also made an oblique and unclear reference to the undesirability of administering punishment to boys for what it called "sex offences". Peter Tyrell was reported to be disgusted by Tuairim's failure to expose the brutality of the industrial schools. He had described his own rape as a child by a Christian Brother at Letterfrack. He also spoke of how he had witnessed other boys being beaten naked for long periods. He told a priest in Confession at the time about the rape.
The priest's response was to ask him how dared he tell such lies about the Brothers, without whom he would not have a roof over his head.
Shortly after leaving Letterfrack, Tyrrell joined the British army and fought in the second World War. He was captured, but described the German prisoner-of-war camp as a tea party compared with Letterfrack. However, none of this appeared in the Tuairim report. Tyrrell had made several attempts to write a book about his own childhood in Letterfrack in an effort to reveal the truth about child abuse in the industrial schools. He believed that children continued to be abused within the schools. In 1967, with no indication that anyone had taken his accounts of brutality and rape in Letterfrack seriously, Peter Tyrell committed suicide by setting himself on fire in London's Hampstead Heath. He was so badly burned that it took London police almost a year to identify his body. They traced the unburned corner of a postcard in his pocket to his friend Dr Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, himself a noted campaigner for reform in this area. Sheehy-Skeffington was able to confirm that he had indeed sent the postcard, and that the body was that of Peter Tyrell.
When Letterfrack finally closed in 1974, the Secretary of the Department of Education sent a glowing letter of profuse thanks and praise to the Christian Brothers. The Department, he said, was deeply appreciative of the great care given by generations of Brothers to the boys at the institution. This letter would have made bitter reading for Peter Tyrell and indeed for all those who testified so courageously in court about the atrocities they suffered as children in Letterfrack.
Mary Raftery is the producer of the RTÉ documentary series, States of Fear, and co-author with Dr Eoin O'Sullivan of TCD of Suffer the Little Children - the Inside Story of Ireland's Industrial Schools, published by New Island Books
© The Irish Times
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