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.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Letterfrack - A Centre of Excellence


THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Good afternoon everybody. Very good, Mr. McGovern.

Q. MR. McGOVERN: Thank you, Chairman. Br. Gibson, could I ask you now to go to page 65 which deals with the industrial training and just maybe before dealing with that I know you do indicate in the earlier section before that that there were cultural activities there, you mention the band and the choir and so on, I have no issues to deal with on that, I am not trying to gloss over the fact that these things existed so I am mentioning them here. Could we move on to industrial training. You say there were various trades offered. You say there were those of baker, blacksmith, bootmaker, carpenter, farmer, kitchen worker, painter, plumber, poultry farmer, tailor and wheelwright and there was
a knitting shop as well. Under standard and quality of training, you make an observation at the last paragraph there saying: "It would be fair to say that the training in the various trades was not really satisfactory for a number of reasons." Could you expand on that?

A. Yes, first of all I suppose Letterfrack was in a very isolated position so it was difficult to attract teachers there. The inter-Departmental Committee observed, and I quote: "The location of Letterfrack frustrated the effort to have vocational instruction by qualified vocational teachers introduced." It went on to note also that it wasn't only that remoteness but also it went on to note that the restricted finances of the Vocational Wducational Committee would also militate against provision of such instruction in Letterfrack. Even if they had found teachers who were prepared to go to Letterfrack they hadn't the funding. The second thing was many of the trades that children practised, they weren't going through the normal apprenticeship and therefore when it came to them continuing their training, the training that they had already received was not accepted by the unions and the main reason for that was that the instructors themselves who would have been from the local area weren't members of unions and therefore not recognised by the unions as valid Instructors. There was an inherent difficulty in the training that the young people were getting.

Q. I have up on the screen a document dated 17 May 1973, it's a visitation report, and in the course of that document it says: "The school is situated in a remote area. While Connemara may be renowned for its scenic beauty it cannot be said to be suitable for an establishment of this kind. Its very remoteness renders it impossible for boys to get professional help that these unfortunate boys require."

A. That was to do with mainly the psychological services and it was difficult to get those at that time. At that time the trades would have ceased.

Q. There is another document and it's a document which -- it's hard to make out what the report is, but in the course of the document it states that: "Very few of the boys, less than five, in Letterfrack are from counties west of the Shannon. They are mainly from Dublin, South Leinster or Munster. Having regard to the location of Letterfrack and the home residence of the boys, it would hardly be feasible for a social worker on the staff at Letterfrack school to operate an efficient placement service in their own localities for boys of the school." Is that related to employment or is it in some other way?

A. Well, I am not sure, I think that document might be an appendix of the Cussen Report. I think basically the problem was Letterfrack was remote, it was difficult to get people to teach trades and it was difficult to find psychological services for the boys because of its remoteness.

Q. Yes, that last report I was reading was a report on various institutions but at Letterfrack on 30 July 1971?

A. Yes.

Q. It wouldn't have been the Cussen Report?

A. No.

Q. I think it may have been a Department of Education report. Could I ask you to consider another document please. This is an inspector's report, I don't have a date for this, it was in the Department of Education discovery file and we think it relates to a period around the 40's, but it states that: "In actual fact most of the boys are employed on farms when they leave the schools." Would that be correct?

A. Yes, a lot of them were, yes.

Q. "Even some of them who have been trained in shoe making or tailoring find their way to farming. In such circumstances it is with regret that we submit our opinion that the training which the schools provide in farming is distinctly unsatisfactory." The author of this further down says: "The farms fail, however, to achieve their primary object. They do not serve to train the boys in farming. The boys are little more than juvenile labourers. They are put to work on some manual task such as cleaning barns or feeding cattle." Was there a problem about that, that what was dressed up as training was in fact just menial labour?

A. I would refer you to page 67 which deals with the farm.

Q. Yes.

A. By far the largest percentage of boys who were over 14 worked in the farm. They would have become full timers maybe after 14. Now, it says here that they were involved in the tilling of the soil and the gathering of the peat, the turf. It is said there in the visitation report of 1947: "That the boys trained in farm work generally proved the most successful when they leave school." A report on the occupational training provided in industrial schools in Glencree Reformatory, the document, you have it there on footnote 127: "It was pointed out that the most natural and suitable employment for boys was the farm. It was healthy and holds a great variety and interest, both essential qualities in the education of the adolescent." Now, it is true as it shows on the next page that it indicated that boys who had been trained in other trades found themselves working on the farm. It goes on to express disappointment that the farm generally failed to teach farm management to the boys.

Q. These would have been boys though predominantly from Dublin, would they not?

A. They would.

Q. What benefit would farming training be to them?

A. Well, in the period of that time half the population of Ireland was involved in farm related work so according to Ferriter in his book on "Transformation in Ireland" he says half the employed population of the period of the '30's and 40's were involved in farm related management.

Q. Would many of the boys who finished in Letterfrack and who lived in Dublin, would they leave Dublin to go out and work in farms?

A. What you had was you had boys when they finished school were sent home, went home. Others went to employment. They would have gone to employment in farms in the area. They may or may not have gone
home. Some of them would have gone to England.

Q. What's the understanding of the Christian Brothers about that, about the movement of boys after they left Letterfrack?

A. You have there in page 68 the discharge from the institution. You see there that of the 1356 boys discharged from Letterfrack between 1940 and 1974, 869 of them were discharged to the care of a relative. Now, on the following page then you are talking about this group, a group of 318, who would have been sent directly to employment instead of their homes. They actually wouldn't have been at home, they would have gone directly. At 16 years of age lot of people were involved in work and would have gone straight to work.

Q. Yes, I think it is acknowledged by the Christian Brothers it was difficult to keep tabs on boys from outside Letterfrack, boys in Dublin after they left?

A. It was, yes.

Q. Can we move on then to the issue of absconding. I think that there was a significant rise in the rate of absconding in the late 60's; is that right? A. That's correct. In the late 60's, if you look at the chart on page 75 table 9, you will see that there seems to have been very little absconding up to 1966 and in 1966 to 1971 particularly there was a great increase in absconding.

Q. What was the reason for that?

A. We don't know.

Q. What happened to boys who absconded, were they punished?

A. It could have been that they were, some of them could have been.

Q. Do you know how they were punished?

A. I don't, no.

Q. I see. Moving on to the issue of visits from parents and relatives, was that something which was quite difficult for families?

A. It was. The fact that I think something like 60% of the boys came from the Dublin area, first of all travel in the 40's and 50's would have been very difficult. I note in the 70's there was a scheme prepared by the Government which offered free travel to parents to come and that made it obviously less difficult.

Q. I think that was as far as Galway?

A. That was as far as Galway.

Q. I think Galway was 50 miles away?

A. Well, what used to happen was if the parents arrived in Galway the brothers used to drive the boy to Galway and leave the boy with the parents and wait around in Galway while the boys met the parents and so on for the day and then bring the boy back.

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