Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 12 — Salthill

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The annals from these early years showed a great interest in the School from political and religious leaders. The Duke of Edinburgh visited with a dozen army officers in attendance and, in 1895, both the Archbishop of Melbourne and Lord Carnarvon, the Lord Lieutenant, visited within a month of each other. In 1887, the Papal Legate paid tribute to ‘this admirable institution and excellent establishment’.


After 1925, Salthill, like all industrial schools, came under the control of the Department of Education, and political interest in the School appeared to wane. There was no record in the annals of any leading politician visiting Salthill in the years following 1925.


Renovations and redecoration of the premises took place in the 1940s as they had fallen into disrepair. In 1943, Salthill was recognised by the Department of Education as a primary school which continued in existence until the early 1970s, when the remaining boys transferred to the local primary school.


The Institution underwent a radical change in the early 1970s. The Kennedy Report, published in 1970, had identified the problems inherent in the old institutionalised methods of childcare, and had given the existing institutions no alternative but to change their structures radically. All institutions either responded to this need for change or, like Artane, Tralee and Letterfrack, closed down.


In 1973, a new Manager was appointed and he worked with the Department in bringing about the changes that established the group home structure. The new Manager was more sensitive to the needs of the boys, and had the assistance of a trained and experienced Brother who had taken a special interest in childcare and had attended the Kilkenny course shortly after it commenced in the early 1970s.


The transformation of St Joseph’s was completed in accordance with plans that were drawn up in 1987. Most of the land on which the School was located was sold for development and the money was used to build a new complex planned on modern childcare principles. The Brothers ceased to have an association with St Joseph’s in 1995. The centre now consists of two units, each catering for six young people with a staffing ratio of 1:1 and operated by the Health Service Executive.


The Committee received the following photograph and plan of Salthill: Source: The Morgan Collection, National Photographic Archive, Temple Bar, Dublin. Source: Congregation of Christian Brothers.

Physical abuse


The documents that are discussed below contain a record of general complaints about violent behaviour by Brothers, as well as some cases that took place specifically in Salthill. They reveal that one Brother, who was found to have engaged in harsh and cruel treatment of boys in Letterfrack, was again the subject of complaints about severity towards children in Salthill. Another Brother was found to be repeatedly guilty of excessive harshness in schools to which he was assigned after his service in Salthill. Another Brother was warned by the Superior General about his conduct towards boys, and it was said of another that he should not be put in charge of boys. They also record some specific instances of severe punishment.


The information and comment in these contemporary documents were made at times when corporal punishment was permitted by law and was an everyday reality for many children. The fact that they were recorded suggests that the severity of the punishment was deemed excessive at that time.


A general observation in the Visitation Report of 1967 on conditions in the School suggested that some incidents of unacceptable corporal punishment were inevitable in Salthill: The boys are under constant supervision from the moment of rising to the time for retiring. This imposes a heavy round of duties on those immediately concerned with the boys. It is therefore almost impossible to maintain that evenness of temper that is essential for this work. A man on duty all day is bound to feel irritable ...


In the course of reflections on life in Salthill which he gave to the Congregation, a Brother, Br Burdette,1 who taught there in the 1950s, acknowledged ‘a certain severity in attitude’ towards the boys: We worked all day, every day, an unfortunate indiscretion which should not have been allowed and which, undoubtedly, I think, was reflected in our treatment of the almost 200 boys confided to our care. Nevertheless, despite a certain severity in attitude towards them, due partly to the hardship of our own lives and partly to an inherited system of discipline which, even in my time, had begun to be discarded, my earlier comment holds true: no children ever meant – could mean – as much to me as they did; for, of course, they were orphans, every one.


Br Burdette was not correct. The majority of the boys in Salthill were not orphans, but had been sent there by the courts for non-attendance at school or because of a lack of parental control often in the context of poverty.


Br Burdette described his time in the Institution as ‘the happiest, hardest, most demanding, and most memorable three years of my life’. He was not able, even at this remove, to appreciate the impact of a harsh and severe routine of discipline on the children in Salthill. He did not see it as affecting the overall atmosphere in the School, but it has been found in other schools examined by the Committee that such a regime created a climate of fear that permeated life in an institution.


In his report on Salthill, which was commissioned by the Congregation in March 2002, Br John McCormack cfc interviewed a past pupil who was there in the 1960s. This ex-resident acknowledged that ‘we had happy times as well as the sad times’ and recalled with pride participating in the band and the medal he won for hurling. He also asserted that he had received a good education in Salthill, as had most of the boys who were there with him. He arrived at the age of seven, and was fortunate to have an older brother there who could watch out for him. He mentioned one Brother, Br Michel,2 as being very humane but had no such praise for any of the other Brothers there: I was not terribly gone on the rest of the Brothers in St Joseph’s in my time. They were strict and always made you toe the line. Some of them never smiled that I remember, but they must have ... Even though the Brothers were strict, there was none of them vicious or cruel. They must have had a tough time too.


It is a sad reflection on Salthill that even a past pupil who had reasonably positive memories of his time there could find so little to say in praise of the Brothers. He was in their care from the age of seven.

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  30. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period. See the Department of Education chapter for a discussion of her role and performance.
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