Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 12 — Salthill

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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.


There follows an analysis of Brothers who were in Salthill and against whom allegations of physical abuse were made.


A Visitor in the late 1930s remarked that there was a greater sense of harmony in the Community since this Brother’s departure and that: By all the accounts I got it would seem to me that Br Chappell should never be put in charge of boys: his violent, vengeful disposition render him quite unsuitable for such a charge.


According to the records, he had been in Salthill for almost six years when he was transferred. Although he had served in a number of industrial schools prior to that, he did not work in any residential school after 1937 but worked as a domestic Brother in a Community house.


Br Leveret was transferred to Salthill in the early 1940s after a history of serious and violent abuse in Letterfrack. In the year before his transfer to Salthill, a Brother on the staff of Letterfrack wrote to the Provincial about the use of a horse whip on the boys. Br Leveret was one of the perpetrators of this brutal punishment. The Resident Manager forbade such punishments and directed that, in future, all punishments for serious offences would be administered by him, the Manager, in the presence of a third party. Br Leveret, however, did not comply with this direction, and the Resident Manager had to write to the Provincial to report that ‘Br Leveret has not adhered to the regulations’.

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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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