Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 12 — Salthill

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Neglect and emotional abuse


The whole system, in short, was organised on civilised and sensitive lines, with a view to making the lives of the boys as close to normal as possible. Br Ames acknowledged that what he did could not have been achieved with larger numbers, but he did point out that another Brother had had considerable success in Artane when he reduced the number of boys in a unit to 30.


Br Ames was proud of his achievements in Salthill. The need for change was driven by the rejection by society generally of the institutionalised childcare that had been the hallmark of Christian Brother involvement in this area. As was clear from the letters quoted above, thinking had moved on and regimes such as Salthill were no longer acceptable.


According to Br Ames, the results were remarkable. The boys were happier. Their behaviour in the Institution improved enormously. They were more sociable. They were more comfortable than before in dealing with animals, which Br Ames had begun to introduce into the School. Relations with the staff were greatly improved, and there was much less friction between the different groups of boys.


Br Ames and Br Burcet were also responsible for introducing professional childcare workers and male and female house parents in the Institution. They adopted modern methods to meet the different needs of the children. The Brothers revitalised the Managers’ Association, which brought together the Resident Managers from all industrial schools and reformatories in the country, using it to meet regularly and to discuss the work that they were doing with the children in their care. Br Ames worked on a draft Charter of Rights for children in care. The Association organised an international conference that was held in Ireland in 1979.


The development of the thinking of the Brothers in this School showed what could have been achieved in other industrial schools under their care. By the time these changes were brought about, Artane, Letterfrack, Tralee, Carriglea and Glin had all been closed. Only Salthill remained, and the need for control of the system by the Congregation was gone.


The impact of this professional approach to the work in Salthill was reflected in the 1974 Visitation Report, which was entirely different in tone from those that had preceded it. In particular, the Visitor noted the effect of Br Burcet’s arrival: His [Br Burcet’s] coming to St Joseph’s last August has been a tremendous boon and blessing. He is the Manager’s guide, philosopher and friend in creating an improved atmosphere of care and relationship between the children and the Brothers. His Kilkenny Course in Child Care has brought a new dimension and an added empathy to his work and, slowly but surely, the communication barriers are being removed, the children are becoming much more friendly, open and amenable and are relating much better with one another and with the staff.


The Visitor remarked: The ending of ‘the old order’, to which Remi was accustomed for so long, has caused him some upset and paradoxically this may well be a blessing in disguise for him. He is now doing a much more taxing round of duty than was his wont for quite some years and despite his overt yearning for the good old days when boys were made toe the line in quasi-military fashion one senses that deep down he is slowly and reluctantly coming to appreciate that the new approach has something to recommen it.


It was difficult to completely remove the decades of institutionalisation that had operated in Salthill. In 1978, Mr Graham Granville noted in an Inspection Report for the Department of Education that, despite the group home units, the nature of the accommodation made for a very institutional feel, lacking in a homely atmosphere. He complimented the staff on their efforts despite the obstacles. He reiterated his concerns in his Inspection Reports of the early 1980s. He found many facilities requiring modernisation and saw the construction of new custom-made group homes as the way forward.


The Visitation Reports touched on this aspect of the work of the Institution throughout the four decades that an internal primary school operated in Salthill. In general, the Visitor seemed satisfied with the standard of education provided in the 1940s, although from year to year a particular Visitor voiced a concern.


In 1940, a Visitor remarked, ‘The boys are on the whole docile and easily managed and show average intelligence in class’.


The payment of salaries to the internal national school teachers saw the number of Brothers assigned to the School increase by two, and a marked improvement in the standard of education was noted in 1941.


However, the 1943 Visitation Report was critical of the standard of education in the higher classes. The Visitor found that the boys in 3rd, 4th and 5th standards were ‘quite unable to read the lessons in our Readers which are in use’ and he cautioned that ‘if proper steps are not taken some of these boys may leave the school in a semi-illiterate condition’.


The 1958 Report offered what was probably the explanation for the poor standard in the senior classes. It observed that the teacher in charge of infants and first standard was not efficient. The Visitor noted: He is partially paralysed and his writing on Blackboard is nearly illegible for an adult to read and hence it must make no impression on the boys of the age group he has. I examined these boys in Christian Doctrine, English Reading, and tables. It could not be said that the boys were hopeless but they were certainly retarded for boys 7 years of age. It would also seem that the poor teaching they get in this class tells on the whole Primary School. According to age groups they would all be retarded by one year.


He recommended that the teacher be asked to retire, even if this meant that the Brothers had to supplement the difference in his pension due to his early retirement.


In March 1959, the Visitor noted that the teacher mentioned in the 1958 Report was still in the School: ‘The poor man is physically unfit to take charge and teach boys’. As he was a registered teacher, the Brothers had difficulty removing him. The Visitor believed that the boys’ schooling got off to a bad start under this man’s tutelage.

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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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  33. This is a reference to the Gardaí.