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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Physical abuse


Fr Hughes said in the Phase I hearing that he was sure a punishment book would have been used but that, when he asked ex-staff members, there were ‘always very vague responses’.


In a regime that was admittedly heavily dependent on corporal punishment, the need for a proper system of administering it was fundamental, and keeping the record was part of a proper regime, as well as being required by law. The information given to the Department Inspector in 1945 about the punishment regime in Daingean was entirely misleading.


Contemporary complaints about excessive use of corporal punishment revealed how complaints were dealt with by both the Department of Education and the management of Daingean, and the kinds of investigation carried out once a complaint was made.


The standard procedure followed was that, once the Department of Education received a complaint, the Resident Manager was contacted for his comments and observations on the substance of the complaint. If the allegation was of physical abuse or neglect, the Department would often send in its Medical Inspector, who would then report back on the matter.


In 1953, a father wrote a letter of complaint to the Department of Education, in which he complained that his son was flogged several times in the School.


The Resident Manager responded to the query raised by the Department. The issue of ’flogging’ was dealt with by describing the procedure. He said that ‘flogging’ meant that a boy was ‘put on his knees receiving a few (5 or 6) light strokes of a light strap on the back’. This was not done ‘except for serious offences such as (a) insubordination (b) deliberate destruction of property (c) public immoral conduct (d) inciting others to riotous conduct (e) absconding’.


The Medical Inspector, Dr McCabe, was sent in to investigate. She described the ‘flogging’ process as stated earlier in this chapter: “Flogging” ... consists in taking the offender into a small room, removing his pants and administering 5 or 6 strokes on the bare posterior with a leather strap which is quite flexible, about 1” wide and 1 yard long (It resembles a strap used to put around a suitcase) The punishment is administered by the disciplinarian who is a very understanding patient man and always offers an excuse in defence of the boy if at all possible.


She then described her examination of the boys. ‘At the Medical Examination’, she wrote: I failed to find a single mark on any boy’s body that indicated he had been punished. When I questioned the boys about the so-called “flogging” each and every one admitted that if they had been punished they had deserved it. I cannot see how discipline can be kept in this Reformatory unless the Manager has some deterrent.


She went on to state: the type of boy now being sent in is much tougher than in former years – housebreakers, stealers of large sums of money, car stealing and crashing.


She then asserted: It is the opinion of all that these boys are sent in far too late for the Manager and his Staff to make much impression on them.


With regard to one boy she examined, he ‘... admitted running away several times and on the last occasion arrived home. He is an unpleasant type of boy and very prone to lying’.


Having received her report, Mr Ó Síochfhradha, the Department Inspector, submitted his own memorandum on the complaints. He wrote: Dr. McCabe is satisfied, and I agree with her, that the punishment inflicted in these extreme cases is not excessive and is resorted to only when absolutely necessary. This form of punishment was administered when necessary during [Fr. Neron’s] period of office as Resident Manager (1940s). As a matter of interest the salutary effect of the leather strap when applied on the proper place is referred to in an Article (Page 80) in the June 1953 issue of the “Approved Schools Gazette” – copy attached to file cover.


This is in marked contrast to the circular prepared by Mr Ó Síochfhradha in 1946, in which he gave more detailed guidelines as to the permissible administration of corporal punishment in residential schools. In this circular he impressed on the Resident Managers that corporal punishment should only be used as a last resort and ‘only for grave transgressions’.


Given the tone of the 1946 circular, the response by him and Dr McCabe is puzzling. It is even more absurd that Mr Ó Síochfhradha should then write to the Minister recommending ‘... the salutary effect of the leather strap when applied on the proper place’, when he himself had ruled the only proper place was on the hand.


The Department of Education referred to this matter in its Submission to the Investigation Committee: While the punishment of boys in this instance appeared to contravene Department regulations, the Inspector is not recorded as having challenged the Resident Manager and it is possible that Dr. McCabe considered reformatories requiring a different approach in regard to discipline and the use of corporal punishment. There is no evidence that she offered advice on how the troublesome boys could have been treated differently; the 1946 circular stated that principals could draw on the advice of the Department’s Medical Inspector “regarding any children who are specially troublesome of difficult to control”.

  1. This is the English version of Tomás O Deirg.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
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  6. This is the Irish version of Sugrue.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
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  13. This is a pseudonym.
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is the Irish version of Richard Crowe.
  17. This is the English version of Mr MacConchradha.
  18. Allegations of brutal beatings in Court Lees Approved School were made in a letter to The Guardian, and this led to an investigation which reported in 1967 (see Administration of Punishment at Court Lees Approved School (Cmnd 3367, HMSO)) – Known as ‘The Gibbens Report’, it found many of the allegations proven, and in particular that canings of excessive severity did take place on certain occasions, breaking the regulation that caning on the buttocks should be through normal clothing. Some boys had been caned wearing pyjamas. Following this finding, the School was summarily closed down.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is the English version of Ó Síochfhradha.
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  26. This was Br Abran.
  27. Organisation that offers therapy to priests and other religious who have developed sexual or drink problems run by The Servants of the Paraclete.
  28. This is a pseudonym.
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  35. Board of Works.
  36. Bread and butter.
  37. Board of Works.
  38. Patrick Clancy, ‘Education Policy’, in Suzanne Quinn, Patricia Kennedy, Anne Matthews, Gabriel Kiely (eds), Contemporary Irish Social Policy (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2005), p 79.
  39. This is a pseudonym.