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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Physical abuse


The first riot occurred in Daingean on 13th April 1956. The next day, Fr Salvador,19 the Resident Manager, wrote to Mr Sugrue20 of the Department of Education: We had some trouble yesterday which could have had very serious results if the organised disturbance or mutiny as the boys called it, had not been nipped in the bud. The display of dangerous weapons they concealed on their persons was formidable, including slashers, an axe and all kinds of iron bars. They smashed a number of windows and intended doing more widespread damage. I have sent on the names of the ringleaders. These I had to have taken over by the Guards. They include [a boy] who came here last month, just a few days before his 17th birthday. He and the other four are as far as I can see and judge beyond the reach of the best efforts of a reform school.


The alleged ringleaders were handed over to the Gardaí on 13th April 1956. They were to be charged ‘with having taken part in an organised disturbance’.


The Department of Justice wrote to the Secretary General of the Department of Education on 23rd April 1956, enclosing a Garda Síochana Preliminary Crime Report on the incidents in Daingean, that outlined the disturbance that had taken place involving about 40 inmates who had endeavoured to start a riot. The Gardaí prepared a more extensive report some two weeks later.


According to the Gardaí, they were informed by telephone of the trouble and were asked for their assistance by the Brothers. The Gardaí went immediately to the School, where they learned that the disturbances and insubordination had arisen while the boys were at tea in the dining hall. The staff had succeeded in rounding up the ringleaders, and these were taken to the washhouse and searched, and an array of weapons was found in both their clothes and around the School. These included a hatchet, iron bars, spikes, a cosh, stones wrapped in hankies and a boot-maker’s knife. The staff were made aware of the mutiny by more ‘loyal members of the Institution’.


One of the ringleaders had been involved in a previous attempt to commit a riot in the School a couple of years previously, when the school authorities had effectively dealt with the incident. The boys gave the shortage of reasonable food as their reason for the riot, but this, according to the Gardaí, was only an excuse, and the real reason was an organised attempt to break out. The Gardaí took statements from other boys, who revealed that the intention was to overpower those in charge, to cut the telephone wires, seize a lorry that was on the premises and make a breakout for Dublin. The five accused were remanded in custody to Portarlington District Court on 18th April 1956. All five were convicted and sentenced to terms in St. Patrick’s Institution.


The second riot was two years later. The Garda Primary Crime Report outlined the events. In the week commencing 7th September 1958, it became known that there was a conspiracy to effect a riot in the School. The three ringleaders were all over the age of 17. On 3rd September 1958, the father of a boy in Daingean handed a letter into Store Street Garda Station. His son, who was an inmate of Daingean, had written the letter to his other son. The letter asked that he should arrange a car to be sent from Dublin to assist in the escape. The letter read: I write a few lines to asked you will you be able to get a car or van for Sunday 7 for me and a few lads are going to start a Mutiny and are going to run away. I wrote to a lad who was here before and he is getting me a car or van to for Sunday 7 and don’t let mammy know.


The letter was handed over to the Gardaí by their father. On receipt of the letter the station sergeant contacted the Reformatory to warn the authorities of possible trouble. With this information, the school authorities took extra precautionary measures within the School, and made further enquiries. Some of the boys involved in the plan gave information to the school authorities. They revealed that a conspiracy was afoot involving about 20 inmates. It was planned to attack the night watchman. Numerous searches were conducted in the School, and a large iron file was found under a bed. One boy handed over a butcher’s knife, two iron bars and a knuckle-duster from the dump to a Brother. Another boy had a large iron bar and a knuckle-duster concealed in his clothes.


On 12th September, the three ringleaders were arrested on warrants and brought before the District Court in Tullamore. They were charged with conspiracy to cause a riot and incitement to commit a riot, along with breaches of the school rules and conduct likely to cause breach of the peace. All three pleaded guilty to breaching the school rules and not guilty to the other charges. The judge convicted them on this count and did not send them forward for trial in respect of the other charges. Each was sentenced to two years in St Patrick’s Institution.


During the hearings of the charges of rioting in Daingean in 1956, the Justice had asked whether there were any written rules governing the conduct and discipline of the boys. He was informed in the course of the evidence that there were no written rules.


Two years later, the issue of the school rules arose again. Two weeks before the trial of the ringleaders in the 1958 conspiracy to riot in Daingean, Br Jaime forwarded a copy of the school rules to the Department of Education. The local Gardaí were interested in the Department’s views on the rules, and anticipated the matter arising in the imminent court case. Br Jaime asserted that he had drawn up the rules in July 1958, displayed them on the notice board in the School and, for the benefit of those who could not read, he arranged lectures for them. He had intended forwarding them to the Department for approval at that time.


The Department responded on 23rd September 1958, and made the following observations: (1)that there was little likelihood of his (the Manager) being questioned as to the breach of the rules as this would not appear to be among the charges which would be preferred, (2)If the question did arise he should say that the Department is aware of the rules and have offered no objection to them, (3)in view of the nearness of the trial 25th September, 1958 the Department did not consider it desirable to have a letter issued bearing the date 24th September, 1958 offering no objection to the rules.


In a letter dated 3rd October 1958, Br Jaime wrote to Mr Sugrue of the Department of Education, informing him how the case had progressed. He wrote: I stated in court that they (the rules) were always in practice here, and that the Dept. of Education knew about them, and had no objection to them. I also stated that I had, with the Superior’s sanction, decided to put them in writing, and post them up for the boys to read. This was on June 20th. of this year. I also stated in the court that I had explained some of the rules in question to all the boys, and that I had cautioned two of the boys concerned in the case about certain rules, and that it would be impossible for any boy not to know them.


The rules that had been prepared and posted up by Br Jaime were in manuscript form, and must have been a lengthy document, given that the typed version of the Major rules alone ran to seven pages. The school authorities later had them printed up and sent to the Department for approval. These were examined by a Departmental official and, in a memorandum to the Secretary of the Department, he said they appeared adequate for the requirements of St Conleth’s. The importance of having these rules can be gleaned from the final paragraph in his memorandum: Where written rules exist it is comparatively easy to arrange for the committal to Borstal of a Reformatory School pupil. This may be done before a Court of summary jurisdiction and the charge may consist of a breach of the rules of the school or of inciting to such a breach.


The Assistant Secretary to the Department, in a handwritten note in Irish on the above memorandum, stated that (1) the Rules would be better understood if the English version was improved, and (2) there would be the danger that the Manager and the Department would be made a laughing stock by virtue of its contents if the present version were read out in open court.


The Assistant Secretary’s concerns were well founded. Prior to the changes and amendments suggested by the Department, some of these rules were so ill-thought out and badly worded that they would confuse an adult, let alone a poorly educated child.

  1. This is the English version of Tomás O Deirg.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. This is a pseudonym.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is the Irish version of Sugrue.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
  8. This is a pseudonym.
  9. This is a pseudonym.
  10. This is a pseudonym.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. This is a pseudonym.
  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.
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This is a pseudonym.
  23. This is a pseudonym.
  24. This is a pseudonym.
  25. This is a pseudonym.
  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.
  29. This is a pseudonym.
  30. This is a pseudonym.
  31. This is a pseudonym.
  32. This is a pseudonym.
  33. This is a pseudonym.
  34. This is a pseudonym.
  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.