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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Emotional abuse


This system of nomenclature was confirmed to the Committee by a witness who was in Daingean in the late 1950s. When asked, ‘What was this boy’s name?’ he replied: I haven’t a clue. You never knew people’s surnames. Sometimes there was that many and you wouldn’t even know their first names, it was either Dub, Corky or Jack. Unless you knew somebody personally they used to keep their ethnic groups.


Fr Luca recognised the depersonalising effect of this loss of individual identity, and set about trying to change it. He wrote: So when I went to the School the first thing I did was to interview each boy and record his own name, but also the name of his father, mother, brother, sisters, set him into a family and talked to him about the importance of family, and the importance of his name. There is no name in the language as beautiful to you as your own name, so let us respect it.


Fr Luca went to Daingean in the mid-1960s. From 1940 to that time, it seems that these basic details were not automatically recorded and nurtured. It is not surprising so many witnesses before the Committee complained about being depersonalised and lonely.


This scenario was confirmed by testimony heard by the Committee. The more fragile children felt trapped, on one side being bullied by the tougher boys, and on the other living in fear of falling foul of the Brothers. For these boys, Daingean was not an experience that toughened them up and hardened them for more crime. For them, they felt like victims of the system. Having endured such a system, these boys felt different, alienated from their families and friends. One witness told the Committee of how he felt when he returned home from Daingean: My father was in 1916 and he spent a year in prison in England ... The one thing he said to me they were treated humanely, the jailors treated them humanely. I couldn’t say ... back to him that I wasn’t treated humanely because I didn’t want anybody else to suffer my agony. I didn’t want to talk or do anything ... Nobody would know what to do.


Another witness told the Committee: ... it’s like men at war who experience things cannot bring these things back to people in the street because people would not understand the situation that they were in. They dehumanised themselves. They dehumanise their enemy in order to be able to psychologically deal with killing them. The same is true when I came out of Daingean and I am looking at all of these people in the street and I am thinking they don’t know where I have been and they couldn’t understand me and you feel different to them and that’s why I went to England. I tried to escape.


Fr Murphy in his evidence told the Committee that, in the early 1960s, Fr Pablo,34 who was a trained psychologist, ‘... was suggesting changes ... trying to bring forward a better method of assessment and of treatment of these boys rather than the punitive, repressive thing’. It does not need training in psychology to recognise that a boy whose mother has recently died needs protection and guidance, while a boy from a criminal background needs containment. The system, as it evolved in Daingean, treated them both the same, offering only what Fr Murphy called ‘the punitive, repressive thing’.


In his evidence to the Committee, Fr Luca acknowledged one effect of institutional life on the children: ... that was one of the biggest punishments that you could give them, to take them from their own native place wherever it was and put them into a place where they didn’t want to be and to keep them there.


1.Daingean was a Reformatory and was run on penal lines, where repressive measures were the order of day. Many complainants who gave evidence to the Committee had been convicted of minor offences whose sentences seem disproportionate and would not have been given to adults for similar crimes. A basically unjust system was compounded by the way the Institution was run. Hardened criminals in prisons were not subjected to the violence or deprivation experienced by these boys. Prisons were regulated and subject to rules and to the law, but these constraints were not enforced in Daingean. 2.Management had a duty to ensure that all boys were protected but this was not done. Boys were isolated, frightened and bullied by both staff and inmates. 3.The boys had an alternative underground government which victimised those who engaged with Brothers. Management did nothing to break this system and appeared to have acquiesced in it. 4.The acknowledged failure of the staff to offer emotional support was not caused by the boys but by inadequate management.



In the period 1940 to 1973, a total of 77 Oblates were attached to the School. On average, there would be 19 Brothers and five priests in the school community. However, not all of the Brothers or priests in the school community worked in the School itself. It is clear from the oral evidence and documents that the staff to pupil ratio was a fundamental problem at Daingean. Many of the Brothers assigned to the School were old and infirm, and played an inactive role in the day-to-day running of the School.


Fr Luca wrote in 1966: At present there are only nine active members of the Staff who are expected to cater at all times from seven in the morning to half-past ten at night, come what may, seven days a week.


The Oblate records for staffing in the School in 1969 listed seven priests and 17 Brothers, but Fr Luca could only rely on nine out of 24 listed staff to work in the care of the boys in Daingean.


Fr Hughes gave evidence about staff ratios operating in Daingean: I give you two examples there, we have a staff list of 1944 which shows the presence of a population, a school population, of 236. They were 24 Oblates in the school ... That would indicate there was a staff ratio of one member of staff to 10 inmates.


He also stated: Similarly in 1968, the population, the school population, of 104 shows the presence of 18 Oblates ...


However, as noted above, during this period Fr Luca wrote that ‘there are only nine active members of staff’. The problem clearly was worse than the records indicate.


One witness stated: There was probably not enough individuals to look after the amount of boys that were there, which is why so much went on there.

  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.