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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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In view of the extremely serious nature of the criticisms made, the text of this letter is given in full: Dear Secretary, Following the Committee’s visit to St. Conleth’s Reformatory School in Daingean on 28th February, Mr. Tomás Ó Floinn, Assistant Secretary, attended the meeting of the Committee on 19th April so that the members might outline certain features of the present situation in Daingean, which they considered to require immediate amelioration. At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Ó Floinn suggested that the matters discussed should be conveyed in writing to the Department, so that they might be sympathetically considered and I am now doing as he suggested. The Committee has not yet formulated final views on St. Conleth’s and consequently feel precluded at present from advocating any sweeping steps involving heavy expenditure which in time could prove nugatory. They do feel, however, that some immediate interim action is very necessary to improve conditions there. The premises gave a general appearance of grubbiness and, while allowances must be made for the older sector of the buildings, even the newer portion was not very presentable. In particular the kitchen/refectory area, with its open drains and dirty yards adjacent, was very disturbing and the ware used for the boys meals was in particularly poor condition. In regard to the buildings, we are not advocating any expensive redecoration, but a thorough cleaning of the premises and its maintenance in that condition would seem to be in order. The buildings were noticeably cold. The visitors wore overcoats throughout and were still conscious of the prevailing low temperature. The Resident Manager freely admitted that the heating system was inadequate. This is a feature which should not be allowed to continue and some effective interim auxiliary heating should be provided. The boys presented a dirty, unwashed appearance – even to the extent of ingrained dirt and seemingly verminous hair. It was admitted that they were disinclined to wash and the lack of hot water was mentioned as a contributory factor. It was obvious to the visitors that the showers were hardly used. The vocational teachers drew attention to the lack of facilities for the boys to wash up after work in the shops and to the absence of proper protective clothing. The formative value of high standards of personal cleanliness is obvious and immediate action should be undertaken to correct the prevailing neglect in this respect and to provide the facilities which would encourage an improvement. The boys were attired in extremely ill-fitting, oddly matched, old, dirty and rather tattered clothes. We do not overlook the difficulties there in providing clothing, nor the extent to which clothing provided is subject to abuse, but in the interests of fostering the boys’ personal dignity, the present situation should be radically improved. It is suggested that the boys be outfitted in a more modern idiom and a “jeans and pullover” outfit, such as we have seen widely used in Britain, might well merit consideration. Underclothing and the substitution of pyjamas for night shirts might also be considered. Discoloured bed linen and the thread-bare condition of the blankets gives cause for concern. On the basis of one visit, we hesitate to comment on diet, beyond stating that on Ash Wednesday – the day of our visit – the boys main meal consisted of chipped potatoes, bread and tea and they were universally vocal that the quantity of food served to them on the occasion of our visit was far in excess of what would normally be in the case. Committee members commented on the absence of eggs from the menu, although they had been shown an extensive “egg-battery” adjacent. Early consideration to recognising the school as a special school for the handicapped would cater more realistically for the needs of the boys receiving instruction. It would also afford the higher teacher-pupil ratio, which the educational condition of the boys so urgently needs. The vocational teachers complained that their equipment was not alone inadequate but dangerous and there would appear to be considerable scope for immediate improvement in this field. In the course of discussion with the Committee as a whole, the Resident Manager disclosed that punishment was administered with a leather on the buttocks, when the boys were attired in their night shirts and that at times a boy might be undressed for punishment. At this juncture, the Committee does not wish to elaborate on corporal punishment as such but would urge that the practice of undressing boys for punishment be discontinued. In this regard, attention is invited to the amendment in recent times following the Court Lees incident of the British Home Office regulations regarding corporal punishment in Approved Schools which specifies that punishment, if administered on the buttocks, should be applied through the boys’ normal clothing. It will be greatly appreciated if you will look into the question of providing these improvements listed at the earliest possible moment. It is felt that they are the minimum necessary to render the school reasonably acceptable as a Reformatory. Yours sincerely, EILEEN KENNEDY Chairman.


There is another document dated 10th March 1968, written by one of the Committee members, Mr H. B. Early, from the Department of Justice. His notes add detail and further criticisms to those voiced in the letter. Under the sub-heading, ‘Some thoughts on Daingean’ he wrote: 1. STAFF: Appears to have lost interest in their work – on duty 24 hours per day 7 days a week – living in isolation – little or no contact with the local community or with modern thinking in the field of child care. Religious staff sent to school for 5 years and there they remain except for a short annual holiday (?). Not sufficient to maintain proper supervision. Religious staff: did not appear to be suitable. Lay staff – teaching – tend to change annually except for woodworking teacher – teachers tend to come directly from training college – takes months to adjust themselves to dealing with difficult children and bad equipment. Lay staff – non-teaching – elderly – unsuitable. 2. BUILDINGS: Property of the Board of Works: - they appear to have no interest in the place. Old – difficult if not impossible to adapt. Little or nothing can be done with them. 3. EQUIPMENT: Poor and insufficient. 4. RECORDS: Inadequate – not kept up to date – staff too busy. Good filing system but little in the files. 5. BOYS: Very forward – proud and boastful of their past activities. Surprised that over 50% never get into any more trouble considering the environment of the school. 6. FOOD: Not sufficient – wrong kind. 7. CLOTHING: Poor but it is expensive to keep growing boys adequately dressed. 8. CLEANNESS: Boys dirty due to lack of supervision and hot water. School leaves much to be desired. It needs to be properly cleaned/ scrubbed from top to bottom particularly the toilets and kitchen area. The present condition is not due to lack of finance but to an attitude of mind – they are used to dirt – they cannot see dirt. A woman’s influence is necessary. Immediate action is necessary to deal with waste disposal from the kitchen. The present method is most unhealthy. A new (hot) water system is essential. 9. GENERAL: The school appears to offer little to the boys who appear to have little respect for the staff. The boys arrive – little is known about them when they do arrive – they are kept for an average stay of 18 months – they leave – little or nothing is done for them to face the outside world. They seem to leave, as they have entered, with the same complaint against society. What society had done is to get them out of sight and mind for 18 months. Society has not solved the boys’ problems but has put them on the long finger. The only difference is that after 18 months we have a greater problem on our hands.


What he adds to the Kennedy Report is his opinion that the dirt and squalor were not due to lack of finance, but to ‘lack of supervision’ and ‘an attitude of mind’. He also identified the poor quality of the staff and the inadequate aftercare provided.


In the Emergence hearing, Fr Murphy said, ‘The Kennedy Report in 1970 mentioned St. Conleth’s. They highlighted two things in that report: The state of the buildings and the clothing of the children’. His colleague, Fr Hughes, when questioned about the Kennedy Committee’s criticism that the showers were rusty through lack of use, rejected the Committee’s criticism, saying: There is no evidence that the Kennedy Committee did a very thorough examination of the premises, they descended on it as a group, there is no evidence that they made a very careful examination of everything ...


Fr Luca, who was Resident Manager at the time, gave a different version. He said in evidence that he got two day’s notice of the visit and that they did not ‘land on the doorstep unannounced’. Fr Hughes urged the Investigation Committee to read instead the ‘much more careful report’ of Dr Lysaght who ‘made a report there in 1966 after a very careful investigation, it is a very nuanced report and I think one would accept his observations as being fair and just’. He went on to explain that Dr Lysaght: went there specifically to do an investigation. He did a very careful and very honest and objective report which is far from being totally favourable but at the same time it has its nuances. I think one would have to accept it. Dr Lysaght’s report on St Conleth’s, Daingean, 1966


Given that Dr Lysaght’s report has the imprimatur of the Oblates, it is worth looking at it in some detail. It is a comprehensive document, involving 16 pages of tightly written manuscript. Dr Lysaght replaced Dr McCabe as the Medical Inspector in the Department of Education. He visited Daingean on 3rd June 1966. In his conclusion, Dr Lysaght summarised his views as follows: I have indicated in this report by my comments where I regard the faults in this institution are to be found. Broadly they are in connection with food and clothing. In this latter connection I am seeking to avoid, but with difficulty, comparison with senior boys industrial schools. It is probably the case that the same care for clothes cannot be expected from the type of boy here. In any event they are untidy, poorly dressed, unkempt by comparison with the four senior boys industrial schools I have so far seen. The kitchen, food storage, wash up and dining room are unsuitable in regard to structure, decoration & equipment.


He reported that the School was authorised for 250 boys. There were 122 present on the date of inspection.


He then very simply described the equipment as, on the whole, poor. He found that the infrastructure of the dormitories, which had been recently built, was fine, but the beds, sheets and blankets were often substandard, and grubby. The junior toilets were smelly and messy. The items that needed regular supervision, cleaning and laundering, in other words, were showing neglect.


The kitchens received a close examination. Dr Lysaght summarised his findings: Altogether the kitchen section is a poor effort – it is unsuitable in its structure, inadequate in its equipment and while it is impossible to be critical of personnel forced to work under such conditions I would feel that the brother cook would benefit by instruction and experience of other kitchens. Dining Room Poorly lighted, low ceiling room adjoining kitchen. While it is also in an old building & suffers from the disadvantage of poor lighting and low ceiling I feel its general air of dinginess & old work house atmosphere could be improved by an intelligent use of decoration and paint on the room and furniture. The one thing it has is plenty of wall space and it is capable of taking many more tables.


Then Dr Lysaght turned his attention to the food itself, and was in general critical of the diet provided, for example: As regards breakfast with the exception of Sunday it is just tea and B & B36 – it seems unusual that porridge & milk is not provided on any morning. Another unusual feature is that despite having their own farm and a battery egg system eggs only appear on the menu once i.e. Sunday morning breakfast. In contrast to industrial schools fruit in season does not appear on the menu at all. Cheese a most valuable and cheap form of protein food only appears once for Friday tea. I see no reason why it should not be made available on the one other evening when meat is not served for tea viz – Sunday. It would seem to me that the whole question of food, cooking, service, kitchen and dining room facilities etc call for consideration and efforts to improve the present position. As in most male religious institutions the food departments lag behind those in most institutions run by nuns. – they are operated in a rough and ready style & do not approach in any way kitchen departments under the control of women, whether nuns or lay.


Turning his attention to the state of the boys’ clothing, he found much to be desired: Clothing - I was not impressed by their general appearance.


When he looked at the medical records, it was the paucity of information that drew his criticism. He did not know whether the absence of information was due to the School having healthy children or due to omission. In particular, the lack of any record of inoculations or measures against infectious diseases concerned him. There was no nurse in the Institution at the time of Dr Lysaght’s inspection, but it was hoped to employ one in the near future, and this he hoped would bring about an improvement in the recording of information on the boys’ medical cards.


Finally, Dr Lysaght was very critical of the lack of hot water in the washroom and showers and, although he inspected during the summer, the heating was inadequate. Washroom Source: Martin Reynolds


All of the criticisms made by the members of the Kennedy Committee are to be found in Dr Lysaght’s report. They both found that: The boys were grubby and unkempt. Clothing was poor and torn, worse than in other schools. Showers were inadequate. The building was cold and poorly heated. Food was adequate in quantity but mostly carbohydrate. Despite having a battery farm producing eggs they were infrequently served to the boys. Most of the building was dingy and dark. Beds and sheets were poorly kept, and many were dirty and had threadbare blankets.


Dr Lysaght has criticisms not found in Kennedy, for example the inadequacy of medical records. The only criticism in Kennedy not also found in Lysaght is the condemnation of corporal punishment. Yet, the Oblates found Lysaght careful and balanced and ‘one would have to accept it’.

  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.
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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.