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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Fr Hughes agreed with counsel for the Investigation Committee that it would be fair to suggest that the educational aspect of the boys’ time in Daingean was not particularly enlightening. He continued: Yes. Again you have to remember the capacity of the boys too, it would be naïve to think one could achieve a great deal in that context.


By their own assessment, then, the Oblates did not provide vocational training in various trades and occupations. Over half the boys spent their time working on the farm and bog.


Integral to the whole issue of neglect is the question of finance. Financial Consultants, Mazars, were asked to analyse the financial position of Daingean, and their report and the Oblates’ submission on this issue, in addition to other relevant documents and a commentary, appear in Part IV. What can be stated is that the numbers in Daingean, right up until the late 1960s, were adequate to ensure that the capitation grant could provide a basic standard of care for the boys there. Taking into account the income from the large and productive farm and the work of the boys, especially on the bog, it is clear that lack of funding was not an excuse for the very poor standard of care provided.


The conditions of neglect and squalor described by Dr Lysaght and the Kennedy Committee were the responsibility of the management of the School. Inadequate buildings and the consequent overcrowding would undoubtedly have taxed the most efficient Manager, but dirt, hunger, shabbiness and lack of supervision were management issues, and these were all present at Daingean. Daingean represented a failure of the Department of Education to carry out its statutory function of supervision and inspection. The closure of Daingean and the move to Scoil Ard Mhuire, Lusk

The closure of Daingean and the move to Scoil Ard Mhuire, Lusk


In his Statement, Fr Luca stated that, some time before his term as Manager in Daingean was completed, plans were being made to move from the School in Daingean to a new school in Lusk (Oberstown). Unlike Daingean, the new school was to have a board of management with representatives from the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and the Department of Education.


The School was run on a day-to-day basis by the Oblate Order on behalf of the Department of Education. A Director was appointed to manage the School, and he officially acted as School Manager. The School had a maximum of 45 boys.


The site at Lusk was sold to the Department of Education by the Oblates. The new school was named Scoil Ard Mhuire. The vast majority of the Oblate staff, according to Fr Luca, did not want to work at Oberstown. Furthermore, it was felt by the Oblate Provincial Council that ‘if many of these brothers went to Oberstown it would be just more of the same old pattern’, as they would not take well to the new system the School was developing in childcare.


Daingean officially closed on 16th November 1973, and the boys were mostly transferred to Scoil Ard Mhuire, Lusk. Daingean Reformatory was handed back to the Board of Works on 30th November 1973. However, an Oblate community continued to live in the convent building at the gate, which was transferred to the Oblates against the surrender of their lease in the main property. According to figures from the Oblates, the total number of boys in the Reformatory in 1973 was 25.

On the impossibility of change


In November 1958, Dr McCabe wrote: This reformatory has greatly improved now that B/W37 have given the necessary facilities for dividing up the Play Yard into proper supervision ... The Rector ... has only recently returned from America where he made a Study of Juvenile Delinquency and was impressed by all he saw there and hopes to incorporate it in his work at Daingean. He is anxious to divide up the school into smaller units. He saw several improvements he could incorporate in operation of his own scheme in the dining room in self-service hatches. He is quite refreshed and anxious to make further improvements in Daingean. He considers that on the whole Daingean compares very favourably with such institutions in America and considers that the type of boy he deals with is not as vicious or depraved as the American youth - no drug addicts.


As early as 1958, the idea of dividing up the large institutions into groups was being talked about. When Fr Luca was in Daingean in the early 1960s, he raised the issue again. He wrote in his Statement: I had a whole lot of ideas for Daingean and what should be done with it. How to break up the large group, there were a 120 or 150 boys in this group at the time and I thought it would be much better to build units out around the various fields and break them up.


Fr Luca blamed the Departments of Education and Justice for the inability to introduce change. He wrote: The State was quite happy as long as we kept the lid on Daingean – took in all the boys who went through the courts, said nothing, and kept them there ... There was no public interest at that time ... There was nothing about the treatment of those boys and, in a way, whatever treatment they got was good enough for them, that was the attitude.


He made more precise criticisms in the same submission. He wrote: there was a mirage in the distance of a whole re-modelled Daingean. They built the dormitories and washrooms and the two practical classes for woodwork and metalwork and there it halted ... my view was that it wasn’t so much buildings that had to be change although it would be helpful, but it was the attitudes that had to be changed. Because if the attitude of the Dept. of Education and the Dept. of Justice ... then underneath that the Gardaí and the Courts, if these were going to remain the same there wasn’t much use in looking for a change ... ... I felt that a different less institutional model might be acceptable and that wasn’t acceptable either to the Department or to the Commission for the hierarchy.


In the discovery from the Department of Education, an interesting document emerged in correspondence written after a deputation from Daingean had gone to see the Minister for Education. During the war, large numbers of boys had been sent to Daingean, filling the School to its capacity of 250 boys. When the war ended, numbers began to fall dramatically and, on 2nd March 1950, Fr Ricardo, Superior General of the Oblate Congregation, and Fr Pedro, Resident Manager of Daingean, met with the Minister for Education and his team to discuss the problem of reduced numbers in Daingean. The Oblates made the following points: 1.The chances of a boy’s reform are in inverse proportion to the number of chances given to the boy by the District Justice. Every new offence contributes to habit, and boys are now under the impression they have a right to be let off three times under the First Offenders Act. They wanted the Department of Justice to be brought into discussions to make the District Justice aware of an agreed plan, and make him “inclined to commit the boys for a period that would suit the course”. 2.The falling numbers meant falling income under the capitation system. They wanted a grant on a sliding scale once the numbers fell below 200. 3.Father Ricardo stated he would like to be able to appoint a special priest to deal with the children during their recreation period. 4.Father Pedro stated that the two-year period of detention is scarcely long enough to train boys properly in preparation for trades.


On 29th April 1950, the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools drafted a reply to all these points to his colleague in the Department. The letter contained forthright criticism of the reformatory school system, which can be summarised as follows: (1)Reformatory schools did not fulfil the purpose for which they were established. There was something wrong in the system. (2)The need for a special priest in a reformatory was not even worth discussing, as such a man did not fit the bill. (3)Boys should not be retained longer for the type of training they receive at Daingean, as it was not going to prepare them for trades. Such a suggestion, he opined, might have been made to increase the income of the Institution. (4)Vocational school training was more appropriate to the needs of the boys, and more teachers of woodwork and metalwork were needed. (5)The Oblates needed to be educated as much as the boys, as they knew little about the value of practical subjects or the training of boys. (6)The authorities of the industrial schools were no better, and they would only be convinced of the need for change by example, and changing the Reformatory may do that.


These criticisms were made in 1950, yet the industrial and reformatory schools continued to function as they had always done, until the Kennedy Report in 1970 forced them to change or close down. A key question is why the Department of Education was unable to adopt this approach as its policy.

  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.
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  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.
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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.