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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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On the impossibility of change


In their General Statement, the Oblates quoted from Patrick Clancy’s article, ‘Education Policy’, on this matter.38 He wrote: Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Irish education system is the level of church involvement and control. Church control of education is rooted in the ownership and management of schools. After independence in 1922, the new state institutionalized the denominational school system which it inherited. Successive ministers of education adopted the view that the role of the state in education was a subsidiary one of aiding agencies such as the churches in the provision of educational facilities. The classic expression of this position is outlined in Minister of Education, Richard Mulcahy’s speech to Dáil Éireann in 1956: ‘Deputy Moylan has asked me to philosophise, to give my views on educational technique or educational practice. I do not regard that as my function in the Department of Education in the circumstances of the educational set-up in this country. You have your teachers, your managers and your Churches and I regard the position as Minister in the Department of Education as a kind of dungaree man, the plumber who will make the satisfactory communications and streamline the forces and potentialities of educational workers and educational management in this country. He will take the knock out of the pipes and will link up everything’. (Dáil Debates, 159: 1494).


The State left the management of the School to the Oblates but, under the special agreement made when the Oblates moved the Reformatory from Glencree to Daingean, the Department of Education owned the building, and had to pay for large-scale maintenance and any new buildings erected on the site. Thus, the Oblates could claim, in their General Statement, ‘It would be unreal therefore to see the State as distanced from direct responsibility for the school’.


The Oblates also asserted: Given the nature of the work, the fact of State ownership of the property, the fact that the school depended on State funding, and the many appeals for help from the school administration, responsibility for the state of the living conditions in the school and its lack of facilities as described must lie primarily with the State.


It was true that the State had made the unprecedented decision to take responsibility for the buildings and maintenance, but general upkeep, cleanliness, clothing, bedding and supervision of the boys were the responsibility of the Oblates. As Dr Lysaght observed, the boys were dirtier, their clothes were more tattered, and the beds were less satisfactory than in other institutions. It was this kind of neglect that also struck the members of the Kennedy Committee. Both the State and the Oblates had allowed conditions to deteriorate so far that closure of the School was inevitable. With neither side taking responsibility for policy, or indeed for the care of the boys sent to Daingean, matters had just drifted until the Kennedy Report forced a decision to be made. The General Statement submitted by the Oblates described the characteristics of the care offered in Daingean. Each of the 13 points [see list at 11.24 above] raised by them can now be examined in the light of the information received by the Committee. 1. A substantial staff, mostly religious Brothers and priests but lay staff too


Staff numbers were inadequate in Daingean, and this placed serious strains on the Brothers and priests actively engaged in the work there. 2. A well-established administrative structure


An inadequate level of staffing led to an inadequate administrative structure. Resident Managers and Prefects had numerous time-consuming duties.


There were, in short, delegated responsibilities, but no supervision, no checks to ensure that regulations were being adhered to. 3. A remedial educational programme


There was effectively no primary school education for the boys in Daingean. One or two lay teachers catered for the primary educational needs of the entire population of boys for most of the period under review. Up to 50 percent of the boys in Daingean were not receiving any formal education right up until the late 1960s, but instead were engaged in hard manual labour on the farm and bog. 4. Vocational training in various trades and occupations


By their own assessment, 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. 5. A routine of instruction and work


As pointed out, there was very little instruction because of shortage of staff. There was a work routine: the boys would rise at 6.45 , wash and go to Mass, have 15 minutes for recreation and then eat breakfast. At 9.30 am, they would fall in, split up into their respective groups and then go to work. Over half went to work on the farm; others went to the bog, or the garden; others to the boot-makers, carpenters, printers, refectory, kitchen and laundry. There was also the band, spoken of by one witness. Another witness told the Committee it was ‘child labour’. None of them saw it as a daily routine of instruction. 6. The assignment of the boys to a Brother in a school/training group and whose task it was to integrate the newcomer into the life of the School


Not one witness spoke of being assigned to a Brother. Most of them spoke of being on their own. 7. The separation of juniors from seniors


There was never adequate separation of juniors from seniors. The playground was eventually segregated in the 1950s, but by then sexual exploitation and sexual liaisons had become part of the Daingean way of life, and the separating wall proved useless. Bullying was institutionalised, and younger boys sought protectors from older boys, and became their ‘hags’ in return. Newcomers were dehumanised, and a simple signal, an open hand with the thumb raised swimming through an imaginary sea, told them they were ‘fish’, newcomers with no rights. As they moved up the hierarchy, they perpetuated the system. 8. A sacramental religious framework


The School was a reformatory for Roman Catholics and ‘Religious practice was therefore an intrinsic part of the school’s life’. The Oblates stated that the School organised Christian Doctrine classes, retreats and special religious activities. Fr Luca made attendance at Mass optional in the 1960s, to encourage a more personalised faith commitment. 9. An insistence on discipline


Discipline in Daingean depended on corporal punishment. The Oblates have asserted that, as soon as corporal punishment was stopped in 1970, there was defiance and rebellion. The records show, however, that even when corporal punishment was at its most extreme in Daingean, defiance and rebellion were a way of life there. Serious riots occurred and the Gardaí had to be called in on three occasions. Abandoning corporal punishment without making any provision for an alternative regime, as occurred in 1970, was irresponsible and reckless. The inability to distinguish discipline from corporal punishment caused unnecessary hardship in Daingean. 10. Encouragement of sporting activities and other leisure activities such as drama and music


There was evidence of sport, music and drama, and many complainants recalled events such as school plays as being some of the good aspects of the School. 11. Many external contacts

  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.
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  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.
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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.