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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Fr Murphy, Provincial of the Oblate Congregation, presented evidence to the Investigation Committee at the Emergence hearing on 23rd July 2004. Fr Michael Hughes, the Provincial Archivist, gave evidence at the Phase I public hearing into Daingean on 9th May 2005. Complainant and respondent witnesses were heard in private between 10th May and 2nd June 2005 at the Commission’s offices. Finally, a public hearing in Phase III was held on 6th June 2006, and evidence was again given by Fr Hughes.


In the private hearings, 25 complainant witnesses testified out of a total of 34. A further 44 attended for interview, out of a total of 86 who were invited to attend for interview. Two respondent witnesses gave evidence.


In addition to oral evidence, the Investigation Committee considered documents received from the Oblates, the Department of Education and Science, An Garda Síochana, the Department of Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin.

Physical abuse


In the Emergence hearing into Daingean, the Oblate Congregation did not apologise for any excessive corporal punishment, but they did refer to the press statement which was issued after the broadcast of ‘States of Fear’ in 1999 in which they stated: We would firstly say that the abuse of young people is always abhorrent and abuse of young people in confinement is doubly so. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate deeply regret that any young man was mistreated while in their care and offer sincerest apologies.


In response to a question from the Investigation Committee, the Oblates stated that that press statement: was in the nature of an expression of concern after the TV documentary ‘States of Fear’ in which one of the reformatories was mentioned. It was thought that such a statement was required in view of the public interest in the programme. In their statement the Oblates also indicated that further research was needed. No further statements of this kind have been made ...


In their Opening Statement the Oblates submitted the following: Allegations of physical abuse have also been made. The Oblate Management file shows two complaints of excessive corporal punishment in the lifetime of the school. The school files show five complaints in the lifetime of the school of pupils being struck by staff members: two of these are also found in the DES discovery documents. The Oblates do not seek to defend the use of excessive corporal punishment. However the use of corporal punishment in the period must be judged in the context of a society where it was acceptable in itself and in the context of an institution where numbers were large, facilities were very limited, and there was little or no psychological assessment to exclude violent or unmanageable boys or any resources to deal with them. As a result it was a very difficult task to maintain order in the reformatory and eliminate violence among the boys themselves. It should be mentioned that evidence of support from parents can also be found in the files, and also letters from boys which reveal a good relationship between pupils and staff.


In their Submission, the Oblates summarised their position and acknowledged that the corporal punishment described by some of the complainants was ‘unreasonably severe’. They also acknowledged that ‘the punishment for certain infringements such as absconding and attempting to escape was in itself ‘over severe’. They conceded that such punishment had serious consequences for the boys, and they apologised unreservedly for that, but they denied that it was abusive or administered randomly.


They asked the Commission to examine the issue in the context of the times and the type of institution that operated in Daingean. They also suggested that the question to be examined by the Commission was summed up by the Chairman when he pointed out that the issue was not simply whether boys were beaten in institutions but whether they were abused by being beaten.


From the evidence, it emerged that corporal punishment was administered in three different ways, all of which breached the rules and regulations for corporal punishment in residential schools. These were: 1.The form of punishment known as a flogging. 2.Punches, slaps, kicks or blows with an available implement such as a hurley, a stick or, in the case of one particular Brother, a garden hose and a spade. These blows were given as immediate chastisement for aberrant behaviour or for disobedience and minor insolence. Some staff members were singled out as resorting to such punishment more frequently and harshly than others. 3.Blows with a strap for behaviour warranting less serious punishment.


At a conference held in the Department of Education on 30th June 1952, with Fr Pedro,7 the Resident Manager of Daingean, District Justice McCarthy and the Minister for Education and his officials present, issues relating to Daingean and Marlborough House were discussed. The minutes at one point revealed the following: Justice MacCarthy asked whether corporal punishment had often to be inflicted. Father Pedro said no. Occasionally a caning on the hand, but no more.


The policy of administering an occasional caning on the hand and no more did not conform to the reality of corporal punishment in Daingean. More than the other institutions, Daingean had a system of administering corporal punishment in a formal, almost ritualised way. It meant more than just being beaten with a strap or cane. If a boy was put ‘on report’ by a Brother for breach of discipline, the Disciplinarian would administer corporal punishment in a way known as a ‘flogging’.


Just a year later, in 1953, Fr Pedro explained in a letter to the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools exactly what a ‘flogging’ meant in Daingean: “Flogging” means that a boy is put on his knees receiving a few (5 or 6) light strokes of a light strap on the back. This is not done except for serious offences such as a) insubordination (b) deliberate destruction of property (c) public immoral conduct (d) inciting others to riotous conduct (e) absconding. Absconding must be regarded as a serious offence otherwise it would be impossible to keep those type of boys in the School. The usual punishment for ordinary breaches of rule is a few slaps on the hand or deprivation of re-creation for 15 or 20 minutes.


The use of the strap on the hand as permitted by the rules was not a ‘flogging’. According to the Resident Manager, who had the responsibility for enforcing the rules, a flogging was specifically the administration of blows to the back of a boy who was made to kneel at the time.


In the same year, Dr McCabe, the Department of Education’s Medical Inspector, wrote about the use of flogging in Daingean: “Flogging” ... consists in taking the offender into a small room, removing his pants and administering 5 or 6 strokes on the bare posterior with a leather strap which is quite flexible about 1” wide and 1 yard long (It resembles a strap used to put around a suitcase) The punishment is administered by the disciplinarian ... who is a very understanding patient man and always offers an excuse in defence of a boy if at all possible.


Br Abran,8 who was himself identified as harsh and cruel by complainants and who gave evidence before the Committee, described a flogging that he had been asked to witness in the 1960s. He recalled standing 15 feet away from the boy on the stairs on the ground floor. The boy had his hands on the steps and his nightshirt was lifted up.

  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.
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  10. This is a pseudonym.
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  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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  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.
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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.