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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Physical abuse


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.


He described how the boy, who received around six strokes, was screaming and shouting: ‘... he was only a small chap. I was horrified myself’. He recalled that there was another Brother present with the Prefect. He was asked by the Superior to witness the beating. He said ‘... I don’t know the circumstances, possibly rumours of a type of cruelty was in vogue and I was there to – acting as a witness or just to be there ...’.


When questioned further, he added: I said that the boy in question was a small boy who should not have been punished in that certain way anywhere, firstly ... I had never seen such an incident like that before. It was the first and last time.


He later explained that normally such a punishment took place in the office but, on that occasion, the Superior had requested that he be present as a witness: I think there was some kind of trouble, you had boys up in the roof and some trying to abscond. It was a weak era during that period apparently and because of that I was asked to attend this particular one, to ensure that things were sort of semi-okay ...


This Brother was a valuable independent witness, because he gave an account of a flogging separate from the version given by the boys and by the records. His account was not in conflict with the written descriptions in the discovered documents as outlined above. Both agreed on the following: (1)Blows were with a leather strap on the bare back or buttocks. (2)The boy would be kneeling. (3)The disciplinarian would administer the blows. (4)On some occasions, at least two Brothers were present. (5)The office, or a small room, or the stairs by the dormitory were used. (6)The procedure engendered fear. Although this Brother had been in Daingean ‘a few years’, he found the sight of the boy being flogged an experience that ‘horrified’ him.


Fr Luca, who was Resident Manager from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, added to this picture. He wrote in his Statement to the Committee: I know you have heard it said at times that they were stripped, well there weren’t stripped but they might have to let down their pants and get it on the backside ... ... I would have to say I don’t know how many slaps they had. I never saw the boys being punished while I was there. I didn’t regard it as part of my duty to supervise that. I know that the boys were punished and I know it was left to the prefect to decide what the punishment would be for the particular, well I don’t like to call it crime, misdemeanour. It was generally at the end of the day, there would always have to be two there, never one. I suppose, there would have to be a person available. It seemed to be the tradition which was never questioned. It was never done during the day as far as I know. Nobody ever punished any boy except the prefect ... The place wasn’t in view. As far as I know, the punishment was always performed in the washroom. The stairs went from the washroom up to the dormitory. Now, I am sure they could hear the boys, they would know anyway, they knew what the score was.


He added: I was never present, but my understanding was that they had to let down their pants, lean over the form they sat on in the wash-up room and it was administered there.


He further stated: On the corporal punishment, I don’t think it was excessive. But any corporal punishment, I think, I would regard it as an excess. It was something which I don’t think it was achieving the purpose for which it was intended, to be a control and an aid to discipline. Because it was degrading ... you were attacking a boy’s human dignity.


In effect, Fr Luca confirmed all the other testimony: the Prefect with another Brother present administered corporal punishment, and it was administered at the end of the day in the washroom, near the dormitory, and could be heard by the other boys.


The Investigation Committee was shown the strap used by the Prefect in Daingean. It was about three feet long, with a narrower section at one end for use as a handle. It was half an inch thick and about two inches wide. It was not as flexible as a belt described by Dr McCabe, or ‘light’ as described by Fr Pedro, but heavy and stiff and bendable and, when administered with force by an adult on a child, it caused extreme pain.

  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.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
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  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.
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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.