Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

Show Contents



The Department of Education failed in its many attempts to get The Department of Justice to take over Marlborough House, which remained under its control until its closure on 1st August 1972.


Despite being legally responsible for inspecting all the children and the entire accommodation in the school, the Department of Education did not carry out its supervisory role. In its submission it wrote: Records indicate that there were no formal or regular inspections of Marlborough House. With the exception of Departmental Officials accompanying visiting dignitaries on walkabout inspections of the facilities or Departmental Officials calling to the centre to report on urgent matters such as the investigation of a serious complaint, records indicate that Departmental officials did not inspect the facilities in Marlborough House as a matter of routine. In the absence of a formal or routine inspection system, contact with Marlborough House was mainly in the form of written correspondence between the Superintendant of Marlborough House and the Inspector of the Reformatory and Industrial School Branch when dealing with issues such as the investigation of complaints and incidents, staffing, funding, requisitions, etc.


The children in Marlborough House, then, were afforded even less protection than the children in Industrial and Reformatory Schools, where the Department did set up a regular inspection system. The Department relied almost exclusively on responding to complaints as its means of monitoring the running of the institution.


The Department’s submission to the Commission explained the complaints system by quoting from a letter dated 17th May 1971 from the Secretary of the Department of Education to the Minister for Education. All complaints from parents, guardians or other sources about the treatment of children in Marlborough House are investigated by the Department. The Attendant-in-charge is furnished with a copy of the complaint and his observations are requested. Should the seriousness of the complaint warrant it, an Officer of the Department will also interview the child and the Attendant-in-charge and/or the attendant against whom the allegations are made and the Department takes appropriate action where necessary. No complete record of all complaints received is available since many of the complaints received are of a trivial nature.


The procedure was largely the same as that set up for the Industrial Schools, except that these schools would have been visited by the Department’s Inspector, who would have regular contact with the school.


It is unclear from this account how the seriousness of a complaint was judged, since this judgement was made before the child and Attendant-in-charge were interviewed.


Marlborough House was acquired by the Department of Education in 1944, to replace Summerhill Police Barracks that had been used as a place of detention since 1912. The premises at Summerhill had been condemned the Cussen Commission in 1936, who said of it: The building itself we regard as entirely unsuitable as a Place of Detention. It is situated in a densely populated district and its structure is such that it might prove a death-trap in the event of fire. The play-ground is merely a moderately-sized yard, and is altogether too small to afford the boys anything like sufficient space for exercise.


The Cussen Commission advocated a move as soon as possible to better accommodation. It wrote: We strongly recommend that suitable premises with sufficient space for adequate playground and recreation rooms should be acquired at the earliest possible moment.


The responsibility for implementing this change fell to the Department of Education and it took eight years to find a replacement. The lack of urgency was partly because of the falling numbers of boys under detention, which made it a considerably less urgent matter, although it was also because the Department was reluctant to take responsibility for this facility, which it believed properly came within the remit of the Department of Justice.


In September 1936, on foot of the Cussen Report, the Department of Education instructed the Office of Public Works (OPW) to make inquiries about alternative premises, and to assess, in particular, the suitability of the Infirmary Buildings at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, but these however, had been assigned to the Garda Síochána. In November 1936, the Department of Education again asked the OPW to ‘make immediate inquiries’ about alternative premises. There were no developments for six months, and the Department contacted the OPW again in March 1937. It suggested using a part of the Royal Hibernian Military School, but this proposal was dismissed as too costly.


Meanwhile, falling numbers in Summerhill raised questions about the need for a separate place of detention. In 1938, the maximum number of boys detained in Summerhill was four and at times there were none. District Judge Little of the Children’s Court took the view that ‘As the Law in this country stands the accommodation of Summerhill is sufficient’.


The Department of Education recommended suspension of the search for alternative premises. The decrease in numbers prompted the Department of Finance, in March 1938, to ask the Department of Education whether there was a real need for a special place of detention, to which the Department of Education replied that there was ‘no immediate urgency’ to look for alternative accommodation. In this letter of 19th March 1938 to the Department of Finance, the Department of Education made clear the Department’s position on having to run a remand centre: This institution has been the source of much bother to our Department which is all the more annoying when it is remembered that the provision of Places of Detention is the business of the Police Authorities and not a proper function of our Department. However, since we have accepted the responsibility, we can hardly rid ourselves of it now: we tried unsuccessfully to do so a few years ago and Summerhill is one of the many troublesome “babies” that we must continue to hold.


The Department of Education informed the OPW that there was ‘no immediate urgency’ to acquire alternative premises but, if one was found at a reasonable cost, it should be acquired.


The small number of admissions was raised again by the Department of Education which found that, in the year from September 1937 to September 1938, there were 116 days when only one boy was admitted, and 115 when there were no admissions, giving a daily average for the year of 1.4. This prompted them to state that the existing facilities at Summerhill ‘should suffice until more suitable premises have been secured’.


In November 1939, the Department of Education inspected Marlborough House. Although it was considered too large, it was deemed to be suitable for adaptation as an alternative premises, and the thinking at that time was not to take immediate possession of it but to put a lien on it for future use. However, the onset of the Second World War expedited matters and, from 1941 onwards, the acquisition of Marlborough House became a matter of priority, because Summerhill was considered to ‘be unsafe in the event of serial bombardment’ as it had no air raid shelter and there were no plans to build one. Such was the urgency of finding alternative premises that the Department enlisted the services of an estate agent in February 1942. All but one of the premises he found were deemed unsuitable, and there is no record as to why the one suitable was not purchased.

  1. .The Department of Education was negligent in the management and administration of Marlborough House. Its unwillingness to accept responsibility for the Institution caused neglect and suffering to the children there and resulted in a dangerous, dilapidated environment for the children.
  2. .The employment of unsuitable, inadequate and unqualified staff resulted in a brutal, harsh regime with punishment at its core.
  3. .There was no outside authority interested in the welfare of the children in Marlborough House. No concern was expressed by Department officials at the appalling treatment and care they knew the boys were receiving. The concern at all times was to protect the Department from criticism.
  4. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It later changed its name to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. (ISPCC)
  5. The average cost of keeping a prisoner in Shanganagh Castle in 2002 was €169,450, the second highest in the state outside of Portlaoise
  6. Department of Education & Science Statement to Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 19th May 2006, p 220.
  7. Correspondence cited in Department of Education submission, p 223.
  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 pseudonym.