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Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

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Physical abuse


The Department became aware that Mr Jacob was supplying the information to the press. Following publication of these articles, officials from the Department of Education interviewed a number of staff at Marlborough House, including the Superintendent, Mr Carnoy, the matron, Mrs Grange, and Mr Jacob. In his interview, Mr Jacob admitted that he contacted Ms Sweetman and gave her access to the building, and he re-asserted his allegations that the boys were ill-treated by certain attendants. He was initially suspended from work, and then was sacked at the end of January 1971, following an internal Department investigation into complaints made against him.


In mid January 1971, the Superintendent of Marlborough House sent a report entitled ‘Report Re-Dismissal Mr Jacob. (Attendant)’ to the Department of Education, in which he detailed a number of complaints against Mr Jacob. He alleged that Mr Jacob, on one occasion, had ‘very little interest’ in the ‘safe custody’ of the boys and, on another occasion, he ‘reported for duty as rostered, he did not appear to be inclined to exercise control or work’.


It is clear from this report that the Superintendent had been asked to answer some questions from the Department of Education, and there is some sense of a little discomfort in the final paragraphs to his report: ... With reference to Mr Jacob’s report to the Press, I have no knowledge that he did same for financial gain, or that he did gain financially from it. Before, during and after Mr Jacob’s press report, he at no time threatened me with the press. I had no fault to find with Mr Jacob, as an Attendant here up to the time he gave the report to the press, from then on he fell below the required standard.


Mr Jacob was interviewed at the Department’s offices, at the end of January 1971, where the complaints about his performance contained in the Superintendent’s report to the Department were put to him. He denied each allegation and put his own version of events to the Department. He also asserted that ‘Since the incidents relating to the Press Mr Carnoy had subjected him to extreme pressure’. He offered to provide a number of witnesses to support his case, and asked that he be given the complaints in writing.


The Department wrote to Mr Jacob three days later, informing him ‘having fully considered the facts of the case, the Minister has decided to terminate your employment as Attendant in Marlborough House’. The reason given by the Department was that ‘the explanations given by you in the matter cannot be accepted’.


The dismissal of Mr Jacob sparked another round of newspaper articles, and it was even raised in the Dail. The Minister for Education stated that he ‘certainly was not dismissed because of the fact that he made allegations in relation to this home’, but was dismissed ‘because of unsatisfactory performance of his duties’.


An injury to a boy in 1971 highlighted problems in Marlborough House that had been present for many years. The 12-year-old boy was attacked by two 15-year-old residents. He was severely kicked in the course of the assault, as a result of which he began passing blood and had to be removed to hospital, where he received treatment for a considerable period of time. In response to complaints made by Free Legal Advice Centres, a member of staff who reported on the incident commented that the staff had done their best to keep these unruly boys out of Marlborough House ‘but the courts still sent them to us’. The report concluded: We have no way of keeping the boys apart here, and young and old have to stay in the one recreation room and dormitory. In my opinion and with experience over the years this building is no longer suitable for the detention of boys or for staff to work in.


In early 1972 there was an incident that resulted in an attendant striking a boy with a torch. It became the subject of a Garda investigation that resulted in a recommendation that no further action be taken. It involved a confrontation between attendants and a number of the 25 boys who were resident at the time. The Garda investigation revealed two conflicting accounts of the events that night. The boy who was struck described how an attendant shouted at him to keep quiet in the dormitory and then hit him with his hand, at which the boy got out of bed and hit the attendant back. Another attendant struck him on the head with a flash lamp a number of times. The attendants’ version was that the boys were troublesome and one of them was put into a cell. The others demanded his release and about eight or nine jumped out of bed and attacked the attendants. In order to prevent the boy getting a poker which he might use as a weapon one of the attendants struck him with a torch. Although it was never resolved and did not give rise to any prosecution, the incident revealed the tense atmosphere that prevailed in the institution. Violence could erupt quickly with little provocation.


An internal memorandum of the Department of Justice dated 23rd July 1969 referred to the attitude of the Department of Education when these allegations of physical abuse were reported: It will be recalled that the Probation Officers had complained of boys being beaten in their presence in Marlboro House. While I was in Ormond Quay I transmitted complaints of this nature to Education. Justice Kennedy had also complained about boys from Marlboro House coming before her with obvious signs of ill-treatment. It took the best part of six months for [the Assistant Secretary] to reply to the Justice. Apparently [the Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools] simply ignored complaints of this kind. [The Assistant Secretary] admitted that there was ill-treatment by the staff and investigations are still going on. Some of the ill-treatment was however between the boys themselves.


In April 1956, the Department of Education received a letter from the father of an eight and a half year-old boy who was detained in Marlborough House for one month for stealing ‘Sweets Lemonade & Cigarettes, from the [a local club], this is his first offence’.


The father wrote that he had visited his son on the previous Sunday and had noticed he was pale. He asked him what was the matter, and was told by another boy that he had been hit on the head by another detainee. His son then told him that he had also had his head stuck in a wash basin and the water turned on by the same boy. The father lodged a complaint with the Superintendent, and wrote to the Department noting in this letter that the ‘young man who Ill Treated my Child is No other than the one who stabbed his Brother to death with a knife’. He requested that his child should be returned to his custody.


The boy’s father also complained in person to the Minister for Agriculture on the same day as he wrote the letter. The Minister for Agriculture telephoned the Department of Education that afternoon. The Department official who took the call informed Mr Grange, the Superintendent in Marlborough House, immediately and he undertook to enquire fully into the alleged ill-treatment.


Mr Grange investigated the matter by taking statements from the attendant on duty on the day, and from the mother of another boy involved in the same incident, and from the boy accused of the ill-treatment. The attendant on duty, and the woman who witnessed the visit of the father with his son, both alleged that the father was intoxicated on the day and had become violent when he discovered that his son was in the same place as a boy who was accused of fatally stabbing his brother.


The boy who was alleged to have been responsible for the incident wrote a two-page statement, in which he did not deny that either incident took place, but instead gave an innocent explanation for the blow on the head and the washbasin incident.


The day after the letter of complaint was received, the boy at the centre of the allegation was examined by a medical officer, who found ‘no evidence ... of any injury to his head or any other part of his body’.

  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.
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