Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

Show Contents

Sexual abuse


On 31st January 1951, an attendant at Marlborough House was convicted of indecently assaulting two boys detained in the Institution. He was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment. The complaints of sexual abuse emerged in a separate hearing concerning the two juveniles. The two boys made their complaints to Mr Justice MacCarthy in the Children’s Court. He, in turn, must have passed the information on to the proper authorities, as a successful prosecution ensued. There is no record of this in the discovery from the Department of Justice or the Department of Education.


The only reference to the affair has been outlined above in the correspondence between District Judge MacCarthy and the Assistant Secretary in the Department of Education (see para 10.060 ), and when it was raised at a meeting between the Department of Education and members of the Resident Managers’ Association.


The conviction of an attendant for sexually abusing boys in Marlborough House in 1951 should have generated a record of some kind. There is no information available on the background to this incident, and this makes it impossible to estimate the extent of the abuse by this man or others in the Institution.


Two of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Investigation Committee complained of sexual abuse by staff.


One witness, who was in Marlborough House in the early 1970s, alleged that two members of staff (Mr Lombard and Mr Hugot)11 used a walking stick to beat him. The beatings were random and for no particular reason. He also complained of being fondled and, when asked to describe this, he said: What they would actually do, they would strip you and I remember, I can see him now ... he would come in and shove the stick between your buttocks or whatever else and stand in the doorway and watch him push you and feel you or whatever.



From the documents furnished, the boys’ living quarters at the rear of the house consisted of one large room, where they ate and spent the day, and another separate room used as a dormitory. The boys lived in dreadful conditions. In 1951, Judge MacCarthy in a letter to the Department of Education referred to evidence that had come to light that ‘the blankets were not cleaned or disinfected in any way except every six years’.


However, a Working Party of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders visited Marlborough House on 4th January 1963, and their views were quite positive. They reported that the boys’ accommodation at the rear of the building was ‘in very good condition’ and that ‘Both the dormitory which is in use and the refectory cum recreation room were well heated, the beds appeared comfortable and there was a plentiful supply of bed clothes’. They also reported that the boys got a bath twice a week, and that ‘English school readers and history books are also provided and the Superintendent said that either he himself or an attendant is always available to help a boy with his reading’. The Committee recommended hiring a teacher part-time to teach elementary subjects and to introduce manual occupations or handicrafts, neither of which was implemented.


As stated earlier, staff in Marlborough House were recruited from the local Unemployment Exchange. In 1963, the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders recommended changing this recruitment policy. They recommended: increasing the salaries of the Superintendent and matron; and terminating the system of recruiting staff through the Unemployment Exchange and instead hiring Garda pensioners, ex-prison officers and ex-Army personnel. To recruit retired Gardaí required repealing the abatement of Garda Pensions, and an Order was made on 17th October 1966 and approved by the Dail at the end of the year. The Department reported that: ‘The recruitment of attendants is now satisfactory. Of the five existing attendants two are ex-Gardaí and the repeal of the pension abatement clause will facilitate the recruitment of Garda pensioners in the future’. Despite this, the Kennedy Report of 1970 referred to attendants recruited through the Unemployment Exchange, which made them unsuitable as ‘their function at present is purely custodial’.


In a series of newspaper articles which appeared in the Irish Press in 1970 one of the attendants was reported to have said: ‘They’re half starved – the food is designed to just barely keep body and soul together’. He described an ordinary day as: Rise 8 a.m., breakfast around 9–9.30 a.m., consisting of Tea, Bread and Marg or Bread and Jam. The boys then sit around in one room. At times they are supposed to sit facing each other across a wooden table. If “Jacob” or a more lenient warden is on duty they are allowed move around the room, play cards (there’s one pack), and if their parents bring them comics they may be allowed read. Dinner: 1.30 p.m., consisting of (every day) a coddle – sausages in soup with potatoes. No tea or beverages. They sit around again till 5.30 p.m. when they get – Tea, Bread and Butter. Nothing more is served till 9.30 a.m. next morning. If the warden on duty is in a good mood they may be allowed watch television till 9.30 p.m. when they line up for inspection before bed. They all sleep in one, locked dormitory.


Each of the witnesses said they spent each day of their detention in this large room with nothing to do. One witness, who spent time there in 1970, described this room as ‘painted smoky kind of grey’ with a large stove at one end where ‘We would sit around the fire basically all day’. This room, as described by the witness, was divided into two sections by a partition: one section consisted of two tables for eating, and the other section was ‘where we would sit down at the fire all day’. They had nothing to do except sit by the fire in this room, which he described as similar to the room in the film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with ‘strong wire on every window’. He recalled only being allowed out into the outside yard for one hour during the whole month of his detention.


At that time, he said there were approximately 25 to 30 boys in the House. His daily routine consisted of getting up in the morning, going to the bathroom to ‘put some water on your face’ and going downstairs for breakfast and then sitting by the fire for the day. His description of breakfast was not particularly edifying. The boys would sit each side of the table, and one of the attendants would stand at the top of the table: Mr Lombard would stand at the top of the table, we would all have a mug of tea, it would be ready for you, and he would stand at the top of the table and we would all be sitting down. And he would say, “hey, you boy, catch”, and he would throw you the bread and you had to catch it before the other guy got it. Jam and bread. Then the next boy. “Hey, boy”, and he threw it to you and you had to catch it.


Another witness described the same routine in the same room as ‘... just one big room, when you got up in the morning you stayed there for the day until you went to bed at night’. The day was spent playing with the other children. He did recall board games: I know we played draughts, there would be cards, there mightn’t even be a full deck of cards, there would be a few cards missing here and there. They were basically the two. I think if I remember right, even the draught board it used to be beer tops that we used play on.


One witness who was in Marlborough House in 1970 described it as ‘... like walking into Dracula’s castle, it was real Victorian, real dirt...’. He recounted the filthy conditions they were subjected to: ‘there was fleas walking in the towels you were given to dry yourself with. It was absolutely filthy there’. The boys had to share everything even the towels: I remember the Dublin fellow saying to me one day, “Use the corner of the towels because nobody else does”. I can see now in my mind’s eye, the very corner the fleas walking up and down, they were small white towels, well, they were supposed to be white ...


The staff, he also found, were filthy: ‘I remember most of the staff that were there most of them were filthy in themselves, they were dirty themselves’. He recalled that he had to ask the matron, who was referred to as ‘The Madame’, in a certain way for bread and jam, otherwise he would not get any: ‘You had to say, “Madame, could I have bread and jam, please?” You would say Madame at the end of the sentence as well or you wouldn’t get any’.


He added there was nothing to do all day: ‘We might be left out now and again for soccer, or walk around or whatever’.

  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.