Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

Show Contents



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.


In March 1942, the Department asked the Christian Brothers if Artane and Carriglea Industrial Schools might ‘take charge of the boys on remand so that the Place of Detention might be discontinued’, but they declined. It was only then, in October 1942, that the OPW inspected Marlborough House to assess its suitability. At the time of inspection, it was around 100 years old and was being used for the storage of furniture.


Marlborough House was a large domestic dwelling which had been used as a teacher training college. It was situated in Glasnevin in Dublin and it consisted of three floors, containing 18 rooms, with kitchens, larders and five bathrooms, and a garden of half an acre. A large extension had been built to the rear of the building which was of more recent vintage. The OPW reported: The condition of the front, that is, the older portion of the premises, is rather poor; the roof is bad and some of the walls are secured by iron tie bars.


As a result, the OPW concluded, ‘A considerable amount of repair work will be necessary to this portion of the premises in the course of years’. In contrast, the rear of the building was in good condition and required ‘little work other than ordinary routine maintenance’. Overall, they advised the Department ‘that the premises lend themselves fairly readily to adaptation as a Place of Detention’. This they felt could be achieved by initially utilising the ground and first floors, which would involve the division of a large room on the ground floor to form a refectory, a day room and the installation of a range in the kitchen. A large room on the first floor was to be divided up to provide dormitories, with two heating stoves and the provision of a protected playground space. Provision was not made for new fire escape stairs or for an ‘escape-proof’ garden separate from the playground. The cost of these alterations was estimated between £900 and £1,000. It was also proposed to operate a medical clinic on the premises for young offenders.


The changes met neither the criticisms of Summerhill outlined in the Cussen Report, nor the needs of the wartime emergency. There was no secure outdoor recreation yard and there was inadequate provision of indoor recreation accommodation geared towards keeping the boys secure and occupied during their incarceration. In addition, no provision was made for an air raid shelter, which had been the impetus for its urgent acquisition.


Further delays ensued in the acquisition of Marlborough House, as sanction was required by the Department of Finance, and a complication arose when the Department of Defence also sought possession of the house for use as a food and rest centre during the war. Matters were further complicated, as legal objections were raised by the lessor of Marlborough House who objected to its use as a detention centre.


In June 1943, the Chief of the Dublin Fire Brigade inspected Summerhill and ‘condemned’ it and wanted its immediate closure, but he was unwilling to take such action ‘against a Government department’. The Department of Education informed the Department of Finance of this development, but sanction was still not forthcoming. The Department of Education resorted to making a submission to Government on 19th July 1943 on the issue. Finally, on 12th August 1943, the Department of Finance sanctioned the proposed alterations and finally made possible the use of Marlborough House as a place of detention for young boys.


The Minister for Justice registered Marlborough House as a place of detention for up to 50 male children under 17 years of age, to be administered by the Department of Justice. While in Summerhill children aged 4 years and upwards had been detained, in Marlborough House the lower age limit was 7 or 8. Between 1944 and 1972, there were approximately 21,500 admissions to Marlborough House. In 1943 the daily average number of boys detained in the School was 10. The daily average number in 1960 was 15. On 1st August 1972, when it closed, records show that there were 16 boys detained there.


Whilst the Department of Education had sole managerial responsibility for the Institution, the role of the Department of Justice pursuant to section 108(3) of the Children Act, 1908, was to satisfy itself as to the ‘suitability of the accommodation’ at Marlborough House. The Department of Justice in their Statement to this Committee wrote: The files in the Department of Justice (“the Departmental files”) reveal that the practice was that the administration and operation of Marlborough House was dealt with by the Department of Education and that this position was maintained by officials of the Department of Justice in dealings with the Department of Education ...


The management and administration of Marlborough House remained, therefore, the responsibility of the Department of Education, and the day-to-day administration was undertaken by lay persons who were employed by the Department of Education. Staffing levels increased over the years, rising from six staff in 1944 to 24 in 1972.


In 1944, the staff consisted of one Superintendent who was in charge of the overall administration of the Institution, one house mistress, one male attendant, two residential attendants, and one servant girl. The Superintendent and his wife, who was the matron, lived in the house with the boys. At that time, the average number of boys detained in one month was 8, and the highest in that year was 15.


By January 1963, staff levels had increased, and the Superintendent and his wife, were assisted by five attendants. There was one vacancy at that time.

  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.