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Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

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The Secretary and the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education continued in their efforts. They met with District Judge MacCarthy of the Children’s Court on 13th June 1955, and explained ‘that Marlborough House had been more or less condemned as a building and the question now arose as to whether a new building should be found or whether some other means of catering for boys on remand should be considered’. It was agreed ‘that Artane seemed to be the only possible potential House of Detention’, but Judge MacCarthy said that the Christian Brothers had decided that Artane should only accept ‘boys of a non-criminal type’, and so it was unlikely that they would allow Artane to be used as a place of detention.


On 9th July 1955, the Superior General of the Christian Brothers and the Superior of Artane met with the Minister for Education to discuss the issue, as the Archbishop had contacted them. The Christian Brothers were not in favour of the proposal for the following reasons: (1) Artane now housed only orphans and boys who had been before the courts on minor charges. (2) All boys convicted of crimes of an indictable nature were sent to Letterfrack. (3) They were anxious that nothing should be done which would take away from the good name which they had been endeavouring to build up for Artane or which would result in any stigma attaching to a boy who had been in that Institution. (4) The layout of the lands and premises in Artane would not lend itself to separate quarters being provided for a house of detention.


That was the end of the negotiations between the Department and the Christian Brothers. As there seemed to be no prospect of any religious Order taking on the task, and as the Marlborough House building was in such a perilous condition, the Department of Education sought sanction from the Department of Finance for an alternative venue for a place of detention. The Minister for Finance, in a letter of 30th January 1956, said: I do not fully understand why none of the religious communities in Dublin devoted to the correction of juvenile delinquency in its various degrees and manifestations appears willing to receive the type here in question into one or other of their existing institutions ... I suggest then that you would be justified in seeking to reopen the matter with the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities.


On 22nd July 1957, the Department of Education wrote to Archbishop McQuaid about the dangerous condition of the Institution: ... Marlborough House, the building used as a House of Detention, is in so dangerous a state as to make it necessary shortly to look for an alternative building. I have mentioned to the Minister that your Grace has been so good as to have expressed on several occasions a particular interest in the question of the House of Detention and the Minister has asked me to request your Grace to favour me with an interview on the matter.


The Archbishop replied the following day and said: I am very glad to learn that Marlborough House is at last falling down. I have spoken so often to successive Ministers about this Institution, but to no avail whatever. The collapse of the building is now achieving what I had failed to achieve, for the souls and bodies of the boys.


Officials from the Department met with the Archbishop on 24th July 1957. The Archbishop reiterated his view that he was glad the building was in a bad state and told the officials that: At present the boys are idle while there except for a little teaching in Christian Doctrine given by an old Christian Brother. The priests who look after clubs in Dublin will tell you there is nothing worse for boys of that type than idleness. Learning bad behaviour from each other is what they are doing while there ... the first necessity is to find an Order of Brothers to run the place


He felt that the De La Salle Order would be suitable, as they ‘had much experience in such matters’. The Archbishop inquired if the Minister would ‘have any objection to a scheme like St. Anne’s in Kilmacud where the Order itself bought the house and the land and where the Department made arrangements about grants’. The Department official assured the Archbishop that the Minister would be more than satisfied with such an arrangement. The meeting ended and, as the officials took their leave, the Archbishop said: ... the Detention Centre was the root of all good and bad in the Dublin boys who get into trouble and that nothing was more urgent than that the Centre be well conducted.


In January 1958, the Archbishop informed the Department that the De La Salle Order had identified a site at Johnstown House, Ballyfermot for the new place of detention and they would manage it. The Provincial of the De La Salle Order met with senior Department of Education officials on 16th January 1958 to discuss the proposals and, the following day, they inspected the site which was a ‘fine sturdy building’ originally owned by the manager of Guinness. Its only drawback was that it was not large enough. The Department felt this was a ‘golden opportunity’ to transfer the management of the remand facility to a religious order.


However, the transfer of the place of detention to the De La Salle Order at Johnstown House, Ballyfermot never happened. No explanation is provided by the Department and none can be found in their records.


The question of transferring the management and administration of Marlborough House to the Department of Justice arose again in 1963. The Inter-Departmental Committee on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders noted in one of its meetings: The chairman mentioned in passing that even though Marlborough House would be replaced within three years by the new detention centre at Finglas the question of its transfer to the Department of Justice might have to be raised as the pressure in the Dail to have improvements made there, for example, by the provision of facilities for psychiatric treatment, would have to evoke a positive response and if such response was not forthcoming from the Department of Education, the Department of Justice would have to take over direct responsibility for the running of the institution.


However, until its closure in 1972, the administration of Marlborough House remained the responsibility of the Department of Education.


As stated above, there were no formal or regular inspections of Marlborough House by the Department of Education.


At a Minister’s Conference on 23rd April 1951 attended by the Department of Education and the President and Secretary of the Industrial and Reformatory School Managers Association, the subject of Marlborough House was raised at the end of the meeting: Fr. [Y] then introduced the question of the House of Detention. He said that there was no Chaplain there, no instruction, no training, and that younger boys mixed with senior boys who might have an evil influence on them. Boys might often be left there for 9 or 10 weeks. He had been shocked by certain events that had occurred recently in the House of Detention, especially when had seen the evidence given by the boys concerned and had become acquainted with the boys in the Reformatory. He understood that there had been some difficulty, from the point of view of the Archbishop, with regard to appointing a Chaplain. The Minister promised to have the matter inquired into fully at the earliest possible moment.


The following day, the Minister for Education wrote to the Minister for Justice: In the course of a talk with Father [Y] and Brother [V], representing the Managers of Industrial Schools and Reformatories, matters were discussed in relation to the House of Detention at Marlborough House. I think a situation exists there which would dictate that at once we would have an inter-Departmental conference with a view to seeing what type of examination should be carried out there for the purpose of securing that the boys there were adequately looked after and all danger of scandal or criticism eliminated. I feel we have to satisfy ourselves that arrangement are made adequately dealing with the spiritual interest, the occupational interest, health and education of these boys.


In an internal memorandum prepared for the Minister for Justice, it was noted: We have not received any complaints about the conditions in Marlborough House. I assume, however, that the Minister will be prepared to discuss this matter with the Minister for Education and I enclose a draft reply to this effect. I propose, subject to the Minister’s approval, to speak to District Justice MacCarthy of the Children’s Court telling him that it has been suggested that the arrangements in Marlborough House should be looked into and asking him whether he has any comments to make and would be willing to sit in at any discussions.

  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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