Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

Show Contents

Physical abuse


Br Sorel made the shocking admission that he forced a boy to eat his own excrement. The boy was not a complainant to the Investigation Committee but the incident was recounted by a complainant who had witnessed it. The Brother in his written response to the Investigation Committee accepted that the allegation was true. In evidence he told the Committee: Well the ... thing has haunted me all my life. It should never have happened. Actually he didn’t eat the excrement, he spat it into the basin, that doesn’t matter, it was wrong, totally wrong, and I accept that. I accept full responsibility for it. It was cruel.


When asked by the Committee why he did it, he said that he was stressed by having to cope with boys who soiled themselves, particularly during the night. He asked colleagues what he should do about one particular boy: A few days before I mentioned this to some of the staff, “what will I do”, I couldn’t get any help from anybody. One of them quite cynically said, “make him eat his own shit”. When I think now on this particular morning, he did it right out in the floor in front of everybody and I saw red, I saw anger, I thought he was doing it purposefully to ridicule me. I think that was the reason.


He added that as soon as he had calmed down he knew he had gone too far and he subsequently apologised to the boy in question.


The stresses of working in Letterfrack as teacher and carer caused this young, untrained and inexperienced Brother to behave in a shameful manner towards a troubled child. This disgusting incident was not unique: another example is reported in the Artane chapter. With hindsight the Brother was able to recognise the severity of the regime in Letterfrack and the damage it could do to both Brothers and boys.


Br Dax was in Letterfrack from the late 1950s to mid-1970s, except for one year. In 2003, he was convicted of 25 counts of sexual abuse committed during this period. His evidence is dealt with in detail in the section on sexual abuse.


His evidence is also relevant in this section. He admitted using violence and the threat of violence to prevent boys he sexually abused from reporting him. He also admitted to being a generally cruel and violent person. He agreed that he was an angry man with a bizarre prejudice against boys from County Limerick. He admitted that if he lost his temper he hit boys with whatever he had in his hands and that he could have drawn blood on such occasions. He also accepted in cross-examination that it was possible that he would have walked up behind them and struck them on the back of the head just to get their attention.


How Br Dax could have continued unchecked for such a long period of time is a question that arises acutely in regard to sexual abuse of boys. His use of premeditated violence in some circumstances, and capricious violence in others, should of itself have triggered an investigation that might have uncovered the full extent of his abusive activities.


This Brother, who served there for two years from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, made a number of important concessions in relation to Letterfrack. He confirmed that he was not given any specific instruction on punishment and that the use of the leather strap, which some Brothers carried around with them all the time, was totally discretionary. He also said he had no recollection of a punishment book during his time there.


He said that boys would only be referred to the Disciplinarian for serious breaches of the rules such as fighting. The individual Brother dealt with minor infractions on the spot.


Boys who were caught near another boy’s bed at night were slapped on the buttocks. This punishment was administered in the dormitory or in the washroom attached to it. He said that he frequently administered punishment on the hands, but that slapping boys on the buttocks was a rare occurrence.


He remembered one incident where a number of boys who had absconded were lined up and slapped by the Disciplinarian in front of the rest of the school.


He said absconders also had their heads shaved as punishment.


Br Michel was in Letterfrack in the 1960s during which time he was the Disciplinarian. He accepted that Letterfrack was a strict place but he stressed that it had to be: Well, it was a pretty strict place and I think that the children who came had a carefree life before coming. It was necessary to discipline them and unfortunately they had to be disciplined otherwise we couldn’t run the place.


He also confirmed that all the Brothers who worked in the school carried straps and that discipline was administered at the total discretion of the individual Brother.


He described the punishment of forcing boys to run around the yard. He beat boys on the buttocks with a leather, but said he was unsure whether he beat on the bare buttocks. He acknowledged that it occurred and accepted that he may have punished in that way.

  1. Letterfrack Industrial School, Report on archival material held at Cluain Mhuire, by Bernard Dunleavy BL (2001).
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym
  4. This is a pseudonym.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. Prior Park was a residential school run by the Christian Brothers near Bath, England.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
  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. See also the Tralee chapter.
  13. This is a pseudonym
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is a pseudonym.
  17. This is a pseudonym.
  18. This is a pseudonym.
  19. This document is undated, although the date ‘6th November 1964’ is crossed out.
  20. This is a pseudonym.
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This is a pseudonym.
  23. This is a pseudonym
  24. This is a pseudonym
  25. This is a pseudonym.
  26. This is a pseudonym.
  27. This is a pseudonym.
  28. This is a pseudonym.
  29. This is a pseudonym.
  30. This is a pseudonym.
  31. This is a pseudonym.
  32. See table at paragraph 3.20 .
  33. This is a pseudonym.
  34. This is a pseudonym.
  35. This is a pseudonym.
  36. This information is taken from a report compiled for the Christian Brothers by Michael Bruton in relation to Letterfrack in 2001.
  37. This is a pseudonym.
  38. This is a pseudonym.
  39. This is a pseudonym.
  40. This is a pseudonym.
  41. This is a pseudonym.
  42. This is a pseudonym.
  43. This is a pseudonym.
  44. This is a pseudonym.
  45. This is a pseudonym.
  46. This is a pseudonym.
  47. This is a pseudonym.
  48. This is a pseudonym.
  49. This is a pseudonym.
  50. This is a pseudonym.
  51. This is a pseudonym.
  52. This is a pseudonym.
  53. This is a pseudonym.
  54. This is a pseudonym.
  55. This is a pseudonym.
  56. This is a pseudonym.
  57. This is a pseudonym.
  58. Electricity Supply Board.
  59. See table at paragraph 8.21 .
  60. This is a pseudonym
  61. Cross-reference to CB General Chapter where notes that this arrangement was with the agreement of the Department of Education.
  62. This is a pseudonym.
  63. This is a pseudonym.
  64. This is a pseudonym.
  65. Gateways Chapter 3 goes into this in detail.