Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

Show Contents



In November 1912 the accommodation limit was increased to 190, with the certified number remaining at 150 boys. This latter figure was increased in July 1931 to 165, with the accommodation limit remaining at 190.


What is particularly noteworthy about the inception of Letterfrack Industrial School is that, despite the prevailing view that, first, there was no demand for an industrial school in this part of the country and, secondly, that the location was entirely unsuitable, the Archbishop brought sufficient pressure to bear that these persuasive grounds for objection were reduced to mere technical difficulties. However, the reasons against establishing an industrial school in Letterfrack haunted the School throughout its life and eventually contributed to its closure in 1974.


St Joseph’s Industrial School, like all other residential schools of that time, provided care for ‘large numbers of children living together’. The main building was an inverted L-shaped structure. The ground floor housed the classrooms, the boys’ dining room, their kitchen, scullery, laundry and bathroom. There were two large dormitories for the boys on the first floor, each holding at least 80 beds. There was a third dormitory for a brief period when numbers were particularly high. By the 1960s, with falling numbers, only one dormitory was utilised. The Brothers lived in a separate monastery – the original manor house – beside the School.


The following photographs and plan of Letterfrack have been made available to the Committee: Source: Lawrence Collection, National Photographic Archive,Temple Bar, Dublin (taken between 1870 and 1914). Source: Congregation of Christian Brothers (taken in the early 1970s). Source: Congregation of Christian Brothers (1972)


The physical location of Letterfrack in remote Connemara created a very real sense of isolation, felt by both the boys and the Brothers in the School. The surrounding region could not supply the number of boys needed for the School, and most of the children sent there came from many miles away. This created obvious difficulties for families wishing to visit their children.


The isolated environment in Letterfrack nurtured an institutionalised culture separate from society and other institutions. It also led to another unforeseen problem: those people who chose to abuse boys physically and sexually were able to do so for longer periods of time, because they could escape detection and punishment by reason of the isolated environment in which they operated. These matters will be dealt with in detail in the sections that follow.


,819 boys passed through the doors of Letterfrack from its opening in 1887 to its closure in 1974. Between 1940 and 1974, 1,356 boys were resident there. This figure excludes voluntary admissions which totalled 52 between 1935 and 1954. The following table shows the number of children detained for each year between 1937 and 1973:
Year Number of children under detention Year Number of children under detention
1937 125 1955 91
1938 130 1956 86
1939 122 1957 101
1940 140 1958 98
1941 160 1959 108
1942 171 1960 111
1943 150 1961 115
1944 159 1962 128
1945 168 1963 112
1946 166 1964 114
1947 151 1965 100
1948 142 1966 111
1949 154 1967 129
1950 184 1968 111
1951 157 1969 93
1952 158 1970–71 101
1953 144 1971–72 73
1954 147 1972–73 41


From the outset, there was pressure to increase the certified numbers of boys in Letterfrack in order to make it a financially viable project. The Institution was large and the Brothers needed the maximum number of boys in residence. As noted above, the certified number was very quickly doubled, from the original certified limit of 75 in 1886, to 150 in 1889. The School could officially accommodate 190 from 1912.


The authorities struggled to meet this number throughout the years. Even during the emergency years of World War II, numbers did not reach the accommodation limit. There was an increase in numbers during these years in all industrial schools, largely due to the more difficult social conditions, combined with a policy of removing potentially problematic children from the streets.


The Christian Brothers stated in their Opening Statement to the Commission: At local level the day to day management of Letterfrack institution, in accordance with the Rules and Regulations for Industrial Schools was the responsibility of the Resident Manager. The Resident Manager was appointed by the Irish Provincial Council up to 1956 and by the Provincial Council of St. Mary’s Province, Ireland from 1956–1974. The period 1938 to 1974 saw nine Resident Managers in Letterfrack, the terms of office ranging from one to six years with an average term of office of five years. During the relevant period each Resident Manager had between seven and ten Brothers under his control. Between 3 and 5 Brothers were on the teaching staff and there was a Brother who acted as bursar, an office Brother, a kitchen Brother and a Brother who worked on the farm. For most of the relevant period there were between fourteen and twenty lay staff employed in the various trade shops, on the farm or as domestic staff.


The Resident Manager was also the Superior of the Community and had to perform these dual roles without any training or guidance.


In his report on Letterfrack commissioned by the Congregation in 2001, Mr Dunleavy BL identified the lack of any management structure: In the course of interviews with Christian Brothers who had previously worked in the school, the evidence was that the Brother acting as Resident Manager of the school had complete powers with regard to the running of the school. There appears to have been a weekly Community conference in the school but this seems to have been an occasion when directions were given to the Community, rather than any proper discussion taking place regarding the running of the school.1


Until 1954, Letterfrack was home to three categories of boys: those who were committed through the courts because they were homeless, without proper guardianship, destitute, in breach of the School Attendance Act or guilty of criminal offences; those sent by the Local Authorities pursuant to the Public Assistance Act 1949; and boys who were voluntarily admitted by parents or guardians.


On 12th January 1954 the Provincial Council, led by Br O’Hanlon,2 met with the six Resident Managers of the Christian Brothers’ schools. A decision was taken to close one of their schools because of the deteriorating financial position of the industrial schools, mainly attributed to falling numbers, which had resulted in a decline in income. Carriglea, situated in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, was nominated for closure because it was the most suitable for use as a juniorate for the Congregation. A unanimous decision was also taken at the meeting to segregate ‘juvenile delinquents’ from other categories of boys and locate them all at Letterfrack, and it was felt that the closure of Carriglea would provide an ideal opportunity to put this plan into effect.


There was opposition to this proposal from the Departments of Justice and Education and the Judiciary. A meeting was convened on 14th May 1954, attended by Br O’Hanlon, District Justice McCarthy, who presided over the Dublin Metropolitan Children’s Court, and representatives of the Department of Education. District Justice McCarthy indicated that he had grave concerns about the isolated location of Letterfrack, which made it unsuitable, in his view, as a school for young offenders. However, his protest fell on deaf ears. So, too, did a protest from District Justice Gleeson, who also pointed out the difficulties that would be caused by Letterfrack’s remoteness.

  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.