Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


The Christian Brothers disputed Br Anatole’s recollections of Letterfrack. They submitted that written statements made by him following his arrest were inconsistent and contradictory when compared with a document he produced while he was still working in the Institution. They also contended that these statements were self-serving and coloured by his desire to present himself to the court in a sympathetic light in seeking to avoid imprisonment. It suited his purpose, therefore, to portray Letterfrack in the most hostile light. For his part, Br Anatole said that he was not understating his case in his Garda statements. He described how he co-operated with the Gardaí in the investigation and that he was encouraged to write a full account of everything that he thought might be relevant by way of mitigation. He had been through two years of therapy, and a lot of memories had surfaced in the therapeutic situation, which the therapist had encouraged him to keep in journal form.


Although the Congregation were able to demonstrate inconsistencies between written statements and testimony given by this witness at different times spanning many years, his evidence was generally credible and reliable about life in Letterfrack, and witnesses provided independent confirmation.


Br Iven worked as a teacher in Letterfrack during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He found Letterfrack to be a lonely place with stressful work and little free time. He told the Committee that he carried a strap, as all Brothers did, but did not remember ever getting any training in its use. Punishment was a matter for his discretion and he punished as the need arose and never felt the need to refer matters up the chain of command. He accepted that the use of the strap was unacceptable by today’s standards, but he did not think that it was excessive by the standards of the day. Br Iven, however, qualified this view when he went on to say that Letterfrack was not a normal school and its residents were not normal schoolchildren, implying that normal standards did not apply to them and some excesses were justified.


He was asked whether he had any personal regrets about punishments he meted out to the boys: I have regrets in many ways. I have regrets, first of all that I was sent there inadequately trained for the job. Secondly, I didn’t know how to handle the situation I was put in. Thirdly, I suppose that with corporal punishment, punishment by the strap – yes, I think with better training, with better facilities, better staffing, we would not have had the need to use as much discipline and corporal as we did. I do have regrets yes.


His perception that corporal punishment was not overly excessive was said in the context that the level of discipline that was normal at the time in schools was the appropriate standard to apply throughout the day: You were there 24 hours, seven days a week, so yes, there was a lot more than you would normally have as a teacher at the time, but it wouldn’t have been overly excessive.


He remembered one occasion when a boy attacked him and he just about got the better of him. He felt that it was a test of strength. He was a new Brother and a small man, and the attack was designed to see what the boys could get away with. It left him greatly shaken and showed him that he was not dealing with ordinary 16-year-olds.


This Brother also confirmed what complainants and other Brothers had said about boys being hosed down for absconding. One complainant had described an incident where two boys had absconded at a time when there was heavy snowfall. They were captured and returned to the school and, according to the witness, put up against a wall, hosed down with fire hoses and made to stand in the freezing cold in their underpants as a form of punishment: The incident happened during winter. There was snow on the ground. It was easy then to find the pupil. The pupil was brought back to the school and then one particular Brother decided that this was the way he would wash him down after it.


Br Iven was in his interim period of teacher training during his time in Letterfrack and was due back in Marino to complete his qualification. He said that he did not feel he could report breaches of discipline to the Resident Manager because of a combination of factors, but principally because he was afraid that it could lead to his dismissal from the Congregation which would have meant he could not become a teacher: I am giving you my honest opinion, no, I didn’t feel that I was in a position to report this. It would have been maybe thought as unseemly conduct for me as a Christian Brother to defend myself, maybe turn the other cheek instead, unfortunately, I didn’t feel that confident about saying anything.


This Brother did return to Marino after two and a half years in Letterfrack and a six-month posting to a day school in Dublin; and immediately he had completed his final year of training, he left the Congregation.


Br Dondre worked as a teacher in Letterfrack from the 1960s to the early 1970s. He regarded himself as a sort of gaoler who was hated by the inmates of the school. This sometimes bubbled over in the form of attempted assaults on members of staff. The young Brothers were the front line and, if challenged, they had to take decisive action for fear of losing control over the group as a whole: ... we were the front line, we were the people responsible for keeping these kids in an industrial school, in a contained situation, as they called themselves in prison. Some of them would refer to the place as a prison. So we were the front line. We were the people who were sort of the easy targets for all their unhappiness and frustration and the stress and tension, and all the other things they were feeling.


He said that yard duty was particularly difficult, given the numbers involved and the rough nature of the boys. Fighting, bullying and name calling were constant features of life in the yard, and the Brother in charge would be expected to take action. He felt he was particularly vulnerable because of his small stature.


Br Dondre said that he was physically assaulted on a number of occasions. On the first occasion, when he was supervising a group of 90 pupils, one boy was cursing at another boy and he called him over to chastise him. As the boy approached, he put up his two fists. Br Dondre put his own fists up and the situation was defused.


The next occasion involved the same boy, in the dormitory, when he pinned Br Dondre up against a wall and attempted to choke him. He flipped the boy over. Br Anatole came in and asked him if everything was all right.


On a third occasion, he was threatened by a boy wielding a broken chair. He said he was able to handle that situation because the boy was the same height as him and he removed the chair from him.


Br Dondre described a fourth occasion as the most serious and upsetting incident. He was verbally chastising a pupil when the boy attacked him with the leg of a chair. Br Dondre picked up a stick and hit him on the head with it. The boy’s head was grazed from the blow. The boy dropped and he caught him in a headlock. He got control of the boy and brought him to the nurse who disinfected the wound on his head. He reported the matter to Br Malleville, who criticised Br Dondre for his inability to keep control and letting the incident occur. He was asked whether he understood Br Malleville’s criticism to relate to his loss of temper and he said: No it wasn’t that. It was the fact that the incident happened at all. That I let him get out of control.

  1. Letterfrack Industrial School, Report on archival material held at Cluain Mhuire, by Bernard Dunleavy BL (2001).
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  6. Prior Park was a residential school run by the Christian Brothers near Bath, England.
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  19. This document is undated, although the date ‘6th November 1964’ is crossed out.
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  32. See table at paragraph 3.20 .
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  36. This information is taken from a report compiled for the Christian Brothers by Michael Bruton in relation to Letterfrack in 2001.
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  58. Electricity Supply Board.
  59. See table at paragraph 8.21 .
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  61. Cross-reference to CB General Chapter where notes that this arrangement was with the agreement of the Department of Education.
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  65. Gateways Chapter 3 goes into this in detail.