Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


Br Anatole recalled that this incident came to the attention of the Superior, Br Malleville, who severely reprimanded him and the other Brothers who took part: It was around supper time. He brought us into the parlour, he was very angry and he said that such a thing was never to happen again ... That any boy was to be beaten on the backside over a chair, on the stage in the hall ... I think it was the sheer brutality of it and the excessive nature of it, it was way outside the boundaries of what Br Malleville considered legitimate corporal punishment. It was there in the collective consciousness of us as Brothers in Letterfrack that these methods that you are putting to me one after the other, that these were handed down progressively from one year to the next. When new Brothers came on the scene that’s how we found out that this was the way things were done here. We never discussed them in any way it was just here we go, run around the yard, give somebody a kick in the backside or whatever. It was just done like that depending on how you felt at that particular time.


There was no record in the Christian Brothers’ discovery of this reprimand or of the circumstances that gave rise to it.


Another former resident remembered the occasion when this boy was beaten: ...[he] was called up for his punishment on the stage, and he was battered and beaten by Br Iven in front of – we all had to sit in these chairs as if you were watching a play on the stage and Br Iven battered him, beat him, lashed him, punched him and kicked him and because he wasn’t getting any satisfaction, he couldn’t make him cry, he started to take off his collar and take his habit down or whatever you call them, and he started to lash him, you know, with his fists and stuff. It seemed like it went on for a long, long time and we had to sit there and watch this.


The Brother who was identified as having given this extreme beating denied involvement. He said, ‘Not only do I not remember it but that certainly wouldn’t have happened’.


Notwithstanding the disapproving attitude of the Superior, there were other public beatings. One witness said: There was different Brothers that used to do it. It was a sort of – it wasn’t always on the stage it could be just up in a corner and made to, everybody silent while somebody was getting punished and you would be just staring ... We used to have a little TV up the front and there was a stage, you know, there was chairs where we would just sit around. If it was raining you would hang about here or if it was cold. This is where things used to happen ... Sometimes they would have a list of people who had done things and the punishment time was in the evening. Or, like, in the dormitory they’d have names, you would be called out, so and so, come up here. At the end of the dormitory where a room was they would carry out punishments there. It could be in the yard, there was a big yard with four walls, you know. You were lined up like soldiers and your name was called out ... There was other Brothers who done a lot of punishments too, but this is a guy I have in my mind who I seen doing things and has done things to me. There was another guy Telfour, I seen him using the special branches or sticks that bend.


Although boys might not always be formally assembled, the public nature of beatings administered where all the boys were assembled had a similar effect. This was particularly true at night time, when boys were punished in the washroom adjacent to the dormitories. One witness described a severe beating he received for absconding. The Manager turned off the radio that was playing in the dormitory and invited the rest of the boys who were in their beds to ‘now listen to some music’ as he brought the boy out to be beaten. His screams were heard throughout the dormitory.


It was disturbing to hear other boys being beaten. As one witness said, ‘you nearly preferred to get it yourself because listening to somebody getting bashed, in a sense it is worse than getting it yourself’.


Public punishment increased the ordeal for the person being punished and had a frightening impact on the boys watching or listening. Such spectacles should have had no place in a facility dedicated to the care of children.


On one occasion, a boy trying to escape was caught in one of the fields belonging to the School and brought back. He was given a severe beating and was then subjected to two extra punishments that required considerable ingenuity. He first described the beating: I was told to take down my pants and bend over. Well, I didn’t actually get to bend over myself, he just grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me down and started to lay into me ... All the rest of the boys had gone off to work in the afternoon and there was just me and him. Now I have a vague recollection of another Brother being around, but I couldn’t swear to it.


He then said that he was brought to the boot-makers and was given extra large boots: At the time I was pretty small. The boots, it was like having two barges on your feet. Then he frog-marched me up to the farmyard where some of the boys were up there. They were piling silage, at the time I thought it was only grass, but I got the technical term later; into this big silo pit and I was made to get into it and walk around in circles with these boots. It would have been bad enough walking around with ordinary boots, because every time you stepped, you would go down, but the big boots, and when the boys had a rest, I had to keep going.


Finally, he described how he was isolated by being made to stand at the refectory wall while boys played football around him and where he could be struck by the ball: Up close to the wall, but I wasn’t allowed to lift my hands up. If I lifted my hands up – I didn’t realise he could run so fast in skirts – the boys would hit the ball. Some hit me on the leg, the backside, the back, quite a few on the head, the back of the head and bang and that went on for about two weeks. Exactly how long, I don’t know. I didn’t play at all, after church in the morning, before we went to school, before lunch and after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, I was there all the time.


This treatment went on for a number of weeks until he was relieved of the obligation by another Brother: Shortly afterwards, the boys came back from – the ones that were on holidays came back, and I don’t know this Brother’s name, but he came back around the same time, so I assumed that he had been on holidays too, but he actually left the school shortly afterwards. He saw me standing there in my extra large boots and I was always bleeding when I was at the wall and he asked me what I was doing? I said, oh, I ran away. He took me down between the refectory and the stairway and the library, there is a little alcove that they used for first aid. He took me in there and cleaned me up and looked at my boots. He said, they are a bit big for you and sent me up to the bootmakers to get a normal size. I couldn’t believe it I could actually lift my feet off the ground. But Br Noreis,34 well, he more or less asked me, you know, what are you doing and I pointed to the other Brother and said, that Brother told me to leave the wall. He wasn’t too pleased, but I got the impression that there wasn’t anything he could do about it.


The same witness described how he was accused of causing damage by failing to turn off an iron while he was working in the tailor shop. He had not been the last person to use the iron because he had given it to another boy when he had finished his work. Subsequently, smoke was seen to be coming out of the shop because the iron had been left turned on and burned through the ironing cover. That evening, instead of going to the cinema, the boys were summoned by the Disciplinarian to ascertain who had left the iron on. Because the witness had been ironing, he was the prime suspect, and the Disciplinarian organised a mock trial in which he was the defendant and the Brother the Judge. The Brother appointed counsel for the defence and prosecution. He told the boys that the witness would not be punished if found guilty. The trial went on for a couple of hours and the witness found the questioning so hurtful that he broke down crying. The Disciplinarian took this as an indication of guilt and the witness was severely beaten. He said: That was enough for him to convict me; I was guilty. If I wasn’t guilty, why was I crying? Everyone went off to bed. I was going off to bed and I was called back and flogged. Before he did it, I said, “but you promised I wouldn’t get flogged for the fire”. He said,“ you are not being flogged for the fire. You are being punished because you told a lie”.. So heads he wins, tails I lose.


Another variety of punishment which was confirmed by individual respondents was that boys were required to run around the yard as punishment. Br Michel described it thus: That did happen. What I can remember was if a boy, if a mature chap ran away, absconded, the Manager would say “give him a while running around the yard.” It happened during break times it didn’t go on for terribly long, a few days maybe ... it would be during play time and there was always a Brother in the yard during playtime, therefore he would be supervised. The rest of the students would be there as well.


A witness described how one Brother imposed a punishment on a group of boys, who were due to go swimming, because one misbehaved: On the way across the yard somebody booed and when we all got to the door to lead up to the dormitory he asked who booed, nobody would own up to who booed so he sent us across to the boot room, which was on the other side of the yard and we had to take off our sandals at the time, because it was the summertime, and put on our Wellingtons. We were made to run around the yard, everybody ran around the yard until we could run no more. That was it we just left – no swimming.

  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.