Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


Respondent witnesses confirmed this. Br Dondre said that it was a recognised punishment and it was done in order to stigmatise them. Br Francois had a similar recollection. He saw it done and presumed it was a ‘badge of disgrace’.


In its Submission, the Congregation accepted that boys’ heads were shaved as a punishment: It would appear that this was a punishment which was confined to absconders though the Congregation acknowledges that it was an unacceptable form of punishment and deeply regrets that any boy’s head was shaved in this way.


Another form of punishment that was not in dispute was hosing boys with cold water. A resident in the 1950s said that Br Sorel punished bed-wetters by hosing them down. A similar punishment was described in the late 1960s for boys who had tried to abscond. Respondents confirmed this evidence. Br Sorel said that he did so for hygiene reasons, but he accepted that other Brothers used it as a punishment and that it was totally wrong. Responding to the suggestion that people were brought down and hosed as a punishment, not for the purposes of hygiene but as a specific punishment, he said: I think that was true in other case with some other Brothers, I think that was done as a punishment. I think it was totally wrong ... Looking back, the whole thing was horrific for me and I am sure it was for the boys.


Br Anatole accepted that absconders were still being hosed down in his time, the late 1960s: If a boy ran away. It hasn’t come up so far in the question. It was one of the routine punishments; if a boy ran away he might be hosed down in the shower room. There was a fire hose rolled up against the wall.


Br Dondre saw it happen once and did not approve of its use: The fire hose, I only ever saw it being used once. There were a couple of boys absconded and they were brought back. That night Br Anatole came to the dormitory and he took the two boys from the dormitory and put them into their bathing togs, they were taken from the dormitory and I went with them. I didn’t know what he was going to do; I didn’t know where he was bringing them. I followed them down to the yard, down the side of the kitchen and he took the fire hose off the wall and he hosed the two boys down with the fire hose. Then he gave it to me to continue on and I turned it off.


Br Iven also recalled an incident when absconders were hosed down when they were brought back to Letterfrack.


It was impossible to avoid punishment. One witness said, ‘If one of these guys got in a bad humour that was it. You were standing in the roadway, that was it’. Another resident was asked whether a boy could avoid beatings. He replied, ‘Not really, you couldn’t. Not in Letterfrack, you couldn’t. Not from certain Brothers, you could not’.


A witness who was resident from the late 1940s to the early 1950s described a severe beating he received. He worked in the generator room, helping the lay operator. One of his jobs was to go down to the generator room in the early hours to divert the electrical energy created by the turbine to the battery. The night watchman used to wake him for this purpose but on this occasion he was late in doing so, as a result of which the electricity was not diverted at the right time. The Brother in charge of the generator discovered the situation and punished the boy, who did not blame the night watchman because he did not want to get him into trouble. The Brother gave him a severe beating with a stick. When the lay operator saw the boy’s condition after the beating he brought him up to the Manager in the monastery and told him that if it ever happened again he would go to the Gardaí: He said first of all he’d inform the local police and then he’d get the cruelty man in if it ever happened again. It never happened again from Br Lafayette35 ... He said he would see to it, he’d take it in hand.


Brothers and complainants confirmed that boys who ran away from the Institution were dealt with severely once caught. Absconding had to be reported to the Department of Education, and the Gardaí were often called on to assist in finding the child.


A research paper commissioned by the Congregation in 2001 contains an analysis of the number of abscondings between 1959 and 1972 and the ages of the boys when they absconded.


The following table illustrates the number of pupils, their ages and when they absconded:36
Year Number of pupils absconding Age(s)
1959 1 11
1960 1 13
1961 1 12
1963 2 10; 12
1964 1 12
1965 1 11
1966 5 8; 10; 12; 13; 14
1967 6 13; 13; 13; 13; 13; 14
1968 4 10; 11; 12; 14
1969 2 14; 14
1970 4 11; 12; 12; 13
1971 2 9; 10
1972 2 13; 14
Total 32


The detail contained in this list does not match the information in the Department of Education’s Annual Report entries. In 1959, six boys absconded from the School and did a considerable amount of damage to property and were removed after special court on 10th January 1959 to Daingean Reformatory. In 1959, the Visitor noted that ‘Since Christmas, 11 boys ran away at different times. Br Malleville has to take the car and follow them or that he got word from the Guards that they had been captured and that he had to collect them and sometimes was not home with them until 1.30 a.m’. What is very evident is the increasing level of absconding, particularly from the mid-1960s onwards.


What was clear from this analysis was that the official records did not reflect the actual number of boys who ran away from Letterfrack and who were severely punished for so doing.


In 1967, the Visitor noted that, although conditions had improved in Letterfrack, absconding was a serious problem: The boys can never be left on their own for despite the efforts to make the school a home for them the boys always regard the school as a place of detention and are liable to run away at any time.


This Visitor recognised the fundamental problem of removing boys from their home and friends and expecting them to adjust to a completely alien lifestyle and environment. The response of the authorities was punitive and never addressed the reasons why the boys had run away in the first place.

  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.