Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


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.


The high level of absconding should have alerted the management to question the way in which Letterfrack provided care to the children sent there, but this does not appear to have happened. Bed-wetting


In its Opening Statement, the Congregation stated: Unfortunately, the boys could have been the objects of ridicule by their peers being labelled “slashers” ... No living Brother who was in Letterfrack in the period under review recalls that there was ever any punishment meted out to a boy for bed-wetting.


However, during the private hearings, Br Sorel, who was present during the 1940s and 1950s, admitted to punishing boys for bed-wetting. He stated that: That was one of the worst and soiling the bed. This is the thing that used to break my heart in the morning when I came down to the dormitory, they had Macintosh sheets, large ones on the bed, and then they had the ordinary sheets over the Macintosh sheet, you would find three or four of the lads would not alone wet the bed but soil the bed. I was really tearing my hair out at that stage.


He continued: It was a problem every morning and I used to detest it. I felt like running away myself several times, having to face it coming down in the morning. It was terrible, the stench and the smell.


He used to try and deal with the problem himself, but if it was not possible the boys had to take their mattress down to the yard, or take their sheets to the laundry.


As a result of this evidence in its Final Submission the Congregation stated: It is accepted that boys were, on isolated occasions during this period, punished for this problem though it does not appear that such punishment was a regular or routine practice within Letterfrack.


They also accept that bed-wetters could have been dealt with more sensitively and that boys were required to organise the cleaning of their sheets themselves.


Complainants testified that there was a practice of punishing boys who wet their beds. A former resident, who was in Letterfrack in the late 1960s, described how he was slapped for wetting the bed: And if you wet the bed, you got a smack. They would know the bed-wetters from the rest of them. They would check their beds all the time. They would just walk by and they would whip your blankets off, and if the bed was stained you would get a smack.


A number of former residents told the Investigation Committee how they started to wet the bed in Letterfrack. One pupil described how he started to wet the bed in the School, a problem that continued well into adult life. He said that, in the mornings, his sheets and mattress would be thrown on the floor. He recounted how he was sometimes made to wrap the sheets around him in order, as he saw it, to degrade him. He would be made to take the sheets to the yard while all the while the other boys would be laughing at him. Although he received the odd slap for bed-wetting he said there was no punishment as such, and what he feared most was the humiliation.


One former pupil said: lads that wet the bed as well they were made take the mattress down in the morning, carry them around the yard on their back and then put them on the rails in front of the shops they had in the school. There was a row of shops all the way along; the bakers, the cobblers and the tailors, and there was big railings and they had to put the mattresses up there to dry out. It was embarrassing like, you know.


Bed-wetting and soiling showed the extreme emotional disturbance suffered by many children in Letterfrack. Evidence from complainants about this problem was that it developed after they had come to Letterfrack and was not a pre-existing condition. Although much of the complainants’ evidence was confirmed in general terms by respondents’ evidence, the particular cruelty of the punishment emerged in the testimony of individual complainants. Punishments described by Brothers or ex-Brothers, often in exculpatory or limiting terms, failed to reflect the pain, fear, helplessness and vulnerability that resulted.

  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.