Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Sexual abuse in Letterfrack


One witness made allegations against a Br Francois who was in charge of a dormitory in Letterfrack. He described getting a severe beating from this Brother after being ordered out of bed and into the wash hall. He was required to lift his night shirt and ‘get it on the bare ... You would suffer from it and it would be violent ... I got it pretty violent down there ... I think I was bleeding’.


After the beating he was brought into the Brother’s bedroom: He didn’t let me into my dormitory so he took me through the other dormitory down to his room ... The room where he slept, yes. The best way to describe it is he treated my sore bottom, dressed it or whatever.


When asked whether anything else happened, he stated: He fondled me, made me put my hand down his pants or in, around his privates and made me masturbate him ... He was getting excited and I had my nightshirt and he came up behind me and ejaculated around my back. Not around my bottom but up around my back. He held me in close to him and ejaculated around my back.


The witness said that Br Francois made a gesture with his fist as he dismissed him back to the dormitory: It was meant like (indicating), it’s fists for you, just go back and just be quiet about it. I took it like that anyway. That’s what I did. I just went back. I was in dread of this man.


This witness also alleged fondling and touching by this Brother in the classroom and during singing class when the boys would all be standing: ... and lots of times it happened up in the choir, he would be passing along and hand under the leg of your pants and feel your penis or that. Rubbing against you and holding you while you are still singing “all eyes up to the front”. That’s the way it went.


The Brother in question denied that this abuse ever took place, both to the Gardaí who investigated allegations against him and to the Committee.


This witness also made allegations against Br Andre.55 He said that Br Andre would question boys individually whether they had any impure thoughts. He said that, while being questioned by Br Andre, he was also fondled by him: Impure thoughts, that was the key thing, impure thoughts. That covered everything. “Do you have impure thoughts at night?” I said, “No, I don’t have anything like that”. . I probably said something like that. He was talking away and friendly enough. He is sitting down like this and he has you standing next to him there (indicating). In the course of the conversation with him, in the talking with him, he is feeling down towards my penis and that. The conversation is kept going and he said, “Are you telling me the truth, are you telling me the truth, what’s happening to you now?” I was getting stiff and hard around the penis so he said, “There is the proof now, you are not telling me the whole truth”. That was proof that I wasn’t telling the truth and you would have to recant and say, well you did get some kind of impure thoughts at night or whatever, something along those lines. He told me then to, “Remove your pants down, take down your pants, now”. I done that. I took off my pants. Then he would have me leaning over his lap, give me a little few slaps on the bottom. He would be talking to me about impure thoughts and asking me what kind of impure thoughts and he was probing my bottom with his finger, probing me internally in the bottom. I was aware also that while he was doing some of this he was playing – what I accept now that what he was doing was he was playing with himself under his cassock or under his clothes. And that’s what happened there.


The witness was certain that this Brother’s name was Andre, but he was unsure whether he was a full-time Brother or a relief Brother. Br Sorel said that this Brother was well known for approaching boys and asking them about sex: He had that reputation, Br Andre, of doing that particular thing, of talking about the facts of life, so I presume that the lads themselves must have told him ... It was a normal thing even before he came to Letterfrack, he was well known amongst the Brothers in Scoil Mhuire, Marino for doing the same thing in class ... Talking about the facts of life. It was a kind of a joke amongst us, “he is at it again” ... We thought it was unnecessary. That’s what we thought, we thought it was unnecessary. Fellows – normal fellow going to school get these facts of life from their parents. That’s how we looked upon it and as a result we were maybe cynical about it.


1.Sexual abuse by Brothers was a chronic problem in Letterfrack. Brothers who served there included firstly those who had previously been guilty of sexual abuse of boys, secondly those whose abuse was discovered while they worked in that institution and, thirdly some who were subsequently revealed to have abused boys. A timeline of the documented and admitted cases of sexual abuse shows that: (a) For approximately two-thirds of the relevant period, there was at least one such abuser working there. (b) For almost one-third of the years there were at least two abusers present. (c) There were three abusers present in the institution during at least four different years. 2.As a matter of probability, more sexual abuse took place than was recorded in the documents or the oral testimony, but it is impossible to ascertain the full extent of such abuse. The reasons for this deduction include: Two Brothers committed long-term abuse of boys over separate periods of 14 years each. The fact that abuse could continue for so long is a major indictment of the institution. It is unlikely that in a small, closed Community persistent sexual abuse involving many victims could happen over such a length of time without causing suspicion or inquiry on the part of the other Brothers in the Community. If no suspicions were raised it suggests that relations between Brothers and boys were so inadequate, complaints could not be made. Other offenders could have been operating undetected in Letterfrack at the same time as the documented abusers notwithstanding the absence of complaint or documentary information. Most of the victims of the two Brothers who were convicted and sentenced did not come to the Committee to complain. It follows that more abuse happened than was the subject of complaints to the Investigation Committee. Brothers did not report suspicions about their colleagues. Reasons for under-reporting by boys were fear of repercussions, fear of being disbelieved, lack of faith that there would be a proper inquiry, feelings of shame and embarrassment, and the fact that sexual abuse is difficult for victims to corroborate or verify. Response 1.The Congregation did not properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse of boys by Brothers. 2.The Congregation knew that Brothers who sexually abused boys were a continuing danger. It was therefore an act of reckless disregard to send known abusers to any industrial school and, in particular, one as remote and isolated as Letterfrack. 3.The manner in which sexually abusing Brothers were dealt with is indicative of a policy of protecting the Brothers, the Community and the Congregation at the expense of the victims. 4.There was no explanation as to how Brothers who abused boys could have gone undetected in Letterfrack for so many years.

Peer abuse and sexual activity between boys


The management of the School was under an obligation to ensure that children lived in a safe and secure environment. The failure to detect and prevent physical and sexual abuse constituted a clear failure to provide children with a safe and secure environment in which to live. In addition, the failure to prevent peer abuse by way of sexual bullying also represented a management failure.


The Brothers inadequately understood the distinction between consensual sex and bullying, predatory sexual acts by bigger boys on smaller. This behaviour could be overtly violent and non-consensual, or implicitly non-consensual in the nature of assault because of the age difference or physical difference between the boys. Failure to protect boys from sexual assault constituted a serious management failure where it occurred.


According to the Christian Brothers, a number of Brothers who taught in the School remembered occasions when sexual activity between the boys was discovered. The phenomenon of sexual activity of one kind or another amongst pupils in industrial schools was a feature of life in Letterfrack. The documentary material disclosed a number of instances of sexual activity in the 1930s and 1940s.


In 1940, the Visitation Report referred to the fact that a number of boys were punished for improper conduct. This appears to have been discovered during the course of the investigation into Br Perryn. In 1941, the Visitation Report refers to the fact that: Unfortunately for years there has been much immorality among the boys. Onanism and Sodomy have been frequent, and these practices take place wherever the boys congregate, in the play field, lavatories, schools, kitchen and in the grounds. Formerly, the boys were allowed to go out by themselves and then the practices were frequent. Boys wandered away among the fields and roads and immoral practices were carried on.


The Visitor stressed the importance of tight supervision as the only means of curtailing this activity. He noted that: A monitor is in charge though one of the monitors was recently carrying on immoral conduct with some of these juniors in the dormitory.


He noted that the Superior had arranged that a Brother should take charge of the boys at all times.

  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.