Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Peer abuse and sexual activity between boys


Another Brother said that, while he never actually witnessed any sexual contact between the boys, he did recall hearing Br Anatole giving the boys a lecture about the Devil’s work, which he presumed was peer abuse. He said that he often saw beds pulled together when he came in to wake the boys up but he never suspected anything untoward. He remembered Br Malleville telling him to be careful of one boy who was coming from Artane because he was a homosexual. He thinks in retrospect that he was telling him to make sure that boy wouldn’t be at the other boys. He did recall an incident where a boy approached him and told him that two boys were engaging in sexual activity.


Br Sorel said that he was aware of the possibility of peer abuse. He recalled one incident where one boy tried to anally rape another boy. That boy reported the matter to Br Guillaume, who punished the offender in front of the other boys in the washroom. He feels that this beating ensured that the message got through to the boys that they were not to engage in such activity.


Br Karel stated that, although the Brothers were aware of the possibility of sexual activity between boys occurring, he had not witnessed it: Interfering with each other. Never in my time there did I see or did any of us observe an instance of that. It seemed to me, in my opinion, that that just didn’t happen there. If it did, I wasn’t aware of it and nobody else ever mentioned it to me.


One complainant said that another 14-year-old boy sexually abused him. He was a big boy and he abused the witness on a regular basis for four years. The complainant said that he could do nothing except cry and let it happen. He never complained. The abuse only stopped when the other boy left the school. A number of other boys abused him as well, and he stated that he had a number of relationships with other boys when he got older: I didn’t do what he did. I didn’t go around and attack and ambush kids or abuse them or rape them ... But what I am saying is I did have one or two – somebody I could talk or sit or read comics and we did have some sort of a – sort of a relationship ... I don’t know if I was 13, 14, 15, I don’t know. It is just, you know, there was one or two that you would play ball or games or roll around in the hay, you know, just things like that.


Another witness said that Br Noreis would ask the boys to write down on a piece of paper the names of any boys who were engaging in sexual activity: He would bring them and sit them down on their desks. Everyone got a sheet of paper and a pencil and we were told to write down if we knew of any boys who had been, shall we say, sexually active with any other boy. Well, I always wrote the same thing down, I don’t know what you mean. This always went on a Saturday night. You always missed out on the cinema, because that was the one day that we had a movie. After all these boys had done whatever writing they were doing the paper was collected and we were all sent off to the dormitories, and for the rest of the night you could hear the screaming where boys who had misbehaved were dragged down in their night clothes and flogged by Br Noreis. That went on quite often.


Peer sexual abuse was an element of the bullying and intimidation that were prevalent in Letterfrack and the Brothers failed to recognise it as a persistent problem. They punished boys for sexual activity without recognising that younger boys might have been victims of abuse. Because they knew they faced punishment these victims did not report.



As in other industrial schools, the Christian Brothers contend that there was no physical neglect of children in their care in Letterfrack. They concede that the emotional needs of children were not properly provided for but they put this down to ignorance rather than deliberate policy.


In the Introduction to their Opening Statement delivered on 16th June 2005 the Congregation stated that: A study of the financial support provided by the State will show that St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Letterfrack, was grossly under-funded by the State and that the Christian Brothers had to go to enormous lengths to provide adequately for the needs of the pupils. They ran a farm to provide the necessary food for the institution and sold what remained of the crops to provide for the material and scholastic requirements of the boys. The presentation will demonstrate that the boys were well provided for. Nourishing food, good clothing, and adequate shelter replaced the experience of many boys who would have come from conditions of abject poverty. ... The Congregation believes that the allegations of neglect are exaggerated and inaccurate and do not reflect the reality that pertained in Letterfrack over the years.


The number of children in Letterfrack was an important part of the story in Letterfrack, as the Congregation have time and again pointed to the low numbers and lack of financial support as the reason why they could not do more for the boys.


Until 1954, the numbers in Letterfrack were reasonably high. From 1937 to 1955, the average number of boys in the Institution being paid for by the Department of Education was about 150. In addition, there were Health Board and voluntary admissions. For example, in 1954, Letterfrack received State grants for 147 boys, although there were 181 boys recorded in the School by the Visitor for that year. Those additional boys were paid for by the Health Boards and by voluntary contributions.


The Congregation in its Opening Statement dealt with the entire period under review (1936–1974) and went into detail in addressing the standard of physical care provided.


With regard to food, the Congregation stated: It is quite normal for students to complain of the quality of food served in boarding schools. Letterfrack is no exception to this. However, it must be said that honest efforts were made over the decades to provide balanced fare in sufficient supply. The diet in Letterfrack was balanced and healthy. Some of the boys arriving in Letterfrack may not have been used to the regular meals that were served in St. Joseph’s, but for most the experience of regular meals could only have been of real benefit. In the course of the history of Letterfrack there were times when the dietary provision was not uniformly good but action was taken in the wake of complaints and the overall judgement of inspectors was that the food was satisfactory. The Christian Brothers during their annual Visitation carried out the most vigorous and substantial inspection of the dietary requirements in Letterfrack. Although the Visitor’s reports were usually favourable, some reports showed occasional dissatisfaction with the boy’s diet and the Visitors were quite forthright in demanding improvement. The quality of the dietary arrangements depended on the competence of the Brother in charge of the kitchen area. Some were less successful than others, and their shortcomings led to them being replaced by a Brother of proven competence.


On the issue of clothing, the Congregation submitted: Generally, when the Visitors advert to the boys’ clothing, usually in the context of ‘smart appearance’, their remarks are positive ... The only criticisms appear to concern the need for a change of footwear for farm boy on wet days (1940) and boys going direct to class from manual work without changing (1953) ... The inspectors’ reports on clothing point to years when clothing was not good and when improvements were made ... The Tuarim Report (Jan 1966) was very impressed with the way the boys were dressed.


They submitted that by the mid-1960s the boys were well supplied with clothes, boots and shoes, and in the 1970s were fully equipped with modern clothing (walking out suits, overcoats, shirts, and games and football gear).


In regard to accommodation, the Opening Statement described the layout of the Institution in Letterfrack and this is dealt with in the introduction to this chapter. There were two dormitories each capable of accommodating 80 or more beds. Each boy had his own bed, and bed linen was changed regularly. There was a washroom located at the end of each dormitory where the boys washed their face and hands. Showers were taken on Saturday morning in the shower room that was located on the ground floor near the laundry area. The showers were hot initially and then, according to the Congregation, cold water was introduced to close the pores and prevent the boys getting colds. The Congregation submits that some of the boys may not have understood the reason for alternating hot and cold, and some have made complaints that this was a form of torture and this was not the case. After the showers, clean clothes were distributed.

  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.