Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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In 1966, Dr C.E. Lysaght carried out the general inspection. He stated that the School menu provided a ‘well balanced diet and variety’. He noted that the dinners, which he witnessed during his inspection, were ‘ample’, ‘satisfactory’ and that ‘little food was left behind’.


In 1970, the Congregation Visitor reported that the boys now had modern clothing and sporting gear.


In the second Visitation carried out in 1970, Br Dax was singled out for further praise. The Visitor noted that Br Dax who had taken over the kitchen had a different menu each day of the week and that the meals served to the boys were ‘very ample and tastefully served’.


The 1972 Visitation Report stated that the food was satisfactory and commended Br Dax for his efficiency: ‘it would be impossible to equal his dedication and efficiency’. In the 1973 Visitation Report the Visitor stated: Br Dax the Sub-Superior, lives an almost eremetical life since he supervises all the boys’ meals seven days a week and consequently must eat by himself. He is regular and his meals keep the boys contented. He does not cook but does the ordering and supervising. His only other duty is to supervise the boys’ showers. He maintains good discipline though his methods may be a little crude at times. He seems ripe for a total change of environment and the visitor suggests that he might be a suitable candidate for the international tertianship next August.


A number of former residents complained about the clothing they received. Some of these complaints related to the absence of proper work clothes. Boys who worked part-time on the farm (up to 40 at any time) had no work clothes. They wore their school clothes on the bog and in the fields in all weather and, no matter how wet or mucky they got, they had to stay in the same clothes until the end of the week.


One former resident said that he occasionally worked on the farm. Although he had Wellington boots he did not have proper work clothes like the boys who worked there full time. He wore his normal school clothes.


Another resident present in the Institution in the late 1950s and early 1960s said that he received so little food that he was reduced to eating swedes out of the fields. He contrasted the food the boys received with that of the staff. He said that: I actually seen the table in the monastery one time and there was enough food on that table to feed the 120 lads that were in that school. We never got food, anything like that. There was so much sheep and cattle and vegetables that were in that school, we should have been all little barrels.


One resident from the early 1960s said that the quality of the food was awful and that there was never enough of it. Another resident from the late 1950s said that there was never a lot of it and that boys would trade food they did not like. One resident in the late 1960s said that, of all the institutions he was in, Upton, Daingean and Letterfrack, the food in Letterfrack was the worst.


Another resident present in the late 1960s and early 1970s stated: The food wasn’t good food ... I remember kids breaking out in scabies and all sorts of stuff, weak and pale. It was very cheap food from Galway City, I don’t know where they got it from. The porridge, on many occasions it was very weak stuff and we used to pick little worms out with the spoons. The bread used to come in at the time, we used to be picking bits of green mould out of it and stuff, fighting for a small piece of margarine on the table to spread on it. It was just like animals, dog eat dog stuff, but I don’t remember any healthy food.


Br Dax was employed as the cook in Letterfrack from the late 1950s until it closed in 1974. In his evidence to the Investigation Committee he stated that: I would say quite honestly as far as I am concerned the food was reasonably good.


The 1954 decision of the Provincial, taken in the face of opposition by both the Department of Education and District Justice McCarthy, was ill-considered and detrimental to the welfare of the boys in Letterfrack. If it was desirable to restrict admission to Letterfrack to a specific category of boys, it was unreasonable and contrary to policy to retain a substantial number of boys from previous intakes who were outside that category. By insisting that increases in grants had to be applied equally to all schools, smaller institutions like Letterfrack were at a serious disadvantage. It required extra funding to compensate for the low numbers after 1954 but no special case was made. It was an indictment of the Congregation that extra funding promised to the Resident Manager to compensate for the removal of up to 100 pupils was refused at a time when funds were available. The deprivation of funds caused hardship to the boys in Letterfrack. The decision to close Carriglea as an industrial school and to keep Letterfrack open was not taken in the interests of the children in Letterfrack. The unsuitability of Letterfrack as an industrial school was apparent from the start and was strongly reiterated by District Justices and by the Department of Education. The will of the Provincial prevailed, however, and it is an example of the power the Christian Brothers had in determining the direction the industrial school system took. From the comments in her Inspection Reports, Dr McCabe believed that low standards were the inevitable consequences of inadequate funding. However, when this issue was raised in public in 1959, neither the Department nor the Congregation acknowledged the difficulties but were at pains to paint a rosy picture of life in Letterfrack. The argument put forward by the Congregation in its Opening Statement, that the care the boys received in Letterfrack was better than they would have received if they had remained in their families, misses the point. The Congregation was paid by the State to care for these boys to a standard set down by law, and failed to do so.


All industrial schools were required to provide a basic national school education for all boys under 14 and an appropriate level of industrial training for the older boys. Letterfrack was recognised as a national school in 1941 and was required to follow the national school curriculum. All boys under 14 attended classes for five hours per day, and those over 14 years old who had completed the 6th class course were put full-time to a trade. Those still in 6th class and who could be expected to benefit from it remained on to complete the year, and the others who were put into a trade received evening classes in the ‘three R’s’.


In their Final Submission the Congregation submitted that the evidence heard by the Investigation Committee confirmed that teaching in Letterfrack was extremely difficult, principally because the boys had received little or no education before arriving in Letterfrack and because they were not interested in education. This difficulty, they submit, was compounded by the State’s failure to recognise this, in not providing extra teaching staff and not allowing the Congregation to pursue a modified curriculum which was more suitable for the boys. The Congregation even provided for one extra teacher from their own resources at one stage. Despite the difficulties, they submit that the Congregation brought a high proportion of boys to Primary Certificate level and, for a period, organised for some boys to attend secondary school.


They accept that some boys did not benefit from an education but submit that part of the reason for this was their own lack of interest in education. They submit that there was no basis for a finding that the Congregation was guilty of any shortcoming in respect of the provision of education to boys within its care.


These assertions can be tested against the documentary evidence, the evidence of former Brothers, and the evidence of former pupils of the School.

  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.