Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Emotional abuse


This Brother was not alone in using these tactics. One complainant who had been abused by Br Jean said that this Brother took advantage of his need for love and attention in order to buy his silence: He was kind to me in that way, but it was sweets and a toy at the time I thought was kind to me but he must have been just softening me up for his own benefits. As I get older, I was innocent and I didn’t know if everybody had toys or not. Some of the boys I suppose had more toys.


Another former resident told a similar story. He described how Br Curtis was nice to him and how he welcomed the attention. However, Br Curtis went on to sexually abuse him: But Br Curtis, on many occasions, I didn’t know at the beginning – and I welcomed a little bit of attention, because as I sort of outlined, you know, I had been taken away from home, and Br Curtis, I didn’t realise that it was wrong, what he was doing.


The boys lived in a hostile environment isolated from their families, and often faced bullying and sexual abuse by their peers. The Brothers, far from offering protection, added to the fear by being punitive figures who were remote and unapproachable. One Brother described little boys following him in the playground, because proximity to him provided the sole deterrent to bullies. Brothers had to be both teachers and warders. Most Brothers had little respect for boys in their care, which was particularly evident in the way punishments were administered, and also in some of the more cruel punishments that were calculated to cause humiliation as well as pain. The Congregation did not accept that there was an ‘atmosphere of fear’ within Letterfrack during the relevant period. It has, however, accepted that there were physical and sexual abusers present in the School for significant periods of the years under review. In addition, a number of individual respondent witnesses have accepted that they administered discipline in an excessive and capricious manner. It is impossible to deny the impact that cruel punishments would have had on bystanders. Into this mix may be put the prevalence of bullying and peer sexual abuse in the Institution. It is difficult to see how any conclusion could be reached other than that there was a climate of fear in the school. The School was run on the harshest of lines because it was deemed appropriate for the kind of children sent there, yet the Congregation concede that Letterfrack was particularly harsh in the 1940s when the children were mostly orphans, abandoned or neglected.

General conclusions


General conclusions Physical abuse 1. There was a climate of fear in Letterfrack. Corporal punishment was severe, excessive and pervasive. Violence was used to express power and status and was practically a means of communication between Brothers and boys and among the boys themselves. Punishment was inescapable and frequently capricious, unfair and inconsistent. Rules on corporal punishment were disregarded at all levels. 2. The Congregation did not carry out proper investigations of cases of physical abuse. It did not impose sanctions on Brothers who were guilty of brutal assaults. 3. Protection of the boys was not a priority for the Congregation in dealing with excessive and unlawful punishment, and the Department of Education abrogated responsibility by leaving supervision and control of this area entirely to local management. Sexual abuse 4. A timeline of documented and admitted cases of sexual abuse shows that for approximately two-thirds of the period 1936-1974 there was at least one Brother in Letterfrack who sexually abused boys at some time and for almost one-third of the period there were at least two such Brothers there. One Brother worked for 14 years before being detected. Another who served for a separate period of similar length went undetected for many years after the school closed. It is impossible to calculate the true extent of sexual abuse in the institution but it is clear that more abuse happened than is recorded. 5. The Congregation did not properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse. Brothers who sexually abused boys and who were known to be a continuing danger were still permitted to work with children. 6. The manner in which Brothers who sexually abused were dealt with is indicative of a policy of protecting them, the Community and the Congregation, from the effects of disclosure of abuse. The needs of the victims were not considered. Emotional/Neglect 7. The boys were unprotected in a hostile environment isolated from their families. 8. Remoteness was an acknowledged affliction that caused or exacerbated almost every difficulty that Letterfrack encountered from its inception. 9. Children left Letterfrack with little education and no adequate training. 10. Boys in Letterfrack needed extra tuition to bring them up to standard, but instead they got poor teachers and bad conditions. 11. The 1954 decision to restrict intake to children convicted of offences, taken in the face of opposition by both the Department of Education and District Justice McCarthy, was detrimental to the welfare of the boys in Letterfrack and was implemented in a way that was wholly inconsistent with the thinking behind it.

  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.