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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


Br Marcel replied that the black eye was the result of an accident. He explained the matter as follows: The Resident Manager regrets the occurrence indicated and he has no doubt that there shall not be a recurrence of a like nature. The Brother while remonstrating with his class happened accidentally to strike the boy who stood behind him with his elbow in the face.


In Phase III, Br Gibson was asked whether this seemed like a plausible explanation and he said: Well, it doesn’t, but I’m not going to judge. I mean you are talking about 60 years ago, so I just don’t know. It doesn’t sound plausible no, it doesn’t.


• The Department of Education properly sought an explanation for the injury but accepted without further question a manifestly implausible account that was inconsistent with what the Inspector had been told. This was one of many instances where the Department allowed the Institution itself to investigate complaints. The boy does not appear to have been questioned in the course of the investigation. Br Maslin:12 Br Aubin’s13 complaint (1945)


As the Visitor prepared to leave Letterfrack after his four-day inspection in April 1945, Br Aubin wrote a hurried note to him. There had probably been a conversation between the Visitor and the Brother, in which it was proposed that the complaint which Br Aubin wished to make should be put in writing. The note described a serious disagreement between the writer and the Disciplinarian, Br Maslin, concerning severe punishments that the latter had inflicted on boys. The circumstances outlined to the Visitor were revealing of different aspects of life in the Institution. The case is therefore important for a number of reasons.


By way of background, the Visitation Report for the previous year recorded disharmony between the two Brothers involved in this episode and also involving, to a lesser extent, other members of the Letterfrack Community.


The events related in the note are best listed in sequence: Br Aubin learned that a boy who was in charge of 15 or more other boys working on the farm ill-treated them by beating them severely with a leather. The boy had done this on three occasions. The Brother reported the matter to the Disciplinarian, Br Maslin, who knew about it already. They decided that the boy should be punished ‘as he had not been allowed or told to punish these boys’. Br Aubin suggested informing the Superior but his colleague dismissed this. Br Maslin said that there was more than punishment wrong between this boy and the others, meaning sexual activity. On this the Brothers disagreed. A few days passed during which Br Aubin questioned the boy in charge and 13 of the others who were on the farm. He was satisfied that nothing more than the unauthorised punishment had taken place. On the next Sunday, Br Maslin meted out punishment to a boy, which left him with a swollen cheek, for allegedly allowing another boy into his bed or going into the other’s bed. The boy emphatically denied the charge. Later on that day, Br Maslin punished the farm boy in the surgery off the school, in the presence of Br Aubin who believed that the boy was innocent of immorality and that his only wrongdoing was unauthorised beatings of other boys. During the punishment, Br Maslin accused the boy of carrying on immorally with the boys on the farm and he confessed – out of fear, as Br Aubin believed – and gave some 15 names of those with whom he had offended, including among them the 13 previously interviewed by Br Aubin and found innocent. Before he finished punishing the boy, the Disciplinarian sent Br Aubin to bring back the boy who suffered the swollen cheek in the earlier beating and who was also on the farm at the material time. This boy was then accused of having oral sex with the boy in charge, which he denied, but he was nevertheless punished severely. The next day, Br Aubin spoke once more to the boy in charge on the farm, who assured him that none of what he had told Br Maslin was true and that he said what the Brother wanted him to say for fear of further punishment. Br Aubin went back to the farm boys he had previously interviewed and confirmed his view that there had been no immorality. Br Maslin remained convinced that he was right and refused to accompany Br Aubin to speak to the boys again. He declared his intention to punish all the boys who had not already been punished and, in addition, to punish the boy in charge for going back on his confession. Br Aubin told the Brothers who were in charge of the farm boys in the School and the dormitory, and they in turn inquired into the sexual allegations and rejected them. The Superior was informed at last. One of the School and dormitory Brothers recalled another previous unsubstantiated allegation by the Disciplinarian of sexual misconduct by a boy. The Visitor left a typewritten list of 22 recommendations with the Superior, including no. 9 with the underlined words added in handwriting: Manager to be present when punishment beyond the ordinary is being administered.


Some other points in Br Aubin’s letter should be mentioned.


Firstly, Br Aubin and the Disciplinarian were agreed that the boy temporarily in charge on the farm was wrong because ‘he had not been allowed or told to punish’ the other boys. The implication was that there could have been circumstances in which he would be authorised to do so. It may be that too much should not be read into this, taking account of the rushed nature of the letter, but the distinct impression remains that it was not the fact of punishment in itself but the punishment not having been authorised that was the real offence committed by the boy in charge.


Secondly, when the two Brothers were discussing the sexual allegation involving the boy in charge, Br Aubin defended him by pointing out that ‘through all the morbid cases in the past his name was never mentioned’. This was recognition of the scale of the problem of sexual activity between boys in Letterfrack.


Thirdly, the Disciplinarian turned down the suggestion that the Superior should be informed and gave as one of his reasons that, when he took a case on a previous occasion to the Superior, the latter did not believe the witnesses, and the boy accused of sexual misconduct went unpunished.


Finally, the letter acknowledged that the Disciplinarian ‘can inflict terrible punishment on children and the boys have a terrible dread of his anger’.


Br Maslin was transferred to another industrial school, Carriglea, in January 1946.


The Congregation’s Opening Statement commented on this case as follows: Once again, the complaints were acted upon and the offending person taken out of the situation. Why he was transferred to Carriglea in 1946 for 4 years, and later to day schools, is not known.


Br Maslin was sent to Carriglea at a time when it had deteriorated into near anarchy due to the ineffectiveness and incompetence of successive Resident Managers. The Congregation realised that drastic measures were called for. Br Maslin continued his abusive practices in Carriglea when he was transferred there. He was described by one complainant in Carriglea as the most feared of the Brothers there.


The problem that the Congregation dealt with in this case was the dispute between two Brothers; it did not deal with the cruel or unjust treatment of the boys or the failure of management to protect them. The contents of Br Aubin’s letter should have caused alarm to the Leadership of the Christian Brothers. If what he said was true, it disclosed a very serious episode of cruelty and injustice in Letterfrack. If what he said was not true, severe disciplinary action was called for against him. There should have been an immediate investigation into Br Maslin’s extreme violence against children for alleged offences that were denied by the boys and were disbelieved by other Brothers. The case illustrates how management was unable to deal with disputes between Brothers, even though they had a knock-on effect throughout the Institution and could lead to boys becoming victims of these disputes. Recommendation no. 9, as typed by the Visitor before he left Letterfrack, read ‘Manager to be present when punishment is being administered’. This was, in effect, a re-statement of the requirements of the Rules and Regulations governing industrial schools. The insertion of the words ‘beyond the ordinary’ amounted to a qualification. The amendment was highly significant because its effect was to render the injunction meaningless. It was a matter of individual interpretation what constituted punishment for which the Manager’s presence was required. The addition of these three words illustrated that keeping corporal punishment as an option for all Brothers was deemed essential to the running of the Institution. Br Percival14 (1949)

  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.