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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


Br Sorel15 worked in Letterfrack during the same period and he gave evidence to the Investigation Committee. He had a vivid recollection of Br Percival who arrived in Letterfrack at the same time as him. Br Sorel remembered him as very harsh and as someone who punished severely. He tended to overdo it and would hurt the boys. He said that he could hear Br Percival in the classroom overdoing it with the strap. He would hear the noise of the strap on the hand. Br Percival was noisier than anyone else. Br Sorel said that there was a rule that they were not allowed to punish for lessons. However, Br Percival punished boys for minor misdemeanours. He recalled that, one night at tea, one of the Brothers, Br Noell,16 reprimanded Br Percival for being overly severe. A number of boys reported Br Percival to the Superior for his severity in the dormitories and, as a result, he was removed from dormitory duty and was replaced by Br Sorel, who was asked by the Superior to take over.


There was evidence from former residents as to the severity of this Brother. He seems to have been immature and vicious and perhaps somewhat unstable. If his county did badly in a GAA match, he would react extremely angrily and take it out on the boys in the classroom and in the School the following day.


A complainant who was resident in the late 1940s said that he treated all the boys badly and was always picking on his brother. He used to put his brother at the back of the class and beat him. The witness also described how Br Percival beat him for failure at lessons.


The Congregation in its response to these allegations confirmed that there was a Br Percival in Letterfrack but that he had since left the Christian Brothers and therefore the Congregation was not in a position to either accept or reject the specific allegation. The response statement went on: It should be noted however that the Congregation has no contemporaneous record of any complaint having been made against Br Percival. Further, the allegation does not accord with what is recorded of Br Percival in the Visitation report of 1950. It notes that Br Percival is “sympathetic to the poor children ... in this institution”.


It was regrettable that in its response the Congregation chose to quote from the 1950 Visitation Report, but ignored the 1949 one which is quoted above and which referred to Br Percival being ‘over severe at times’. The complainant in this case came to give evidence in the belief that his allegations were regarded as ill-founded. The Congregation’s failure to address these allegations properly was all the more regrettable in circumstances where a serving member of the Congregation, Br Sorel, could have given a first-hand account of his experience of Br Percival. Fortunately, Br Sorel was available to give evidence.


A complainant who was resident from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s said that Br Percival was fanatical about sports and if the boys were not playing well he would hit them with his hurley. He also said that, if Br Percival’s team lost at hurling, he would be violent towards the boys for the following week. However, he stressed that Br Percival’s bad temper was not limited to the sports field. He said that Br Percival was very severe in the classroom as well. He used to beat the boys for talking or failure at lessons. He described one particular incident where Br Percival beat a boy, who had to wear callipers, for talking in class: This day he took this lad who was talking in the class, and he said, “get out there”. [The boy], had callipers on his legs, he could hardly walk. When he got out he just gave him a dig with his fist, knocked him to the floor and jumped on him like he was a bag of potatoes. That lad was in callipers.


Another complainant confirmed that Br Percival would be in a bad temper and mistreat the boys if his team lost at hurling.


The Congregation’s response was the same for this case, and so the complainant came to the Commission in the belief that his allegations were viewed with suspicion by the Congregation. No effort was made to investigate the allegations, but the Congregation adopted a position of scepticism as a default position that was not helpful to the individual complainant.


A complainant who was resident in the late 1940s, who did not identify Br Percival in his original statement, gave evidence that he was quite good at handball and that one evening Br Percival told him to play with him against the cobbler and the tailor. They lost and Br Percival slapped him across the mouth. He later offered him a glass of lemonade but he couldn’t drink it as he was too sore.


Br Percival spent a total of six years in Letterfrack. Having completed his teacher training he returned to Letterfrack for a year before being transferred to a day school in Dublin. He applied for and was granted secularisation in the late 1950s.


The Congregation did not address the allegations against this Brother in its Closing Submissions.


Br Percival was an unstable man who should not have been teaching or caring for children, particularly in a residential school like Letterfrack where his propensity for violence could extend beyond the classroom and where the children had no parental protection. Br Percival’s irrational and unpredictable behaviour generated fear and insecurity in the boys, who found it impossible to avoid punishment. Br Percival’s violence was known to the authorities in Letterfrack, and the fact that he was allowed to remain for so long is evidence that preventing this kind of abuse of power and trust was not a priority. The Congregation’s attempt to defend Br Percival by reference to a favourable Visitation Report was not balanced, as it should have been, by making reference to the other, unfavourable Report.


Noah Kitterick was a resident of Letterfrack from 1924 to 1932, which is outside the relevant period of this investigation. The reason why his story appears here is because of the response of the Congregation to his private and public complaints about Letterfrack. These began with two letters to the Superior of Letterfrack in 1953, and concluded with a visit to the Superior General in 1957. Mr Kitterick died tragically when he set fire to himself in London in 1967.


Mr Kitterick wrote two letters in 1953 to the Superior of Letterfrack, in which he complained about three named Brothers in Letterfrack. He claimed that they were tyrannical and sadistic: Bros Piperel,17 Corvax18 and Perryn ... these men were a disgrace to the Christian Brothers. Piperel and Corvax were tyrants. Br Perryn who was in the cook-house and refectory took great pleasure in beating boys for no reason, he was a sadist, for beating us he used a piece of rubber motor tyre. Almost daily we were flogged by one or other of these Bros. Dozens of times I left the dining room with my hands bleeding ... On several occasions after a meal, I was taken to the pantry ... by Br Perryn. He would lock the door and make me undress he would then sit on a stool and would put me across his knee and then flog me savagely he would then pinch me until I was unconscious.


Mr Kitterick followed up this letter with another, two days later, in which he said that he wished to see Letterfrack closed until improvements could be made there and the perpetrators of abuse brought to justice.

  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.
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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.