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Chapter 2 — Upton

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Sexual activity amongst the boys: documented cases


Fr Fabiano took a benign view: I wonder if the law in this case is being interpreted rightly or if the name attributed to the crime of adults can rightly be applied to children who often may not know that they are breaking the law of God let alone the law of the State.


In praise of the children, he asserted that they ‘are good normal children perhaps better than the average and have a right to their good name’.


These efforts proved successful, and the State Solicitor recommended that the three boys should not be prosecuted, and the Attorney General agreed. The reasons were, first, that the boy at the centre of the allegations was already serving a two-year sentence of detention at Daingean, and it was felt that no benefit would be derived from a further prosecution. Secondly, with regard to the other two boys, it was felt that, having considered all the circumstances of the case, no prosecutions should be taken. Each of these reasons existed at the time when the boys were charged, and the only new development was the opposition of the Upton authorities to a prosecution.


There could have been strong arguments put forward for not proceeding with this prosecution, but one of the motives of the Manager appears to have been to avoid adverse publicity and ‘very great danger’ to the reputation of the School. The attitude to sex between boys, that he advanced in his letter seeking to stop the case, was very different from what emerged from their attitude in other cases.


An unwelcome consequence of this Garda investigation for the School management was the renewed attention of the Department of Education. The Superintendent of Bandon Gardaí informed the Inspector of the Department of Education in 1944 of the charges being brought against the three boys. An internal enquiry was mooted by the Department of Education, but it was decided that there was no point in writing to the Resident Manager of Upton to ask him ‘to explain how these acts went undetected until it had been proved that they took place’, i.e. until after the court cases. Such an enquiry never went ahead, presumably because there were no prosecutions.


The Department was unsure as to how it should deal with the situation, but eventually decided almost two months later to write to the Resident Manager to express the ‘Minister’s grave concern at the continued prevalence of this serious vice in the School’. This the Inspector of Industrial Schools duly did, by letter dated early the following year. He expressed in very strong terms his concern on behalf of the Minister of the ‘continued prevalence of sodomy amongst the boys’ in Upton, and he specifically drew attention to the 1936 Special Inspection, whereby the need for tighter supervision of senior boys was stressed to the Resident Manager at the time. The letter also expressed, even more forcefully, the burden on the Minister who, as the regulator of all industrial schools, was placed in a grave predicament when these allegations of sodomy arose. In order to impress upon the Resident Manager the urgency and problem posed by sexual abuse amongst the boys, he threatened that the school certificate would be withdrawn if radical action was not taken to eradicate the problem: The danger that this is so places a burden of the gravest responsibility on the Minister, since it is by virtue of his continued recognition of the School as an industrial school that a steady stream of young boys are sent there under the Children Acts. If it should become clear that this ruinous vice has taken firm root in your school and cannot be eradicated so that boys are exposed to an abnormal degree to the danger of indulging in it, the Minister may feel bound to withdraw his recognition from the School.


He then requested the Resident Manager in the letter to take ‘radical action immediately to stamp out this vice’, by tightening up supervision and keeping surveillance of boys over the age of 14 years, with particular attention to their activities on the farm.


This letter evoked a quick and indignant response from both the Resident Manager and the Provincial at Upton. The Resident Manager in his letter to the Department admitted that ‘we do get odd cases of immorality’, but ‘I most emphatically deny that this school is the den of iniquity implied in your letter’. Fr Fabiano defended the management of the School in unequivocal terms, stating: It has always been my greatest anxiety to see that the boys are moral in every way and that they are never exposed to any risk, whatsoever, in other words as far as it is humanly possible this particular danger is guarded against.


He went on in the letter to defend the actions of the school staff in preventing such abuses taking place, stating that he had 18 years’ experience in the School and knew how to protect the boys’ morality, in addition to making frequent visits to the farm and the whole school ‘at all sorts of odd and unusual times’ and having ‘always dealt severely with anything like indecent conduct and have taken a particular interest in the boys concerned making sure they become God fearing boys’. The Resident Manager ended his six-page letter with a challenging declaration: If the minister is worried about the welfare of these children and is ready to accept the evidence at its face value notwithstanding Fr Giuseppe’s statement to the contrary I am authorised to state that he (Fr Giuseppe) is willing to hand up the certificate in the interests and for the safety of the religious staff dealing with the school.


The Provincial, Fr Giuseppe, also wrote to the Department on the same day, expressing his outrage and annoyance, but went further and expressed his desire to resign the certificate of the School and prevailed upon the Inspector ‘to make provision as soon as possible for the committed children at present in the care of the Fathers of Charity in this school’.


The fact that the Department did not take very seriously the Provincial’s threat to close the School can be gleaned from an internal memorandum. They considered that the decision by the Provincial was made ‘in a fit of pique, seeing that this incident follows on the heels of the clean up at his other school, Clonmel’. However, they sought to smooth the ruffled feathers of the Upton authorities by issuing a ‘mild apology’ and explaining the reason behind the forceful letter that was sent. They wrote to the Provincial and offered the explanation that the Department thought that, when the two inspectors visited the School in 1936 and urged stricter supervision, that was the end of the matter of sodomy. When it came to light in 1944 that abuses had taken place over a further seven-year period from 1938, this gave rise ‘of grave concern and disappointment’. The statements of the boys were also furnished to the Provincial, in the hope that this would clarify and explain the gravity of the situation and the response of the Department: I have no doubt that you will recognise this when you have read the statements, and that you will understand why it was considered desirable to urge you in the strongest terms to spare no efforts to stamp out this form of misconduct in your School.


It did not have the desired effect on the Resident Manager. Instead, after having read the statements of the three boys, he wrote a very defensive letter to the Inspector, dismissing his concerns outright. As to the statements of the three boys, the Manager analysed them and pointed out reasons why they should not be believed, and he referred to the difficult backgrounds from which each of them came. He certainly did not think that he was in any way to blame for the misconduct of the boys, and insisted that the acts complained of in the statements were well known to him and he had done everything in his power to be vigilant: I do not know that there is a case mentioned in any of the statements which was not either known or suspected and every vigilance was exercised.


Instead of attempting to understand or alleviate the concerns of the Department in this matter, the Resident Manager took the moral high ground and dismissed outright the stance taken by the Department: My conscience is quite clear and untroubled about the whole matter and I do not believe I could have done more.


The Assistant Secretary stated in an internal memorandum in 1945 to the Secretary that the letter ‘is reasonable enough on the whole’ and that he did not expect that the Resident Manager would actually resign the certificate. The course taken by the Department was simply to do nothing more about the matter and to let it all blow over. When the Medical Inspector, Dr Anna McCabe,54 carried out a routine General Inspection of the School on 19th March 1945, she had a long discussion with Fr Giuseppe about the situation and particularly his threat to resign the certificate. She considered that the threat was ‘a bit of a bluff’. The Manager informed her that he could always turn the School into a secondary boarding school. By April 1945, a reply to the Manager’s letter had not been issued from the Department, and they felt it was unnecessary to do so and that it was safe to ‘assume that the Provincial will not pursue his threat to resign the Cert. of the School?’.


This episode illustrates the priority given by the school authorities to avoiding adverse publicity. The Resident Manager was prepared to make light of what was considered to be the most heinous conduct that a boy could commit in Upton, in an effort to stop the prosecution and thus avoid adverse publicity or ‘danger to the reputation of the school’. The correspondence demonstrates the weakness of the Department; first it did not achieve its purpose, second to assert its entitlement to supervise this School, and third to protect vulnerable children.

  1. Quoted in Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Publishing Press, 2003), p 74.
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  5. 1933 Rules and Regulations for the Certified Industrial Schools in Saorstát Éireann, Rule 12.
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  28. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
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  39. Latin for in a class of its own.
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  41. Latin for with a boy.
  42. Latin for with boys.
  43. Latin for As spoken.
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  45. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
  46. Latin for without delay.
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  49. Latin for due caution.
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  54. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
  55. Records exist for only 19 of the 23 years.
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