Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 2 — Upton

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Sexual activity amongst the boys: documented cases


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.

Neglect and emotional abuse


The Department of Education and Science furnished, as part of the discovery process, General and Medical Inspection Reports for Upton spanning the period 1939 to 1966. Although a number of them are missing for various years, they are a valuable source of information on the conditions that prevailed in the School at the time. These documents allowed the Committee to view complainants’ evidence in the light of contemporary records.


The Department’s Medical Inspector, Dr Anna McCabe, considered the School ‘well run’ and the premises ‘well kept’ for the most part. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, her reports reflect anticipation of improvements in general living conditions, but any such improvements occurred very slowly. A difficulty with Dr McCabe’s reports is the fact that no specific information is provided as to the actual condition of the School or the nature of the improvements needed. The food and clothing of the boys were the two main areas with which she was least satisfied, and these are discussed in detail in the paragraphs below.


After a General Inspection of Upton on 9th June 1939, Dr McCabe was very impressed with the School. She found that the house and grounds were ‘in good order’ and the ‘boys appeared very healthy and bright’ and their physical condition was ‘excellent’. Apart from their outward appearance, Dr McCabe noted that the ‘boys all appear very pleased and content, and freely talk with their Superiors’. She also commented that the boys had ‘plenty of playing space – a great big cement yard and field’ as well as a ‘fine Swimming Pool in the grounds’.


The next available record of an Inspection by Dr McCabe is a report dated 10th November 1943. On that occasion, conditions had deteriorated somewhat from 1939. Dr McCabe described the School as only ‘fairly good’ but she noted that the boys were ‘well cared and happy’. The reasons for her dissatisfaction included the fact that there were dirty tablecloths on the tables in the refectory, and the towels for the boys were worn and ragged. She recommended that these be replaced. She also called for better supervision of the boys in the dressing room and for each boy to be supplied with a toothbrush.


The next available Inspection Report, two years later, reported conditions had not altered. In her report dated 19th March 1945, Dr McCabe again described the School as only ‘fairly good’ and the premises as being ‘fairly well kept’. But she did not elaborate on what needed to be done to improve conditions. She commented that improvements were being made to the School, but did not specify what the improvements were, except to say that a new kitchen was being built. Again, she found that the boys were ‘well cared and happy’.


On the next General Inspection, which took place on 2nd September 1946, she found the School was ‘much improved’. Dr McCabe noted that the new kitchen was a great success and a new sanitary annexe had been added. Of even greater importance was the fact that a bungalow had been built on the grounds of the School, for the purpose of housing six nuns who were due to arrive to assist in the running of the School. Their presence, according to Dr McCabe, would bring about great changes ‘for the best’. These nuns were from the Dominican Order and arrived in Upton in October 1946.


When Dr McCabe visited the School on 27th October 1947 she found ‘altogether there is a great improvement in this school’ which was due in no small measure to the arrival of the Dominican nuns. She declared that ‘the advent of the Nuns has made a great difference to the school’. In particular, she felt that the nuns had brought about much improvement on the domestic side of the house. In 1948, she noted the same improvements, again because of the nuns. In her report dated 22nd October 1948, Dr McCabe detailed that the corridors and dormitories had been repainted and the premises were clean and ‘well kept’.

  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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