Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 2 — Upton

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Physical abuse


Apart from Br Alfonso, the Investigation Committee had evidence in the form of correspondence from Br Giovani,7 who served in Upton for one year in the 1950s, a period covered by the entries in the book, which gave a different impression of the level of punishment from that indicated in the punishment book.


The entries in the punishment book demonstrate that the severity and frequency of beatings were greater than what were recollected by the staff. This discrepancy explains why accounts given by complainants, whose credibility was not in doubt, differed so markedly from the accounts given by respondents. This conflict appears in other institutions investigated.


The 1952-1963 punishment book provides evidence of the severity of punishments that were inflicted in Upton in the 1950s and early 1960s. It contradicts the recollections of Br Alfonso and Br Giovani, who recalled that punishments were not excessive, and supports the accounts given by the complainants. The later book contrasts unfavourably with the one kept in the late 19th century. It is not comprehensive, it is not methodical and is often not chronological, and the severity of punishment is greater. Some of the comments in the book suggest that they were not written in anticipation of an official inspection of the book, and there is no record of any such inspection. The punishment book is not a complete record, but it is accurate in respect of the punishment that it records. The book does not demonstrate an ordered system of punishment that was properly supervised and recorded on all occasions. The punishment books are not a complete record of punishments administered during the periods they cover. It is highly likely that other beatings were also administered.


Br Alfonso was a dominant figure during his time in Upton. He held the position of Prefect for a number of years from the mid-1950s. He was physically strong, and evidence from former residents confirms this.


One former resident was asked to describe Br Alfonso. He said: He had a bubbly personality, he had a wonderful structure. He was a brilliant golfer and a brilliant hurler ... To me, I was his lap dog. If he hit a sliotar and it went into the woods or into the nettles, me in my short little pants had to go and look for it and bring it back to him. Likewise, with a golf ball. And if you couldn’t find it you stayed until you did.


Another witness described the strength of Br Alfonso when he administered the strap: He really physically forced (indicating). It was like a golf driver and he was a golfer. That’s what he used to spend his time, playing golf. He used use the straps like a golfer. I never got so much pain in my life.


Br Alfonso said that corporal punishment in Upton was an essential tool in the maintenance of order in the School. He was given no training or advice regarding its use, which was a matter solely for his discretion. Other members of staff would send boys to him for punishment, and he always knew the reason for the punishment. He said that he always recorded his punishments in the punishment book and that the Resident Manager inspected his book regularly. When the entries in the punishment book were first raised with Br Alfonso during the investigation into Ferryhouse, in questioning about absconders, he said: The most strokes on the seat of the pants they would get for anything like that, if it were that, would be 10 strokes, that was a lot but that was what it was, that would be the maximum.


He went on to assert that 10 would be the maximum number of strokes for any offence. He confirmed that the Prefect made the entries in the book after the punishment was given. When the information in the punishment book showing 20 strokes given on the bare buttocks on a boy for immorality was put to him, he was incredulous: That couldn’t possibly have happened during my time ... That never ever happened. I put my hand on that Bible there, that never happened.


He was adamant that he himself had never exceeded 10 slaps when hitting a boy. However, when he was shown the punishment book, he had to admit that when he was Prefect he had himself meted out punishment of 20 strokes on the buttocks for sexual offences committed by the boys, for ‘immorality’ and ‘wretched immorality’. He went on to justify the bigger punishment because it was for ‘wretched immorality’.


The importance of the punishment book can be seen from this exchange. Not only does it provide a contemporaneous account of the administration of corporal punishment, but it also affords corroboration of the evidence of some of the former residents who were adamant that they had received punishment in excess of 10 strokes.


Punishment was administered in the Prefect’s office, and it could happen, albeit rarely, that a boy would have to wait outside the office for punishment. Br Alfonso disliked the term ‘punishment’, and described his position as follows: Punishment would be administered – well, I don’t want to call it “punishment”, but I have written in that book which I have there that when boys were chastised, I will use that word, they were advised. So there would be lots of advice going on instead of punishment.


This phrase ‘lots of advice’, to describe multiple blows with a strap on a boy’s hands or buttocks, minimises the whole nature of corporal punishment, which is exercising control by inflicting pain. He went on to say that punishment was not administered to boys of all ages, but he refused to be drawn on the age at which punishment started.


Counsel for three complainants referred to the entry for 19th September 1954, the day on which it was recorded that 18 boys were each given 20 strokes for ‘wretched immorality’. Br Alfonso was unable to recall the occasion when so many strokes had been administered, although it was simple arithmetic (but erroneous because counsel thought 17 and not 18 boys were involved).


On a number of occasions during his cross-examination, Br Alfonso appeared to find some of the suggestions made by counsel for the complainants derisory. One such instance arose when a witness gave evidence that he had felt children were being used ‘like lap dogs to collect your ball’. Br Alfonso was asked why he found this derisory: No, and the reason I laughed, excuse me, no, they were my children, I loved them. I had no approach to the children like that at all, they were wonderful and that is all and they are still my children and that so, just I could never treat any child like that as a lap dog, I could not do that.


He suggested, instead, that the boys played golf with him and they would all be having a good time.

  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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