Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 2 — Upton

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Physical abuse


Br Giovani stated that there was no brutality, cruelty or physical abuse in Upton during the 12 months he was there. He stated that, while the regime in the School was ‘austere’ and harsh, the level of corporal punishment would have been commensurate with the levels pertaining in every other school at the time. Indeed, he stated that, during the period which he spent in Upton, great strides were made to reduce the levels of corporal punishment. However, in a later letter, he compared the regime to that of a ‘concentration camp’, accepting that Upton was not a pleasant place to be as a pupil, and stated that he felt guilty for not having done more to help the boys. He stated that all he ever did was complain while others tried to help in a more practical way.


The earliest witness account came from a boy who was admitted in the late 1940s. He recalled being physically punished for bed-wetting. He was also punished in the classroom by the lay headmaster, Mr Maher.10 He described a number of incidents involving two of the Prefects, including one beating given to a boy who absconded because his father was dying and he was not allowed to go to his funeral. He described the Prefects as being ‘over the top’ in inflicting punishment. He explained: This particular man was always over the top, the two of them were definitely over the top. Any time I was hit or beaten or attacked, or hit by anyone, it was always in a rage ...


He disputed entries in the punishment book of two and three slaps, as he said the boys were always given more and remembered the Brothers making the entries in the punishment book.


Another witness resident in Upton in the mid-1950s described the regime as brutal from the first day. He particularly recalled Saturday, which was shower day. No matter how hard the boys tried to clean themselves, it was never good enough for the Brother in charge. The boys would be clattered back into the shower with an open fist or with the leather if their nails were still dirty. Punishment with the leather was almost a daily feature for things like talking in the dormitory, talking in the ranks, etc. The most vicious Brother was Br Donato.11 The witness recalled being punished in the washroom one day, because he could not explain how he came to have a spoon in his pocket; he had actually dug it up in the garden earlier in the day. His legs were so bruised from the beating, it was noticed by Br Nico12 the following day in the garden. He assumed Br Nico admonished Br Donato for the beating because, a few days later, he received a further beating from Br Donato for telling tales.


There were two Brothers who were siblings in Upton, Br Orlando13 and Br Donato, and the witness claimed they were both vicious. Prior to Br Nico arriving in Upton, this witness recalled that the person in charge of the garden was very tough.


This witness recalled that all punishments, except for minor offences, such as having holes in one’s socks, were administered in the washroom. The leather was administered on the buttocks. He was only ever hit on the hand in class. The typical number of strokes of the leather administered was between 6 and 12, with the exception of Br Donato who kept slapping with the leather until the boy would eventually fall down.


The worst experience for him was the physical abuse. The sexual abuse he was subjected to was not brutal, and the Brother who sexually abused him would give him sweets, so he did not see it as being as bad as the beatings from Br Donato.


A witness present in the early 1960s recalled his very first experience of physical abuse. The boys were out for a Sunday walk and, on their return, they used the toilet and were talking to each other in there, unaware that it was against the rules. Br Alfonso overheard them and sent for them up to the office, where they were made to bend over a stool and hold the legs of the stool. Br Alfonso administered six “benders” on that occasion. The witness was not the first of the four to be punished: I wasn’t first, I don’t know who got the first one. Someone was first. Three of us would be standing watching this and believe me when you get one of these, if you thought you couldn’t jump, you would jump when you get one of these, six feet in the air, no problem, especially with Br Alfonso. 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. I remember the first one of those I got. I never thought anyone could go through so much pain as what we went through with them. I got six of those and you were that colour, all your hips would be that colour for weeks after and (indicating) you couldn’t tell no-one. If you told anyone you would get more.


Other Brothers, including Br Donato and Br Ludano,14 gave him beatings, but none were as severe as Br Alfonso’s.


He did not accept the contention that punishments were limited to three slaps on the hand. He said that he was slapped on the hand on one occasion, and the rest of the time he was beaten on the buttocks, and he sometimes got between 12 and 14 strokes of the leather.


A witness who was also resident in the early 1960s said that, from his earliest days in Upton, the daily routine often involved receiving a smack on the face for minor things, such as not getting out of bed quickly enough in the morning. He was only 10 years old at the time, and remembered how boys had to stand to attention all the time, even when they were being beaten by a Brother. After dressing, the boys went to the yard and then to Mass. Any misbehaviour at Mass resulted in being sent to the office for benders: Punishment in St. Patrick’s, Upton was a regular thing. I would have to say it was – you went to school, you went to bed, you went to work and there was nothing but fear, fear, fear. It was just fear the whole way.


He recalled receiving one severe beating from Br Alfonso. He was about 11 years old when he was accused of ‘scamping’, a name used for masturbation. He also described how it was a regular enough occurrence for a boy to be brought to the office for punishment, this usually related to the boy being accused of ‘scamping’. He also recalled hearing the screams and cries of boys who had been taken from their beds in the evening to the office for punishment, as the office was situated underneath the centre of the dormitory. Punishment by the Prefect was normally administered in the office, but the boys could be beaten anywhere, in the washroom, or in the shower room on Saturdays.


One witness resident during the early 1960s recalled an incident when the boys were watching a film, which they did not enjoy and, at the end of it, they gave a slow handclap. Each boy was brought out into the yard, one by one, and called into the washroom and beaten. He thought there were about 150 boys punished in total. This fact was confirmed by another witness. He recalled one Brother, Br Alfonso in particular who often beat him. The Brother was fond of music and particularly of hurling and golf. He used to make the boys fetch his golf balls and beat them if they couldn’t find them. He said that punishment was normally administered on the buttocks with a leather strap. According to him, the minimum number of strokes with the leather was six, and he said ‘If you didn’t get six you didn’t get anything’ and if the punishment was administered on the hand he would be ‘very lucky’.


Another witness remembered being taken out of school to attend to the needs of an ill priest. He said he did not smoke at the time, but was accused of stealing Lucky Strikes from the priest’s room. He denied he had ever done such a thing, but Br Marcello brought him upstairs to a classroom and told him to put on swimming trunks and proceeded to beat him severely. He also recalled a boy who was extremely thin being leathered in the showers by Br Marcello. This Brother requested that this witness should hold the boy down while he beat him. He said he refused to do this because the boy was so young.


Finding oneself in the wrong place at the wrong time was a matter for punishment, according to one witness. He received the leather for not having his socks darned. He later attended a normal national school, and was anxious to differentiate between the slaps that were acceptable there as compared with the punishment in Upton. He said: The level of punishment, the force, the ferocity of it. It was done in such a savage manner that it was way beyond anything that you could class as being the norm.

  1. Quoted in Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Publishing Press, 2003), p 74.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
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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.
  44. This is a pseudonym.
  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.
  56. This is a pseudonym.