Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Numbers in other schools began dropping from the 1950s onwards, but Ferryhouse continued to be at or near its capacity, largely because it took children from other schools. Upton closed following a major fire in 1966, and 28 boys were transferred to Ferryhouse. The chart below shows the breakdown of numbers of residents throughout the years:
Year Certification number Type of admissions
1884 licence for 150 children Committed
1900 155 children Committed
1910 154 children Committed
1920 127 children Committed
1930 193 children Committed and voluntary
1940 189 children Committed and voluntary
1950 182 children Committed and voluntary
1960 205 Committed and voluntary
1970 160 Committed and voluntary
1994 140 Committed and voluntary
1995 80 Committed and voluntary
1996 56 Committed and voluntary
2004 36 Committed and voluntary


The boys were aged between nine and 16 years.


On first entering the School, several complainants described being over-awed by the numbers. One witness, who went there in the late 1940s, described his first day as follows: Oh, it was frightening, to see them big doors open. I was introduced to the Rector at the time ... who was a very nice man, he was, very pleasant. I was taken into a room. I was given some bread and cocoa, a change of clothes ... Then you could say I was thrown out into the yard with the other boys, really frightening ... I have never seen so many boys in my life. I thought – well, I should imagine you would expect about 50 or 60 like that was in [the convent] but when you see about 200, oh dear.


A resident who was in Ferryhouse in the 1940s described his first day as fearful. His mother had recently died and five of the large family were sent to Ferryhouse. He recalled: When I arrived, we were brought in a front door and then you came through a kind of a cloister and you came out a door and there was a clock over the door – now you didn’t see that until you came back in – and I seen this massive amount of boys. There was about 200 boys there at my time when I arrived there. There was a massive amount of boys, all ages, running, and shouting. It drove the fear of God in you and that’s the truth. We kind of cuddled together, the five of us.


Another witness, in Ferryhouse in the late 1960s, also stressed the frightening impact of so many boys together at one time. On recalling his first day: We were escorted up to a laundry house and, if I am not mistaken, the laundry house would have been underneath the main stairs or somewhere in that area of the main building of Ferryhouse before you go out to the yard from the Rector’s office. There was a little laundry room there which Br Leone1 was running and there he handed you out whatever clothing or blankets, I can’t remember what it was. I remember the smell of the laundry room. That is all I remember of it. When I walked out the door that day and seen so many boys running around, I think it was the first and last time I actually had a good cry because I knew where I was. I didn’t know there was no come back, but I knew that was the first time I actually said to myself I really missed my mother. I realised I was after being taken away.


Another witness described a similar routine at mealtime: You lined up every morning for your meals ... the small guys up the front and the bigger lads at the back. It would be like an army ... you would go in and line up. There was 11 at each table and you had a leader at the top of the table, he was responsible for cutting the horrible block of margarine that each one got a square of.


By the 1960s, the nineteenth-century buildings were becoming dilapidated and outmoded. A surprise inspection by the Department of Education of Ferryhouse, on 21st July 1966, referred to outmoded methods of housing children. Dr Lysaght, the Medical Inspector, described ‘a depressing air of mass communal living’ due to the large size of the dormitories and the large number of beds. His report, which is dealt with below, recommended that the dormitories should be broken into smaller units, and the Department responded by sanctioning six new prefabs for the School. These changes prefaced the huge rebuilding programme undertaken a decade later.


After the School was rebuilt, some complainants described their first impression as favourable. A resident who went there in the late 1980s, after Ferryhouse had been rebuilt, said: The first day we went down I was with the police and they were showing us around. They brought us out in the building first, they showed us where we would be just so we would settle in. Then they brought us all around the buildings, telling us what buildings was which and then brought us out to the back where there was a kind of farm, just showing us where the animals were and saying if we wanted we could help out with the animals and all. Looking around it was real nice, I thought it was going to be nicer than when I was in Michael’s beforehand, because I was in St. Michael’s for three weeks before going down. I was thinking it was real open, not closed doors everywhere. I thought it was a real nice place and I thought it would be okay.


Later he added: The first few weeks it was more or less the same like, everybody was okay. Then I think the first time I got hit was when I was in a fight with one of the lads, we had a disagreement.


The conditions within Ferryhouse, and its atmosphere, were vividly described by some of the former and current members of the Rosminian Order. One priest, Fr Antonio,2 who was there in the late 1960s and 1970s, described the grim conditions that he found prior to the rebuilding of the School. He told the Investigation Committee: Things were very Dickensian in the place at the time in 1967/68 ... Things were very, very bad at that time. My first vision of the dormitory were all these beds in the big dormitory, full stretched up the whole way, and all the wet beds on one side of the dormitory which was a very Dickensian situation and a cruel situation at that time. One of the earliest memories I would have had going in there was a place at the end of the stairs and a young 12 year old would be in charge of the laundry and he would go in and take out all these shirts and bring them out and put them on the beds. A tall fella could have a shirt down to his navel and another fella could have his shirt down to his ankles. ... Some of the saddest memories I would have is of the boys who wet their bed bringing out their sheets to laundry in the morning because there was only one woman in the laundry and they used to have to bring them out.


With small variations, the daily timetable for the boys and staff in Ferryhouse followed the activity pattern set out below:
Time Activity for boys Duty for staff
6.30 Rise/ prepare breakfast etc
7.30 Mass
8.00 Boys called/ Wash and dress Raise boys

8.30 Mass then breakfast/ polishing boots and clothing inspection etc Supervise
9.00 School/ Workshops/technical classes Mondays and Wednesdays Return to dorms to check all is clean
11.30 Playtime Supervise
12.00 to 12.45 Catechism
12.45 to 1.00 Playtime Supervise
1.00 Dinner/play Supervise
2.30 Workshops
3.00 Band until 4.45 for players
5.00 Play Supervise
5.30 School
7.45 Supper/Play Supervise
9.00 Bed Supervise until night watchman arrives/ on call


In earlier years, the boys started earlier, but shifts in the time scale did not alter the basic routine.


For this daily routine to run on time, the boys had to be drilled with near military precision. As one priest, Fr Ludano,3 who stayed at the School in the late 1940s and early 1950s, put it: Probably even at that time I considered it harsh ... well, there was a lot of regimentation, some of which I didn’t think was necessary. It was run almost on army lines, which I think was unnecessary.


While this regimentation allowed things to run on schedule, it led to quick physical chastisement of boys who fell behind the others. One witness, resident in Ferryhouse in the late 1940s, described the regimentation and how it was enforced: In the yard playing around. Then when evening came, bedtime, I was shown the bed I would be sleeping in, an iron cast bed. We got up in the morning, wash your face, wash your hair. There was two lines of sinks, wash basins. You had to take your shirt off, one line at a time in each line of sinks. When they were finished another line would go in. Now, we had to wash our hair and our face, cold water, carbolic soap and if we didn’t get the soap off in time we got a whack across the head with a cane so everybody had to rush to get the soap off ... Then we would go out and then we would make our beds. The other lot would go in, wash their heads and face until everybody was done. Then we would dress ourselves, down to Mass. We went to Mass every morning. After Mass we would go back up to the dormitory again, dust our beds, the frame of the beds, dust it. The laymen would come around, feel the bed. If there was a bit of dust left on it, if there was a bit left on it we got a wallop. What does a 10 or 11-year-old child have to get a wallop because there is a bit of dust on the frame of the bed? Anyway after that we would go down to breakfast: two slices of bread and dripping, either a cup of tea or cocoa. Then we would go to the various classes, school. We had four, I think it was four lay teachers ... We had no lady teachers, there was no ladies at all in the school while I was there, no ladies at all. After school we would have our dinner. We would have to line up in the yard like an army barracks. They would shout out in Irish, ‘Stand to attention. At ease’. Line one would go into the refectory. Then line two. We didn’t say a word. If we said anything we got a wallop. We would say our grace for what was on the table, which wasn’t much. We would sit down, have that, not a word out of us. Tin plate and a spoon. We would come out and then we would start playing. Then about half past four line up again for our last meal of the day. Two slices of a bread and jam and a cup of cocoa or whatever it was, tea or cocoa then about. We would be out playing then and we would have – no, I beg your pardon. Before the lunch we would go to the workshops. I was in the knitting shop. There was a tailor shop, a shoemaker shop and that would go on for several hours. Then we would have our lunch. We lined up again for that. After that we would go out and play, and at about eight or half past eight we would go to bed then. We would say our night prayers. We would get up again in the morning, same routine again.


Within this regimented timetable, each boy got to know his duty. One witness explained: Some people who wet the bed might get a clattering and that would be the start of the day for them, after showing their sheets and the mattresses. Those that wet the bed would have to go for communal showers after Mass and then go to the office then to get the strap for the same thing ... Then you had your morning chores after that. Some people cleaned the long corridors of the school, clean it. Some people cleaned the dormitories. Not everyone had morning chores, but there was a designated number of people who would do the morning chores.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  19. This is believed to be a reference to the Upton punishment book.
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  37. Latin for surprise and wonder.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
  53. Cussen Report, p 54
  54. Cussen Report, p 55
  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.