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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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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.


The Rosminian Community in Ferryhouse generally consisted of 10 members of the Order, both priests and Brothers. All of the members of the Community lived in the School, and each had different responsibilities. The Resident Manager and the Prefects ran the School, and the Prefects had the most direct contact with the boys. However, other Brothers and priests had responsibilities with the boys to a lesser degree.


Fr Stefano4 was appointed as Resident Manager of Ferryhouse in the mid-1970s. He detailed in his evidence what staff were available to him at that time. What he described was typical of the previous decades in Ferryhouse: In the community when I arrived, I had a bursar; I had three Prefects, one for each group; and I had an assistant, a student, and a Rosminian student who was studying for the priesthood and he was there as well and he would help out in different units at different times. I had the farm manager. There was a retired gardener, a Brother who died shortly after I arrived there. I had another Brother who was helping in maintenance. There was a Brother who was in charge of the community kitchen and there was a mission secretary – that was a priest who worked full-time for the Missions raising money for our African Missions and he lived with us.


Fr Stefano, therefore, had three Prefects to call upon to take care of over 150 boys. His other staff, although involved in the running of the School, were not directly involved in the day-to-day care of the boys. Throughout its history, Ferryhouse used only a small number of staff to take care of the boys. It is a fair estimate that less than 20% of the religious Community present in Ferryhouse had a direct role in the provision of care to the boys:
Year Number of boys resident Total number of Rosminian Community Number of prefects Prefect/boy ratio
1930 193 9 2 96/1
1940 189 9 2 94/1
1950 182 10 2 91/1
1960 205 12 2 102/1
1970 160 12 3 53/1

Physical abuse


As far back as 1990, on the occasion of the public opening of a new school in Ferryhouse, the Provincial spoke of the boys who had been damaged by the years they spent in the old Ferryhouse, and of those who looked back in anger and bitterness on their time there. He said: The greatest guilt has to be borne by those of us who utilised or condoned or ignored the extreme severity, even brutality which characterised at times the regime at old Ferryhouse.


This awareness of the extreme severity, even brutality, of the old regime was reiterated in statements made to the Investigation Committee. Fr O’Reilly, speaking on behalf of the Order at the Phase I public hearing on 7th September 2004, outlined its position on the use of corporal punishment at St Joseph’s, Ferryhouse. He told the Investigation Committee: I’d say that most of the boys who were in Ferryhouse would have received corporal punishment at one time or another in the course of their time there for what was regarded as misbehaviour, be that absconding, or some other thing, and I think that corporal punishment was the standard that was acceptable at that time.


He went on to say, however, ‘I am sure that punishment at times for running away was excessive’.


The Rosminians prepared a respondent statement in response to each complainant’s allegations of physical abuse. This statement was furnished to the Commission by Fr Matt Gaffney, Provincial Superior, in May 2002. It further clarified the attitude of the Order to the era when corporal punishment was in widespread use. He wrote: Corporal punishment should be seen in an institutional context where the maintenance of control was an absolute necessity, and in particular in the light of social attitudes of the time. It is true that the ideal of child-care in Industrial Schools was to avoid corporal punishment when possible, but that unfortunately provided an aspiration without the means of achieving it. The absence of child-care training left staff at the schools without any practical policy other than personal judgment, which was fallible and always hard-pressed. The use of corporal punishment as a general disciplinary measure, and its uses also as a punishment or deterrent for bed wetting, absconding and other infractions, in times when corporal punishment was generally socially acceptable, produced a disciplinary environment in which the distinction between punishment and abuse could become blurred.


In their Final Submission to the Investigation Committee, after all the hearings had been completed, the Rosminians wrote: The susceptibility of corporal punishment to abuse seems inherent. If left to discretion, a cause can always be found for its use, especially where authority is threatened or insecure ... It must be said that Prefects seem to have varied widely in their use of corporal punishment. This appears to be reflected in the pattern of complaints. This in itself would suggest that problems of corporal punishment were created in part by a lack of policy and supervision.


The approach taken by the Rosminians had many advantages for the complainants giving evidence to the Committee. Above all, it made it easier for them to tell of their experiences. The Rosminians’ inquisitorial approach actively engaged with the Commission in searching for facts. The victims were sometimes helped to recall details, and were often asked to add to the facts known to the Order.


However, the Order were loath to admit that the kind of corporal punishment administered as part of the regime often constituted physical abuse. This contrasted with their approach to known sexual abusers, where they did not dispute the abusive nature of the behaviour.


While all members of the Order and the lay teachers could use corporal punishments, the majority of the complaints received by the Investigation Committee named members of the Order who had been appointed Prefects. Until the late 1960s, when the number of dormitories was increased to three following a critical inspection, there were two Prefects, one for the junior and one for the senior section. Fr O’Reilly told the Investigation Committee: ... it was regarded as the responsibility of the Prefects to look after the children, regardless of how many there were there ... once the children came out for all activities, whether that was football or hurling or soccer in the yard or whatever it had to be, you had to organise that and you had to ensure, as far as you could, that you had an eye on all the children or as many as you possibly could have, because that is your responsibility.


It was regarded as an impossible task, unless the supervision of the children also involved a degree of control over them through fear of punishment. One former Prefect told the Investigation Committee: I certainly would have hit chaps with the palm of my hand as well if the frustration got too much ... I wouldn’t have been unique, I don’t think, no ... we always tried to leave that side of it to one of the others if they would do it. Somebody has to take on the responsibility of the disciplinarian, one of us could step back and let ... whoever was there do it ... That kind of shoved you into a role at the time as well.

  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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  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.