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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Neglect and emotional abuse


Having found that ‘the dormitory sleeps exactly twice the number of boys recommended’, the two officials drew the Department of Health’s attention to a number of serious matters, namely: 1.Social malaise. There is clear evidence of social malaise in the institution among the younger “denizens”. 43 out of a total of 192 boys are bed-wetters. This matter I have taken up with the M.O. to the institution and also with the Assistant Co. M.O., and will deal with it as well as possible, 2.Dental Care. This question I have taken up with the Chief Dental Officer. I feel we should give very full dental care to the boys in Ferryhouse from the clinic during school closure periods etc. Without parents, you will appreciate, it is difficult for them unless the County Council acts broadly in lieu thereof.


Unlike the School, which traditionally saw bed-wetting as a matter for discipline and learning, the Public Health Officer saw it as a symptom of the level of distress among the boys. Furthermore, he did not see the Order as being in loco parentis because he asked for the local authority to take on the role of parents in caring for dental health. The full report contains other examples of neglect. Among the facts listed were the following: 1.Another unsatisfactory item is that toothbrushes for boys in each dormitory are kept in a wooden box (measuring 4’ x 5”). The brushes standing close together each in its own slot. This would appear an excellent method of spreading ’flu, mouth infections and throat infections etc. 2.On inspection only four of the ten w/c’s worked properly. Some were blocked or partially blocked, some did not flush. The anti-syphon pipes on these particular w/c’s were not connected back to the soil pipes, and flowed over after being flushed. These should be either adequately connected or blocked, as they cause the floors to be continually saturated. Ventilation is through one large roof window and is inadequate.


Within the main letter is another complaint about the closed nature of the Institution. The Public Health Officer wrote: There is a question, now advanced, of building a new National School within the walls of the Institution. It is my opinion that this is a grave mistake. This is also the opinion of the Medical Officer to the Institution and of [the], Ass. Co. M.O.H. who know fairly well, as I do, that children going out of this Institution because they have no contact outside find it difficult to adapt. We feel the children should go outside to school ... where at least there will be some dilution with children with some pennies in their pockets, or the Clonmel Schools.


The Department of Health Boarding-Out Inspector, Ms Fidelma Clandillon, seized on this report and wrote: This shocking report confirms some unofficial information I have had over the years concerning Ferryhouse – yet two smaller and better schools were closed for economic reasons. From what I have heard the ill-treatment of the boys could do with investigation also. One person who spoke with me about this matter was an inspector of the I.S.P.C.C. It is scandalous that only the death of one of the boys has led to the conditions there coming to light ... [The Secretary, Tipperary (S.R.)] ... informed me that the report had not been sent to the Department of Education but had been sent here as a health matter. I would urge the necessity of this Department’s informing the Department of Education of the findings of this report.


At the time of the report, there were 23 boys maintained in Clonmel under the Health Act, and they were transferred without delay to other placements. The other boys, some 169 in number, had been admitted through the courts and came under the Department of Education’s remit. They remained in Clonmel while the Department and the Rosminians discussed how best to handle the problem.


On 21st July 1966, less than a year before the local health inspector’s report, Dr Lysaght, the Department of Education’s Medical Inspector, made a thorough inspection of St Joseph’s, Ferryhouse. At that time, there were approximately 160 boys in the School. The numbers were later swelled when Upton closed, and 31 boys were moved down to Clonmel. Under the heading ‘Conditions of Premises’ he wrote: The structure appears for most part in good repair. Several parts require decoration and repairs to fitments in washrooms, and sanitary annexes are needed. It would appear from what I saw in this regard they are inclined to be destructive.


He seemed to be blaming the boys for the broken sanitary facilities.


Under the heading ‘Dormitories’ he wrote: Two in number ... Very large, extending the length of building – contain each about 80 beds ... The size of these dormitories and the presence of so many beds conveyed a depressing air of mass communal living ... While there was free passage way between beds and most probably sufficient floor space to avoid justification of any accusation of overcrowding it would be only marginal and there was not room for any further beds.


In the same month as he was writing the report, a fire broke out in the east wing of Upton Industrial School, and 31 boys were transferred to Ferryhouse. Dr Lysaght’s report made it clear there that there was no room for them.


Dr Lysaght went on to say: In any event these dormitories are much too big and they should be broken up into smaller units. I can appreciate the need for supervision but it can be got as in the case of Salthill without resort to what I regard as a soul destroying and de-humanising expedient. There is little use in discussing the desirability of having small homes or schools with less than 50 beds, the avoidance of institutional atmosphere from every aspect and at the same time countenance the concentration of double the number sleeping in one room in serried rows of beds, end to end ... I had the feeling that these dormitories were the worst I had seen ... There was a general air of “dinginess”, bare boards none too clean, bed covers dull and unattractive etc. which did not impress favourably ...


He found the beds adequate though spartan, there were adequate blankets and sheets, but the latter were ‘none too clean at that’. He then added: There is a large sanitary annex containing W.Cs. and urinals and washbasins off each dormitory. The walls are just bare concrete and stained and discoloured. Damage to fitments were seen – evidence of destructive tendencies.


He found ‘a rough and untidy look about the dining room’, but the food was good and ample in amount. There were only 10 boys in the School at the time, as the others were on holiday at Woodstown, so his judgements were made under exceptional circumstances. Of their clothing he wrote, ‘The ten boys seen were reasonably well clothed’.


His comments on aftercare expressed deeper concerns. He wrote: They try to get them jobs on leaving. Most do not want to work on farms – they say it is too lonely ... Many join the army but unfortunately the army won’t take them til they are 17 ... Those who have training in trades ... would have to serve their time all over again as apprentices outside ... They manage to frequently get places as men servants in religious houses for boys. It would seem, however, that in the case of illegitimate and orphans with no living near relatives the dice is heavily loaded against their getting a fair start in life. This constitutes a social problem, which should be capable of remedy.


There is plenty in this report to alert the Department to the dangers of overcrowding and poor hygiene within Ferryhouse, but the report falls far short of being a shocking indictment of the place. It did not stop the Department allowing 31 more boys into the crowded School.


Apart from Dr Lysaght’s report, there were three reports from Dr Anna McCabe for August and September 1963 and January 1964, when the School population was nearly 200 boys. They are generally very positive. On 15th August 1963, she wrote under the heading ‘Condition of premises’, ‘Clean well kept. Improvements have been made and will be made. Outside and inside re-decoration is being done’. Equipment, sanitation and health were all described as very good. Food and diet, and clothing were described as ‘Improved’. Her general observation was that the new Manager was ‘keen to make improvements’. She recorded that she had ‘discussed many points with him and he will endeavour to have improvements made’. In an addendum following an incidental visit, she wrote, ‘Improvements are being made and in time the school will be much improved’.

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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
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  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.