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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Physical abuse


A witness who was in Ferryhouse in the latter half of the 1960s gave a similar account of a punishment that went out of control. The punishment was meted out by Br Valerio10 who, in the private hearing, instructed his counsel to say, ‘Br Valerio does not deny [the complainant’s] allegation as it is set out in his statement of complaint.’11 The statement said: When I was 13½ years old, maybe 14 years, I was going for a walk with other boys from St Joseph’s. I don’t know which Brother had us out for the walk but we were walking in twos and on the way out we were doing some messing ... When we got back to the school Br Valerio called me and another fellow out because of what happened on the walk. I was sent to the office to see him ... Inside the office Br Valerio asked me about the messing on the walk and if I had been involved and I denied it. He said he would give me one more chance to tell the truth. I denied it again and this time he got out the long leather strap. He had a reputation of not using his fists to hit boys but of using the strap. He gave me blows with the strap to each hand and he started to hit me all over the body with the strap. He hit me all over but did not hit my head. This lasted a good 5 minutes.


Fr Ludano who was resident in Ferryhouse in the early 1950s recalled one occasion when he was approached by a few boys about a Brother who had punished another boy. He told the Investigation Committee: Some of the boys came to me and said: “Brother so and so, he slapped so and so even though he is only a baby.” And that stayed in my mind ... I was horrified ... [I did] nothing ... I didn’t know what to do ... You see, my own position would have been a visitor, or just passing through or whatever ... I was very sorry for the little fellow who was involved, you know, and he was only a baby.


Even in an institution that was accustomed to the use of corporal punishment, there was an awareness of what was excessive and cruel. Neither the boys nor the priest, however, could challenge the right of the Brother to inflict punishment as he saw fit. Within Ferryhouse, it was the Brother in charge who set the rules.


The Investigation Committee heard many complaints of punishments that were essentially unfair. It was not the severity of the beating but the injustice of it that gave cause for grievance. As one witness put it, ‘Nothing you could do, could be an accident. Everything was deliberate that you did so you were punished’.


One witness described one such incident, when he was unfairly beaten by Br Maximo: I was coughing in the dormitory, I wasn’t feeling well, I was sick and I was coughing and I don’t know what time it would be, maybe it would be after ten or eleven or twelve o’clock at night and Br Maximo came out. He went down along the aisle of the dormitory, one of the aisles, and he wanted to see who was coughing. So he spotted me anyway and he said, “Were you coughing?” I said, I was. So with that he went and started belting me and clattering me from head down across the body for coughing ... With his hands, yes and told me not to cough again ... He gave me a fair old walloping that time ... It was so unfair severe at the same time. I never heard of anyone getting a hiding for being sick. That would be my view.


Another former resident recounted an incident when he was beaten with a strap, even though he had done nothing wrong: I used to go to the boiler room to turn the steam on, and one day a glass was broken ... It was on the side of the boiler, a kind of dial to show how much water was in the boiler. I didn’t break it, but I got belted for it on the hands because I was supposed to have been the only one who had gone in there.


A resident in the early 1960s described being beaten for something that he did not realise was a serious offence in the eyes of the Order. He explained: I got a serious beating there – there used to be a girl, I cannot think of her name now, she used to come out from Clonmel on a bicycle ... I remember the address. She was talking to me one day at the hay barn, I suppose I was maybe 15 at the time, but I knew nothing about young ones or anything like that, I was just plain ignorant and that. I was talking to her at the hay barn and the next thing Fr Dino12 came along. He gave her a clatter and sent her off home anyway to Clonmel. We were just talking, there was absolutely nothing involved; but I got a bad beating that day and I ended up, I ran away out of Ferryhouse over it. That was a serious beating I got over that.


A resident in the 1940s described two ‘flammings’, he was given undeservedly. On one occasion, he was accused of asking a person for a cigarette on the Waterford Road, which ran by the School. ‘I didn’t do it’, he said, ‘but someone else’s word was taken instead of mine and I was flammed for that’. The worst beating he received was when he was accused of allegedly claiming he had seen a priest eating in the kitchen when he should have been fasting. In fact, he had simply said he had seen the priest in the kitchen. ‘I got an unmerciful hiding that day and not alone that did I get a hiding, at periods I was sent out and made stand against the wall with my fingers up against the wall like that’ ... [indicating].


Staff members were not merely authorised to use corporal punishment, they were given the freedom to use it at will. This freedom allowed for even greater scope for abuse. One complainant, a resident in the early 1970s, told the Investigation Committee: Not only me, we all got hidings for nothing, it all depends which way Br Valerio woke up in the morning. If we didn’t make our beds right, if it wasn’t inch perfect we got the slap. If our shoes weren’t properly done or if our collars weren’t properly inside our jumpers we got the slap for it. More or less for anything.


A witness who was in Ferryhouse in the late 1950s described a physical punishment favoured by Br Maximo: A few times, I don’t know what for, I can’t remember what it was for but I remember a few times where he told me, he used to do this a lot with a lot of people, hold the head steady by holding the ear to make sure that you didn’t move your head when he was going to give you a clatter on the other side of the head. He would give you several clatters maybe on the other side ... with the open hand.


The Rosminians conceded that most of the physical punishment would have happened in a spontaneous way. If there were an incident in the yard, a Prefect would hit a boy a slap as opposed to going through the whole process of administering corporal punishment at a designated time. Fr O’Reilly called these ‘spontaneous responses’. He explained, ‘it wasn’t corporal punishment in terms of receiving the cane. Like, I would acknowledge that it is quite possible that a Prefect just immediately slapped the boy’.


These ‘spontaneous responses’ allowed some Brothers and priests to use physical chastisement as a first resort for correcting a child, and it was not always confined to one or two slaps. Depending on the mood of the Prefect, it could be a few slaps or a severe beating. A witness from the late 1960s told the Committee that even good boys would be beaten. He explained: I was very quiet. I kept myself to myself and stayed out of trouble ... we were beaten on regular occasions for talking in the refectory, or whatever. Stuff like that ... Every one of the boys got beaten on some occasion. No matter how good you were you were always beaten at least at some certain occasion.


He gave an example of such on-the-spot chastisement: [Fr Paolo] said, “Lights out” and we weren’t allowed to speak after lights out and one of the boys might say something and he would be called out in front of Fr Paolo and he would hit him with his back handed slap ... the boy would be looking up to him, he would be only tiny, he would be only seven or eight years old, and he would put a full slap on with the back of his hand and he would put him actually spinning.


The clatter was often the main means of correction, so boys lived in an environment where they expected to be hit regularly and often.


Perhaps the worst effect of gratuitous and capricious punishment was its unpredictability. No matter what the boys did, a punishment was still a possibility. The result was a climate of fear. A witness who was in Ferryhouse in the late 1960s vividly described the kind of fear he experienced every day. He told the Investigation Committee: I cried most days in that school. I was so scared when the next beating was going to come, whether it would be me. I mean I cried for my friends, my friends cried for me. We didn’t deserve this stuff, we really didn’t deserve this ... It was the beatings that was given and dished out in there was savage, man, savage ... I was a child you know, a child. I’ve walked landings with hard men in the Joy [prison], in Cork, wherever. I was never afraid. I would stand eye to eye with people that killed people. I wasn’t afraid. But I was afraid when I was in that school, every day of my fecking life. That is what I want you to understand. Punishment for bed-wetting

  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.