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Chapter 4 — Greenmount

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Emotional abuse


In their Opening Statement on Greenmount, the Presentation Brothers expressed the view that industrial schools were ‘a flawed model’, doomed to failure. They wrote: Up until the 1960s there was a popularly held belief in Ireland that industrial schools were an institutional response to cope with the problem of petty crime and delinquency by young people. This was a misconception. Children convicted of minor criminal offences were often admitted to industrial schools, But that was usually because they had strayed into breaking the law due to the absence of parental supervision and neglect. Children were also admitted for non-attendance at school. That was, again, usually a consequence of difficult family circumstances. Where one parent had died or departed, an older child might be required to remain at home in order to rear the other children in the family. The consequences of social and economic deprivation were addressed by breaking up whole families, the boys being sent to the Brothers and girls to the nuns. It is clear that, in hindsight, the industrial school system was not, and could never be, a success. It was based on a flawed model. No one today would seriously argue that an institution operating on then approved lines, such as Greenmount, represented an adequate response to serious social problems suffered by some of the most vulnerable elements in society. No one would tolerate the Courts regularly making orders having the effect of separating so many children from their families for up to 8 years. No one would suggest that a child could be raised on the modern equivalent of 22 shillings a week: indeed it appears that that task was beyond the Presentation Brothers at that time. (the Presentation Brothers informed the then Minister for Education, Mr Jack Lynch T. D., that it was not possible to feed and clothe boys on 22/6 per week in the late 1950s). No one would suggest that neglected and abandoned children should be housed and cared for together with, and in the same fashion as, young offenders. No one would consider lodging such a large number of children of varying ages in single institution with so few carers.


They went on to point out that many of the flaws in the system were apparent in 1936, when the Cussen Commission reported but Cussen’s recommended reforms were not implemented, and ‘a further 34 years passed before Ireland was prepared to abandon the industrial school as a means of child care’.


The Presentation Brothers make several important observations: 1.Most of the children were not criminals but were disturbed because they had experienced death, or family upheaval, neglect and poverty. 2.The court orders removing them from their families for periods of up to eight years made matters worse. 3.Separating siblings further broke up the family and thereby caused more distress. 4.The prison-like containment of these children in large secure buildings was inappropriate and further isolated them from society. 5.It was detrimental to lodge neglected and abandoned children with hardened delinquents. 6.The number of carers was inadequate, and the funds needed to educate and rehabilitate the disadvantaged children were far short of what was needed.


The Statement suggests these flaws became apparent only ‘with hindsight’. Moreover, the Presentation Brothers blame the failures of the industrial school system on the acceptance of such a model by society. The report prepared by Professor Keogh ends with the conclusion: In the public debate in the 1990s on the running of Irish industrial schools attention has correctly focussed on the manner in which the religious performed their duties. It is necessary, however, to subject the role of the state to scrutiny. After all, it had the ultimate responsibility for the running of those institutions ... It is a harsh but nevertheless valid verdict on the performance of the Irish state in such a central and sensitive social policy area it arrived with unjustifiable, glacial-like slowness at the conclusion only in 1970 that the industrial school system was outdated, outmoded and obsolete.


The question arises as to why so many of the conclusions that were obvious after 1970 were not evident much earlier.


One witness, who was in Greenmount for a year in the mid-1940s, was the second eldest of seven children. His father worked in England during the war, and the family were regularly summonsed for non-attendance at school. He told the Committee: When we were sentenced we went with a guard ... There was me, [my two brothers, the Garda], and my Mam we were taken to the industrial school. We were taken in. My Mam was crying and we were crying. Then my Mam came out, the guard came out and we were there, that was our sentence, we were there then for four years, whatever we were sentenced to.


While he was in Greenmount, his older brother died from tubercular meningitis. He recalled this event: when we went to the infirmary, me and [my younger brother], like I said, we were so close, we asked to see him but we were not allowed to see him ... He went into the infirmary and then they moved him out through – we used call it the union, which was the hospital in Cork, and the next time I saw my brother ... was when he was in the death house, when he was laid out. That’s the only time I seen him ... when I found out how he was dead, we came from school and we were in the playground, or the yard, or whatever you call it, and we were going into the dinner and we went into dinner and the boy next to me said " [your brother] is dead". That’s how I found out. It just came like that ... I went spare. There was such a shock, even when he was in hospital we didn’t know what he was there for. When we were in the infirmary we asked to see him but we weren’t allowed to see him.


He also talked about the difficulty they had in relation to contact with their mother: She used come to visit us but she weren’t let in. So I didn’t have difficulty contacting her, I wasn’t allowed ... She told us she was turned away. Even if we seen her there was nothing we could do about it, she was turned away. Br Arrio used say no, she’s not coming in because she used to bring us food parcels ... she was turned away. Sometimes we used get them.


Another witness, who was there in the 1950s, recounted how he found out, when he was about 13, that his mother was alive. He had been admitted into Greenmount from another institution where he had been since a baby. He told the Committee how he made this discovery: I never knew [my] father, no, or my mother ... I didn’t know anything about her at all ... It came about because people in the School used to write home, if they had parents they were allowed to write home once a month their parents and if you didn’t write home you went to the back of the class. I think it [was] Br. Allente, I think that’s his name, names are hard to come by now. He said, "Don’t you write to anybody?" I said, "No, I don’t." About three months later as I went into the classroom, on a blackboard on an easel which [a woman’s name and address] and I was told write to that person. That’s your mother ... I did write to her under duress at that time. [She wrote back] and she told me I had two stepsisters ... I never had contact with her other than writing ... I have tried various times to contact her but the advice given by the local police and by the local parish priest was that it is best left alone after all those years. On one visit to Ireland, my son was eight at the time, I actually drove up from Cork ... and parked outside the assumed address and just parked and then drove away again. Because one didn’t want to go and knock on a door and say, "I’m your son", because the mother has feelings as well, she has had her life since I have not been there so I didn’t want to interrupt. It has impacted very much so, because when I went to England you don’t have anybody to relate to, so you are always worrying – I don’t know, it is hard to explain but if your parents are missing, if you don’t know where they are – or who your parents are your peace of mind is even to go there at the end – if I come over this year or next year to Ireland, even if she has passed away, it would be to see the grave and say that’s laid to rest now and there is no further gain to be got. But it has impacted. It impacts throughout your whole life because when you have your own family you have no role models, you have nothing to bring up your family.


The Brother in this case noticed the loneliness of this boy who knew nothing of his parents. He did his best to help the son contact his mother. This witness remembered him as the Brother who found his mother for him.


This same witness spoke well of a system, set up by the Presentation Brothers, where boys were sent to visit families in Cork on a regular basis. He said: Say for argument’s sake, every first Sunday of the month, I think it was every first Sunday of the month, one of the families in Cork would take one of the orphans out to their home and you would spend a day in their home. At the end of the day they might give you lemon sweets or something to take back, a little bag of sweets.


The importance of this regular contact with a family emerged when he disclosed to them that an older boy was bullying him. He explained the circumstances: I think what actually triggered it off, because I didn’t confide in them, you didn’t have a lot to say to people actually, you were just taken and if they said “Get in the car” you got in the car. If they said “dinner was ready” you ate your dinner. You didn’t confide in them in so much as what school was about, you actually didn’t. It came about when she made this awful red and white coat, or red and black coat for me that made me look like – it was a sort of girl’s outfit and I started to cry and it just happened from there on. So sort of one thing led to another and it was an emotion that was coming out. I didn’t specifically go and say, “I have been beaten up”. So it sort of came out from that particular incident. I wouldn’t wear the coat.


He learned later, when he was going to work and calling back to visit this family from time to time, that they had complained to Greenmount on his behalf. His attachment to this family, the first he had known because he was raised in institutions, revealed the importance of such relationships to a maturing child.


By arranging such weekends, the Presentation Brothers were showing their awareness that the children needed more than the Institution could provide. The warning in the 1901 Visitation Report remained part of the culture: Familiarities with the boys should be most cautiously guarded against, being most hurtful to boys and Brothers ... there should always be maintained a reserve that would keep them at a proper distance and enable them to have for the Brothers that respect due to their position.


Many Brothers remained remote figures, who kept control, but who did not show warmth or sympathy and, in their turn, the children learned not to show their feelings. An injury was done to both parties by this unnatural suppression of feelings.

  1. Dermot Keogh, ‘St Joseph’s Industrial School, Greenmount, Cork’ (Report prepared for the Presentation Brothers, May 2001 and submitted to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 19 May 2004), pp 187–188.
  2. For the greater glory of God.
  3. Fratrium Presentionis Mariae.
  4. Keogh, p 54.
  5. Keogh, p 57.
  6. Cork Examiner, 28 March 1874, cited in Dermot Keogh, ‘St Joseph’s Industrial School, Greenmount, Cork’ May 2001.
  7. Cork Examiner, 30 March 1874, cited by Keogh, May 2001, p 41.
  8. Cork Examiner, 30 March 1874, cited by Keogh, May 2001, pp 41–2.
  9. Cork Examiner, 24 March 1874.
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  13. Report on Reformatory and Industrial Schools, 1936.
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