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Chapter 4 — Greenmount

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Emotional abuse


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.


Without an adult as a protector and confidante, the orphans clung to each other and formed a bond. One witness told the Committee: ... we used to confide in each [other] quite a bit, and more so the people who didn’t have families outside were more vulnerable because we didn’t have anybody to complain to and we always sort of knitted together, if you didn’t have a mother and father you sort of knitted with people of that ilk, because you – the others were different. They were actually different from us, the boys from outside, they had a different way of doing things, different outlook because they always saw something on the outside, we never saw anything on the outside ...


These boys were not just cut off from the outside world: they were cut off from people who knew the outside world.


Greenmount had a major advantage being in Cork city, and so contact with families was easily arranged. Boys from Cork city were allowed home visits on the first Sunday of every month. Boys whose families lived further away were allowed home on summer holidays. In the 1940 annual report from the Brothers to the Department of Education, the Resident Manager noted: I believe the Home Leave and Sunday outings have a very beneficial effect – the Boys being kept in touch with their relations and friends, and they grow up having some knowledge of the outside world as well as breaking up the monotony of every day school life.


As illustrated above, those who had no families to go home to were sometimes sent to a sponsoring family on Sundays and for summer holidays. Many boys benefited from this regular contact with family life. When Bishop Lucey visited the School in 1955, he expressed the view that the boys should be let out ‘as much as possible so as by the time they would be finished here, they would have some idea of outside world’.


Boys who were placed in orphanages from their very early childhood suffered from being totally ignorant of their family roots. One witness told the Committee of how his mother left him in Rathdrum when he was six, visited him on the day of his admission, and ‘that was it’. He never saw her again. Subsequently, he made contact with his maternal uncle by chance: When I joined the army in Cork the recruiting sergeant asked me my name and he said, “Did your uncle work here?” or “Was your uncle in the army?” I says, “I don’t know if I have any uncle.” That’s how I found out he was in the army.


He met his uncle, but they were unable to find his mother. He never knew if she was alive or dead.


He spent a total of nine years and three months in institutions. That still rankled with him. He said, simply, ‘My childhood was taken away’. Neglect Department of Education – General Inspection Reports



The main source of contemporary evidence about conditions in Greenmount is Inspection Reports of Dr Anna McCabe, who was appointed Medical Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools on 3rd April 1939. She held the post until 8th March 1965. She also carried out general inspections of the schools.

  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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