Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 5 — Interviews

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A total of 493 witnesses were interviewed by members of the Investigation Committee’s legal team. These interviews covered over 150 Industrial Schools, Reformatories, special schools, residential homes, national schools, secondary schools, hospital and other childcare facilities. Some of the institutions were cited by only one or two witnesses. The material catalogued here consisted of uncorroborated allegations that were unchallenged and unproven and therefore did not have probative value in yielding conclusions about any institution or event. The interviews do, nevertheless, demonstrate the range of abuse complained of in such institutions and the circumstances in which it can arise and are a reference for identifying weaknesses in the systems and indicating areas needing diligence and possibly reform.


Interviews are summarised in the following categories: Boys Industrial Schools and Reformatories Girls Industrial Schools and Reformatories Orphanages Hospitals Special schools and schools for the deaf National schools Other childcare facilities.

Boys’ Industrial and Reformatory Schools


Interviews were conducted in respect of 10 schools that admitted boys only. Nine of these were the subject of Investigation Committee reports. Over 250 ex-residents attended for interview many of whom proceeded to oral hearing.


The principal complaint of male interviewees was of physical abuse. The persons identified as being responsible for harsh physical abuse were almost exclusively religious Brothers, priests or nuns. Lay teachers did not feature prominently in the accounts of physical punishment given by interviewees although a small number described lay teachers and lay staff who were employed as night-watchmen, or farm workers as cruel and severe.


Almost all of those interviewed described a regime of punishment. Although the 10 schools that were covered under this category were in different parts of the country and run by different religious orders, the accounts of physical abuse from all of them were strikingly similar.


There was a constant threat of punishment that left the boys fearful all the time. The pervasiveness of punishment derived from the fact that even slight or small misdemeanours attracted blows with the leather strap and most Brothers carried leather straps with them at all times. Boys were beaten if their beds were not made properly or if they were last out of the showers. Boys were also beaten in the classroom for failure at lessons. Many ex-residents stated they were beaten for bed-wetting and this was a practice across all of the schools in this category.


Severe beatings were often associated with allegations of impurity or masturbation, which was also common across all of the schools.


In addition to punishment for offences either trivial or grave, there was the added fear created by punishments administered for no apparent reason. Interviewees recalled being called out of the classroom or being taken out of the dormitory and being beaten without any explanation. This made it impossible to avoid punishment and many recalled a sense of constant fear. As one man stated ‘You got hit for nothing’.


Religious staff members were described as volatile and unpredictable by some complainants: ‘He would fly off the handle a lot’; ‘he was a bully’; ‘he was a vicious man’ and some were described as being obsessed with immorality and sex. One or two Brothers were described as smelling of alcohol when they beat the boys.


There were some differences in the way in which physical punishment was administered across the different schools. In some schools boys were stripped and beaten across the back and buttocks with leather straps for fairly trivial offences. In other schools such punishments were rarer although there were instances of severe, almost ritualistic beatings in almost all schools.


Absconding was treated as a very serious offence in all schools and usually attracted the most severe punishment. In all cases, boys who absconded were punished and in almost all cases this punishment took the form of severe physical beatings with a leather or a cane. Head shaving was reported by some interviewees in some schools.


Punishments were usually administered either in the presence of or within the hearing of other boys. One interviewee recalled a boy being taken out of the classroom and being savagely kicked and beaten by a Brother. He said that he could actually hear the punches and kicks and the boy crying for the Brother to stop.


There was no evidence from the interviews that any attempt was made to hide or disguise the fact that severe beatings were administered. On the contrary, many recalled the fear and terror of seeing and hearing these beatings: ‘the whole class went silent and could hear what was going on’.


Boys who were in these schools in the late 1970s reported less systemic abuse but could still recall incidents of severe corporal punishment either directed at them or other boys.


The most common implement reported for inflicting punishment was the leather strap. In nine out of the 10 schools covered by this category, it was the norm to receive blows with the leather on the hands or the buttocks. A number of interviewees stated that there were coins stitched into these straps and some recalled a larger heavier strap as well as a smaller one. One teacher was described as having a special stick made. There was no consistency as to the number of strokes and it appeared to depend on the individual teacher.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. Sally rod – a long, thin wooden stick, generally made from willow, used mostly in Ireland as a disciplinary implement.