There was opposition to this proposal from the Departments of Justice and Education and the Judiciary. A meeting was convened on 14th May 1954, attended by Br O’Hanlon, District Justice McCarthy, who presided over the Dublin Metropolitan Children’s Court, and representatives of the Department of Education. District Justice McCarthy indicated that he had grave concerns about the isolated location of Letterfrack, which made it unsuitable, in his view, as a school for young offenders. However, his protest fell on deaf ears. So, too, did a protest from District Justice Gleeson, who also pointed out the difficulties that would be caused by Letterfrack’s remoteness.
The Department of Education wrote to the relevant authorities, including the Departments of Health and Justice, District Justice McCarthy and the NSPCC, informing them of the decision of the Christian Brothers. They were informed that boys who had been convicted of offences would no longer be accepted in Artane, Salthill, Tralee or Glin.
Secondly, District Justice McCarthy, Children’s Court Judge in Dublin from 1941-57, stated in 1954 in open court, that he would not be prepared to send to Letterfrack the type of boy for whom the school was supposed to be reserved henceforth, until such time as the ‘non-offenders’ at present in the school were transferred to other schools. As a result, a conference was convened on 14th May 1954 and, attended by the District Justice, the Department’s Secretary and Assistant Secretary (Micheal O’Siocfradha) and Br O’Hanluain, the Provincial of the Order. The compromise reached was that the Manger of Letterfrack would transfer all the boys sent by local authorities and a number of non-offenders committed by the courts until the total number at Letterfrack was 85. They would be sent to Salthill, mainly, and to Artane and other schools.
A meeting was convened by the senior officials in the Department on 13th April 1954 with Br O’Hanlon and District Justice McCarthy, who presided over the Children’s Court in Dublin, to discuss the intended closure of Carriglea and the intention of the Christian Brothers to decline in future to receive boys who were committed for offences liable to penal servitude (if committed by an adult) in any institution other than Letterfrack.
In April 1954 the Department sent District Justice McCarthy a breakdown of the committals to Letterfrack: According to the figures in this office the total number of boys in the school is 171 of whom 149 are cases committed by the Courts the remaining 22 being 18 Public Assistance cases and 4 voluntaries. Of the 149 committed cases 71 were committed on the grounds of destitution, 48 parent or guardian not exercising proper guardianship; 5 under the school attendance act; 10 for being uncontrollable; 13 larceny cases and 2 for receiving alms.
A second meeting was convened by the Department on 14th May 1954 with senior Department officials, Br O’Hanlon and District Justice McCarthy. The meeting was convened because Judge McCarthy had intimated that he would not be prepared to send to Letterfrack the type of boy for whom the School was to be reserved until the non-offenders had been transferred. Again, the Judge pointed out that he was unhappy about the isolated location of Letterfrack, and felt it was unsuitable for the rehabilitation of boys from Dublin city. Br O’Hanlon informed him that this had been fully considered but the Congregation had decided on Letterfrack.
The Department of Education wrote to the relevant authorities, including the Departments of Health and Justice, District Justice McCarthy and the NSPCC, informing them of the decision in the following terms: As you are aware it has been decided by the Provincial of the Irish Christian Brothers that the Industrial School at Letterfrack is to be reserved in future for the boys brought before the Court and found guilty of an offence which in the case of an adult, would be punishable by penal servitude and also for boys against whom there is a police record of such an offence even though they have not been charged with it, but with some other offence such as irregular school attendance, begging, etc.
District Justice McCarthy, in a memorandum dated 8th October 1954, recommended a number of changes to the Children Acts, 1908–1949. Amongst his recommendations was that, in cases where a child had not been granted leave of absence during a 12-month period from an industrial or reformatory school, financial provision should be made to the child’s parent or guardian to enable them to visit the child at least once a year.
The drop in numbers from 184 to 85 was a big financial loss to the school. After the changeover, there was a small trickle of boys, very small in the beginning. Justice McCarthy in Dublin stopped sending them altogether and these were the boys that Br Ruffe was relying on getting and they were not being sent. Other Christian Brothers’ industrial schools which were also in financial difficulties, although in his view not as difficult as Letterfrack, were taking in boys that they were not supposed to be taking under the new regime, so he arranged to meet Justice McCarthy. They had a robust discussion in which Justice McCarthy flatly told him he would not send boys so far away from their parents. Br Ruffe explained to the Justice that he thought it could be good for boys to be removed from sources of temptation that landed them in industrial schools in the first place. He felt that Letterfrack had a lot to offer despite its distance, lots of fresh air and country life, giving them an opportunity to re-orientate themselves by means of work, school and education. He pointed out that he himself during his training as a Christian Brother was only allowed one visit per year from his family. He also promised to facilitate parents as much as possible by putting them up overnight or taking the boys into Galway to meet their families when they travelled. He said that the Justice took his views on board and began to send boys to Letterfrack. Unfortunately, Justice McCarthy did not live for too long after this and he had the same problems with his successor. This required another visit to explain the position to him and, following on Justice Ryan visiting Letterfrack to see for himself, he also began to send boys there.
The 1954 decision of the Provincial, taken in the face of opposition by both the Department of Education and District Justice McCarthy, was ill-considered and detrimental to the welfare of the boys in Letterfrack. If it was desirable to restrict admission to Letterfrack to a specific category of boys, it was unreasonable and contrary to policy to retain a substantial number of boys from previous intakes who were outside that category. By insisting that increases in grants had to be applied equally to all schools, smaller institutions like Letterfrack were at a serious disadvantage. It required extra funding to compensate for the low numbers after 1954 but no special case was made. It was an indictment of the Congregation that extra funding promised to the Resident Manager to compensate for the removal of up to 100 pupils was refused at a time when funds were available. The deprivation of funds caused hardship to the boys in Letterfrack. The decision to close Carriglea as an industrial school and to keep Letterfrack open was not taken in the interests of the children in Letterfrack. The unsuitability of Letterfrack as an industrial school was apparent from the start and was strongly reiterated by District Justices and by the Department of Education. The will of the Provincial prevailed, however, and it is an example of the power the Christian Brothers had in determining the direction the industrial school system took. From the comments in her Inspection Reports, Dr McCabe believed that low standards were the inevitable consequences of inadequate funding. However, when this issue was raised in public in 1959, neither the Department nor the Congregation acknowledged the difficulties but were at pains to paint a rosy picture of life in Letterfrack. The argument put forward by the Congregation in its Opening Statement, that the care the boys received in Letterfrack was better than they would have received if they had remained in their families, misses the point. The Congregation was paid by the State to care for these boys to a standard set down by law, and failed to do so.
General conclusions Physical abuse 1. There was a climate of fear in Letterfrack. Corporal punishment was severe, excessive and pervasive. Violence was used to express power and status and was practically a means of communication between Brothers and boys and among the boys themselves. Punishment was inescapable and frequently capricious, unfair and inconsistent. Rules on corporal punishment were disregarded at all levels. 2. The Congregation did not carry out proper investigations of cases of physical abuse. It did not impose sanctions on Brothers who were guilty of brutal assaults. 3. Protection of the boys was not a priority for the Congregation in dealing with excessive and unlawful punishment, and the Department of Education abrogated responsibility by leaving supervision and control of this area entirely to local management. Sexual abuse 4. A timeline of documented and admitted cases of sexual abuse shows that for approximately two-thirds of the period 1936-1974 there was at least one Brother in Letterfrack who sexually abused boys at some time and for almost one-third of the period there were at least two such Brothers there. One Brother worked for 14 years before being detected. Another who served for a separate period of similar length went undetected for many years after the school closed. It is impossible to calculate the true extent of sexual abuse in the institution but it is clear that more abuse happened than is recorded. 5. The Congregation did not properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse. Brothers who sexually abused boys and who were known to be a continuing danger were still permitted to work with children. 6. The manner in which Brothers who sexually abused were dealt with is indicative of a policy of protecting them, the Community and the Congregation, from the effects of disclosure of abuse. The needs of the victims were not considered. Emotional/Neglect 7. The boys were unprotected in a hostile environment isolated from their families. 8. Remoteness was an acknowledged affliction that caused or exacerbated almost every difficulty that Letterfrack encountered from its inception. 9. Children left Letterfrack with little education and no adequate training. 10. Boys in Letterfrack needed extra tuition to bring them up to standard, but instead they got poor teachers and bad conditions. 11. The 1954 decision to restrict intake to children convicted of offences, taken in the face of opposition by both the Department of Education and District Justice McCarthy, was detrimental to the welfare of the boys in Letterfrack and was implemented in a way that was wholly inconsistent with the thinking behind it.
In response Justice McCarthy suggested that it was this thinking, i.e. that ‘getting them work at ‘anything’ was perhaps to some extent the cause of the trouble’. Justice McCarthy also suggested the establishment of a hostel for the boys to enable them to adjust to life after the institution. However Fr Reidy disagreed, saying that it was a better option to break up the association amongst the boys after they left Daingean.
In 1954, when the Christian Brothers announced that all offenders were to be sent to the School in Letterfrack, District Justice McCarthy requested that the proposed schools for offenders be located in a place less isolated than Letterfrack (eg Tralee or Glin) as he felt that Letterfrack would not be the most suitable place for the rehabilitation of boys from Dublin City. However, this aspect of the district justice’s complaint fell on stony ground. Br O’hAnluan of the Christian Brothers replied that they had fully considered the question and that they had decided on Letterfrack.