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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Physical abuse


Br Abran who appeared before the Committee talked about this policy of hitting children. He said that there were times when staff would have to administer punishment on an ad hoc basis: if there was a fight going on or some weapons being used or if somebody got head butted ... In many cases the boys preferred to be punished in those circumstances rather than be sent to the disciplinarian because they would be deprived of films which was more important in their life than ordinary things. I know that sounds weird, that was their mentality.


He explained he used a strap, which was made in the boot shop and was issued to him, until a boy stole it from him and threw it down the toilet. He didn’t bother to get another in case it happened again, and also because he was no longer on duty in the square. From then on, he said, ‘If such a situation did arise I might have given a slap or something like that for whatever serious infringement would be involved’.


Under questioning he added: I might have used the hands occasionally sometimes it might be instead of using a fist, it would be on the shoulders, never on the face ... The occasion demanded immediate action at that point in time.


When asked if he denied punching a boy in the face he said: I could say – I could deny that, normally it would be an open hander or a back hander ... it was purely on the shoulders or chest. If I had to, that would only happen twice a year or three times a years, never frequently.


He was again pressed if he was talking about fists. He replied, ‘Yes’.


This Brother was named by a number of complainants as being excessively harsh and violent. He denied some of the specific allegations, such as giving an uppercut that led to a boy’s nose pumping blood, or that he had boxed and kicked a boy in the handball alley, but he nonetheless confirmed the policy of ad hoc punishments giving slaps or punches, believing that boys preferred to be dealt with in this way rather than being put on report.


The Oblates referred to this practice of ‘on-the-spot’ punishments and asserted that it was no more than that which occurred in schools around the country. Complainants, however, made a clear distinction between what could be described as ‘normal’ corporal punishment and the ill-tempered and violent outbursts described above.


The Oblates went further. They stated: In the context of a reformatory where fights and altercations did break out, it was sometimes the only efficient means of keeping control on unruly boys.


In each of the incidents described above, none of which would come within the description of a fight or altercation, the violence was an inappropriate and unnecessary response.


Corporal punishment was a first response by many of the staff in Daingean for even minor transgressions. It was often violent and black eyes, split lips and bruising were reported by complainants. Violence was not the ‘only efficient means of keeping control on unruly boys’ but, because management was inept and staffing inadequate, it was undoubtedly convenient.


Several complainants, in the evidence they gave to the Committee, were careful to make it clear that not all of the staff were brutal or excessively violent.


Witnesses drew the distinction between a Brother who punished fairly and another who did not: He was more humane about it ... He didn’t beat you until you submitted ... you got six of the best on the hand or backside ... And that was it. He didn’t lose it and start kicking you from one end of the office to the other.


Some witnesses singled out particular men as ‘nice’, but stressed that there were also a few people who did terrible things: ‘There was a ring of them, there was a handful of them and they done what they liked’. The consistent complaint was that these ‘nice’ men on the staff did nothing to curb the activities of the men who were harsh and excessive. These men could not protect them from the others.


As one witness said: There was no recourse. There was no safe haven. There was no hole you could climb into. There was nobody you could talk to. You were on your own.


The Brothers who were more violent created the pervasive atmosphere of threat: ‘Inside the institution I had to keep my head down because I didn’t want to be beaten,’ said one witness.

  1. This is the English version of Tomás O Deirg.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. This is a pseudonym.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is the Irish version of Sugrue.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
  8. This is a pseudonym.
  9. This is a pseudonym.
  10. This is a pseudonym.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. This is a pseudonym.
  13. This is a pseudonym.
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is the Irish version of Richard Crowe.
  17. This is the English version of Mr MacConchradha.
  18. Allegations of brutal beatings in Court Lees Approved School were made in a letter to The Guardian, and this led to an investigation which reported in 1967 (see Administration of Punishment at Court Lees Approved School (Cmnd 3367, HMSO)) – Known as ‘The Gibbens Report’, it found many of the allegations proven, and in particular that canings of excessive severity did take place on certain occasions, breaking the regulation that caning on the buttocks should be through normal clothing. Some boys had been caned wearing pyjamas. Following this finding, the School was summarily closed down.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is the English version of Ó Síochfhradha.
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This is a pseudonym.
  23. This is a pseudonym.
  24. This is a pseudonym.
  25. This is a pseudonym.
  26. This was Br Abran.
  27. Organisation that offers therapy to priests and other religious who have developed sexual or drink problems run by The Servants of the Paraclete.
  28. This is a pseudonym.
  29. This is a pseudonym.
  30. This is a pseudonym.
  31. This is a pseudonym.
  32. This is a pseudonym.
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  34. This is a pseudonym.
  35. Board of Works.
  36. Bread and butter.
  37. Board of Works.
  38. Patrick Clancy, ‘Education Policy’, in Suzanne Quinn, Patricia Kennedy, Anne Matthews, Gabriel Kiely (eds), Contemporary Irish Social Policy (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2005), p 79.
  39. This is a pseudonym.