Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 15 — Daingean

Show Contents

Sexual abuse


The kinds of sexually abusive behaviour described to the Committee by complainant witnesses also emerged from the documentation. During a Garda investigation into the riots of 2nd May 1956, which has been dealt with earlier in this chapter, a resident of Daingean made a complaint to the Gardaí about two boys who had subjected him to sexually abusive acts. In the presence of the Prefect of the School, Br Jaime, he made the following statement: I remember one day in the month of March last. [two boys] asked me to put my hand on [one of the boy’s] private part and feel it. I refused them, and ran away, but they followed me and caught me, and brought me back to the wall in the yard. [One of them] forced my hand on to [the other’s] private part, and told me to feel it. I did it because I was afraid of them. [He] was helping [the other] to force my hand onto [his] private part. I felt [his] private part, and I kept it there for a few seconds. I took my hand out then. [the other boy] hit me on the arm because I refused to put my hand on his ... private part. I saw the front of [his] trousers opened, and when I had my hand on his private part. I saw he got a thrill from it. I saw fluid coming from [his] private part. I often saw [another boy] and [these two boys] feel each others private part in turn.


As a result of the above statement, additional charges were brought against the two boys, who were found guilty of gross indecency and sentenced to two years in Borstal.


As stated above, if boys were discovered by the staff to be indulging in ‘immoral conduct’, it was normally dealt with by the strap being administered by the Prefect, but in the absence of a punishment book, it is impossible to say how often this occurred. Had it not been for the riot, the incident described above would not have come to the notice of the Gardaí.


The kind of relationships that formed between older and younger boys was a characteristic of Daingean. The behaviour was so institutionalised that a vocabulary evolved that seemed to be current only among the boys in Daingean.


One complainant from the 1950s experienced the nature of the relationship, but denied that there was a sexual element: most of the older boys had a hag ... It was more or less a status thing. When you were there twelve months you knew all the ropes and it was kind of like a girlfriend more or less but there was nothing sexual about it. It was like you were kind of protected. You see it was in the small sections and when all the fellows in the small sections knew that he was your hag they wouldn’t go near him.


A ‘hag’, then, was a young boy who was befriended by an older boy, such that a protective relationship developed.


Another complainant also from the 1950s, who was frank about the sexual nature of such relationships, used the same term: ‘... the bigger fellows would come back on the smaller fellows what they used to call hags. Call them their girlfriend or whatever you like’. A lot of it was going on, but, he explained, ‘it would have to be done as quiet as possible but at the same time like it wasn’t something that any one of the Brothers had a blind eye for. They could see it happening’. He went on to describe what happened at the pictures on a Saturday night: All the smaller fellows would sit at one end and behind them the bigger fellows, the bigger fellows would be passing down the sweets and cigarettes and whatever else to give the smaller fellows down the other side’.


He added that, later on, in the exercise yard: you would have the smaller fellows one side and the bigger fellows the other side but you would only have one Brother supervising so there was no problem for a smaller fellow to mingle his way into the bigger crowd and there was no problem for the bigger crowd just to cover whatever act was going on ... I could give you three or four or five or six out of the smaller section that would have been mixing with the fellows from the bigger section.


Another complainant from the same era, the 1950s, used a different term to describe the same behaviours and relationships: it’s like having a girlfriend or something like that, we called them wan dolls, it’s like a pal ... I am not saying you wouldn’t have sexual abuse with them or something like that, I am sure you would ... you would masturbate them and they would masturbate you ...


He said that, if boys got caught, the ‘purity strap’ would be used on them. The ‘purity strap’ was the use of the strap to beat boys found engaged in sexual activity. He went on to explain that contact with the younger boys could be in the shop, which was common to both the bigger and younger boys. Once the older boy had found a ‘wan doll’, a relationship would develop during the periods the boys were in the Institution. Yet, he added, ‘When everybody leaves that place, Daingean, nobody says another word about it, blocked, nobody opens their mouth about it’.


When asked what proportion of boys were involved in this relationship culture, he answered: I think most of them was in it because it’s well known. We could ask, “Who is your wan doll”, that was the phrase ... All my mates in the big section, they all had wan dolls.


It came as a surprise to him when he left to discover the practice was not spoken of outside the walls of Daingean. When he met a former inmate, he casually asked, while reminiscing, ‘Who was your wan doll?’ The man ‘never said another word, he got up and walked away ... Nobody talks about it’.


The opportunities were there, as one witness explained: The reason that a lot of the sexual stuff went on was because there would be – if you could imagine in the yard there was a square like this (indicating) and this was the small section and this was the big section and a Brother would stand in this corner (indicating) so he was strategically placed to be able to see in both directions. You had the toilet block over there and over here you had an entrance into some inside toilets which is where most of the sexual abuse went on ... So all it needed was some individual to distract one Brother and all sorts would go on.


As another witness explained, ‘It was like you were kind of protected. You see it was in the small sections and when all the fellows in the small sections knew that he was your hag they wouldn’t go near him’.


While on one level, within a subculture in Daingean, this sexualised behaviour was taken for granted, at another level it could lead to bullying and ostracism. Boys who were known to offer oral sex were excluded, especially at meal times. As one witness explained: there was some boys that no-one went near. The fellows that were sexually abused down there. The other boys wouldn’t have anything to do with them really. They had to mark their teacups with a knife. There wasn’t delft down there ... The saucers, the cups, the plates were Bakelite, that was kind of plastic, I remember. If a young fellow was sexually abused ... after gobbling somebody, they had to mark their cup (indicating) with a knife and they could only drink out of that cup ... No one else could drink out of them.

  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.
  33. This is a pseudonym.
  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.