Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


Br Michel was in Letterfrack in the 1960s during which time he was the Disciplinarian. He accepted that Letterfrack was a strict place but he stressed that it had to be: Well, it was a pretty strict place and I think that the children who came had a carefree life before coming. It was necessary to discipline them and unfortunately they had to be disciplined otherwise we couldn’t run the place.


He also confirmed that all the Brothers who worked in the school carried straps and that discipline was administered at the total discretion of the individual Brother.


He described the punishment of forcing boys to run around the yard. He beat boys on the buttocks with a leather, but said he was unsure whether he beat on the bare buttocks. He acknowledged that it occurred and accepted that he may have punished in that way.


He admitted to an allegation of physical abuse made against him by a complainant and apologised for the incident. The complainant, who was resident in the early 1960s, described how the Brother was asking him questions about his absence from the school grounds. When the boy repeated a question that the Brother asked, the latter lost his temper and jumped on the boy and started beating him up in front of the whole refectory. In his evidence to the Committee, the Brother accepted that he had been ‘over-robust’ in his punishment of the witness. He said that it was one of his bad days and he sincerely regretted it because the witness was generally a good boy.


He also spoke about the relationship between overwork and excessive punishment. He stated that the Brothers worked under considerable strain. The number working with the boys was small and the hours were ‘desperately long’. He sometimes took his stress out on the boys and he did not always comply with the rules governing corporal punishment.


When asked by the Committee whether he thought that corporal punishment was used more in Letterfrack than in other schools elsewhere, he said: Regretfully, I think it was more simply because most schools were day schools and they wouldn’t have the same problems as a boarding situation. Regretfully, the times that were in it unfortunately.


Br Telfour served in Letterfrack in the mid to late 1960s. He was a teacher and was Disciplinarian for a year. He told the Committee that Letterfrack was a regulated place and that he had no difficulty managing the boys. A Visitation Report stated: The disciplinarian ... understands his charges very well and realises that harsh methods do not produce lasting results. He is most patient and has good control.


He did not like corporal punishment but he did recall one incident when he snapped and beat a boy out of frustration. He said that he did not carry a strap, although he conceded that there were straps available in the school. Absconding was a problem and he heard that boys who absconded ‘got it on the bare’, which he understood to mean that they were beaten on their bare buttocks.


He told the Committee that when he was appointed Disciplinarian he told the Manager that he refused to administer this form of corporal punishment. He was asked to explain the circumstances of this conversation: It was in the yard and a boy had been brought back early that morning from absconding, I knew the punishment previously had been the beating on the buttocks but I had my own mind made up I wasn’t going to inflict it and I told him that I didn’t want to beat them that way.


He explained the reasons for his dislike of corporal punishment: It was based on the fact that after a little while there I felt that these young people had suffered enough, they had been taken from their parents and from growing up with their brothers and sisters. The more I thought of that the bigger the influence it had on me in coming to that decision, that none of them would be slapped in my classroom and none of them would be slapped in this way.


He admitted using running as a punishment on the recommendation of the Sub-Superior. The circumstances of one such incident were that he was waiting in the yard for the boys to return from the farm. A boy came into the yard and asked him whether the farmhand was allowed to beat him. The boy was bleeding and he told him to go and clean up. The farmhand and the farm Brother came to the yard and told him that some of the boys tried to attack Br Deverelle25 and that the farmhand tried to stop them. He told the farmhand that he had no business beating the boys. He was at a loss as to what to do, since a large number of boys were involved and so he put them running around the yard as a punishment, which they had to do for periods on two nights. The boys contended that they had attacked Br Deverelle because he had been severe on them.


This Brother was sympathetic towards the boys and tried to avoid using corporal punishment, but in these respects he was unusual. The Committee was left with the impression that his refusal to impose such punishment did not stop it and he had no influence on the behaviour of other Brothers.


Br Rainger was a teacher in Letterfrack in the late 1960s. He said that he was wholly unprepared for life there and found that he simply could not apply the teaching methods he had learned in Marino to the boys at Letterfrack. His duties also included supervision and he would often be required to supervise a group of over 100 boys because staffing levels did not allow smaller groups. This meant that a military-style discipline was necessary to keep order. He accepted that, as a result of this, Letterfrack was a harsh place but he stressed it was harsh for the Brothers too. Initially, he said he was quite aloof as an aid to maintaining discipline, although he mellowed after a while. However, he never trusted the boys: No, I wouldn’t trust them, I had been told that the boys had come to Letterfrack through the court.


He said he carried and used a leather strap, as did every Brother working in the School. He received no training in its use and administered it on an ad hoc basis whenever he saw fit to do so. He did not require any sanction to do this and he punished both inside and outside the classroom. He admitted to beating children on the buttocks, although not the bare buttocks, with the strap. He thought that discipline was not too bad, although he conceded that he punished boys for failure at lessons and for misbehaving generally.


He was never aware of the presence of a punishment book, and on the issue of discipline he said: Generally speaking, you know, it wasn’t too bad. Discipline wasn’t too bad, but now and again, yes, fights broke out, arguments broke out. I had a leather and I used it, not that I am proud of it now but I did use it, yes.

  1. Letterfrack Industrial School, Report on archival material held at Cluain Mhuire, by Bernard Dunleavy BL (2001).
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  6. Prior Park was a residential school run by the Christian Brothers near Bath, England.
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  19. This document is undated, although the date ‘6th November 1964’ is crossed out.
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  32. See table at paragraph 3.20 .
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  36. This information is taken from a report compiled for the Christian Brothers by Michael Bruton in relation to Letterfrack in 2001.
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  58. Electricity Supply Board.
  59. See table at paragraph 8.21 .
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  61. Cross-reference to CB General Chapter where notes that this arrangement was with the agreement of the Department of Education.
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  65. Gateways Chapter 3 goes into this in detail.