Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


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.


Br Rainger admitted that he did not confine himself to the strap when he punished children but also used his hands. He denied that bed-wetters were physically chastised. He recalled that they tied knots at the ends of their beds to identify themselves to the night watchman: Just to clarify the thing on the bed-wetters, when I would take over the dormitory in the morning from the night watchman the custom at that time was if they were bed-wetters they tied a towel over the end of the bed and the bed was stripped so that it could dry out during the day. There was definitely no verbal humiliation or even physical punishment for bed-wetting. That is not true.


Br Anatole was convicted in 2003 of sexual abuse of boys in Letterfrack when he was a Brother there during the late 1960s.


He gave evidence that the Brothers worked 16 to 18 hour days, and that their only method of maintaining order was by means of corporal punishment, the constant threat of which permeated the atmosphere of the Institution. Before he came to the School, he had heard rumours about the need to maintain strict discipline in the School. The attitude was that breaches of discipline had to be dealt with swiftly and harshly, otherwise law and order would break down.


Br Anatole described his arrival at Letterfrack with two other young, inexperienced teachers, Br Dondre28 and Br Iven.29 They were all in their early 20s and they had little more than one year’s teaching experience.


The bulk of the supervisory work in Letterfrack fell on these three young men, and Br Anatole testified to the strain he felt – a breach of the rules by a boy under the control of one of them was regarded as a reflection on the Brother. This put a lot of pressure on the younger Brothers, who were often intimidated by the boys and they tried to counteract this by being excessively strict.


Br Anatole said that pupils attacked him on a number of occasions: I was attacked on a couple of occasions: Once in the dining room a boy ran at me with a chair; once in the yard; and once in the Brother’s monastery when I went up – I opened the door and one of the boys was in the monastery which they weren’t allowed to do and he punched me trying to get out the door before I could get in. That was three incidents in two years which was not a lot. There was always the possibility of that happening and I was a little bit fearful of what might be done to me if it happened.


The children were often difficult to deal with, according to Br Anatole, and many had psychological problems that the Brothers had no special training to deal with.


Difficulties manifested themselves in conduct such as fighting and bullying, which were constant and worrying features of life in Letterfrack. Sometimes, the children absconded and that was also a constant worry. The children would run away at night but they would usually be apprehended, sometimes by local people, and returned to the School soon after.


He said that the threat of punishment hung like a cloud over the boys. It was arbitrarily administered without any supervision either inside or outside the classroom. Br Anatole was given a leather strap on arrival but he got no instruction on its use. He did not confine himself to the use of the strap; he would punish boys with a slap of his open palm, his fist, a stick, or indeed a kick.


Although the Brothers were given no guidance regarding corporal punishment, Br Malleville,30 the Resident Manager, often complained about the excessive use of corporal punishment and was quite strict on such matters when boys complained to him about excessive beatings. Br Anatole recalled one incident in particular, when Br Malleville approached him and told him he had received a complaint that a boy had been punished for the wrong reasons and he wanted an explanation. Br Anatole described how the boy had been beaten about the legs with a leather strap and made to run around the yard. The boy complained to Br Malleville, who reprimanded him, Br Anatole.


Br Anatole described another particularly savage beating, when a boy was beaten on the bare buttocks with a leather. The boy was placed over a chair on the stage and beaten in front of other boys by Br Iven. Br Anatole did not himself administer the beating but he was present during it. A former resident who recalled the boy being stripped and beaten recollected that the handle of a sweeping brush had been used to administer the beating.


Br Anatole said that Br Malleville heard about the beating and, that evening, convened a meeting of the three junior Brothers who had been involved and reprimanded them for what had occurred.

  1. Letterfrack Industrial School, Report on archival material held at Cluain Mhuire, by Bernard Dunleavy BL (2001).
  2. This is a pseudonym.
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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.