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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


Another variety of punishment which was confirmed by individual respondents was that boys were required to run around the yard as punishment. Br Michel described it thus: That did happen. What I can remember was if a boy, if a mature chap ran away, absconded, the Manager would say “give him a while running around the yard.” It happened during break times it didn’t go on for terribly long, a few days maybe ... it would be during play time and there was always a Brother in the yard during playtime, therefore he would be supervised. The rest of the students would be there as well.


A witness described how one Brother imposed a punishment on a group of boys, who were due to go swimming, because one misbehaved: On the way across the yard somebody booed and when we all got to the door to lead up to the dormitory he asked who booed, nobody would own up to who booed so he sent us across to the boot room, which was on the other side of the yard and we had to take off our sandals at the time, because it was the summertime, and put on our Wellingtons. We were made to run around the yard, everybody ran around the yard until we could run no more. That was it we just left – no swimming.


Another witness described how Br Noreis directed boys to write down the names of those who engaged in sexual activity, and punished them as a group, if sufficient information was not given, by depriving them of the Saturday night film: Everyone got a sheet of paper and a pencil and we were told to write down if we knew of any boys who had been, shall we say, sexually active with any other boy. Well, I always wrote the same thing down; I don’t know what you mean. This always went on a Saturday night. You always missed out on the cinema, because that was the one day that we had a movie. After all these boys had done whatever writing they were doing the paper was collected and we were all sent off to the dormitories, and for the rest of the night you could hear the screaming where boys who had misbehaved were dragged down in their night clothes and flogged by Br Noreis. That went on quite often.


Another witness had his head shaved and was ‘sent to Coventry’ for a period that was to end when his hair grew back: what they decided to do instead of giving me a beating, they decided to cut all my hair off and keep all the other kids from speaking to me until it was grown back, and that is the way I remember Letterfrack.


The witness described how the other boys treated him: They weren’t allowed to speak to me, as I say, until my hair grew back, and then when I would be walking around the yard and that, the ball would be kicked – if they were playing football, the ball would be kicked at me, I would be ducking. I was never hurt by a ball or anything like that.


This lasted until his hair grew: ‘I don’t know how long but it felt like an awful long time’.


Another former resident explained: There was two things down there that you had to be aware of, was the bare and the baldier. The baldier was getting your hair cut off and getting it on the bare was getting it on the bare bum.


Punishments included beating with a leather on the bare buttocks. Brothers acknowledged that this happened, as is detailed in the section on respondent evidence. One respondent who gave evidence, however, did not recall beating boys on the bare buttocks, and conceded only that when he was beating a boy in a dormitory the latter’s nightshirt might have ridden up, but the beating ‘wasn’t on his bare buttocks to my knowledge’. He was referred to a statement he made to the Gardaí, in which he referred to his use of the leather: Yes, I did in class and in the yard. I used it mostly on the hand. I used it twice on the bare backside of a fella that I caught going into another fella’s bed at nights. I did not feel great about this beating it was part of the reason I left because I felt I was becoming brutalised.


The Brother denied that he used the word ‘bare’ in the statement he made to the Gardaí, stating that he did not read back over his statement before signing it.


Another witness expanded: Out to the wash hall that was a dreaded thing. There was a term there; you could get it on the bare. What it meant was you would have to pull your nightshirt up, bend over and it would be a cane or the leather strap and you would get it heftily on the bottom. You would suffer from it and it would be violent, there is no other way you could describe it. That’s what happened to me. I got it on the bare out there. You expected it once you got out there, lights out and into the wash hall. This is what you are going to get and this is what I got. I got it pretty violent out there.


Beating on the bare buttocks was not confined to the most serious offences, and one witness said it happened to him because he was talking in the dormitory at night.


Residents remembered head shaving and isolation as part of the punishment for absconding. One said: They didn’t get very far. One chap ... he got to Athlone. The police arrested him and brought him back. When you were brought back they cut all the hair off you and isolated you.


Another said: For instance, if the boys ran away they stood them up against the wall, cut all their hair off, shaved it and nobody could talk to them.


Respondent witnesses confirmed this. Br Dondre said that it was a recognised punishment and it was done in order to stigmatise them. Br Francois had a similar recollection. He saw it done and presumed it was a ‘badge of disgrace’.


In its Submission, the Congregation accepted that boys’ heads were shaved as a punishment: It would appear that this was a punishment which was confined to absconders though the Congregation acknowledges that it was an unacceptable form of punishment and deeply regrets that any boy’s head was shaved in this way.

  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.