Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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The Department of Education wrote to the relevant authorities, including the Departments of Health and Justice, District Justice McCarthy and the NSPCC, informing them of the decision of the Christian Brothers. They were informed that boys who had been convicted of offences would no longer be accepted in Artane, Salthill, Tralee or Glin.


On 30th June 1954 there were 179 boys resident in Letterfrack. On 2nd September 1954, 80 boys were transferred to other industrial schools, and 14 were released on supervision certificate. The 80 boys were distributed to Salthill, Artane and Kilkenny. On 30th September 1954 the Department of Education records show there were 87 boys resident in Letterfrack.


The Christian Brothers submitted in their Opening Statement that the Brothers were prepared to make this proposal, even though it meant a significant drop in numbers in Letterfrack and, consequently, an appreciable loss of income because of the decreased per capita payment. They felt the separation was in the best interests of the boys, even though the School would suffer economically.


There may have been other reasons apart from the best interests of the boys for making this decision. As the scourge of tuberculosis came under control, and the health of the nation improved, there were fewer orphans. Increasingly, neglected children were being sent to foster-parents or relatives, and fewer were being placed in institutions. Also, the birth rate was beginning to fall and fewer children were becoming destitute. On the other hand, more children were being convicted of larceny, housebreaking, malicious damage, arson, burglary, theft and assault, an increase already evident by 1953. With numbers in general dropping, it made sense to have a specialist institution for the one area of the child population that was increasing. Despite the very real concerns expressed by Judges who presided over the Children’s Court in Dublin and Limerick, and the slightly more defeatist attempts at opposition demonstrated by the Departments of Justice and Education, there was no evidence to suggest that the Christian Brothers gave any consideration to the impact their decision had on the children in their care.


What this scenario also demonstrated was that, while the Department of Education funded the industrial and reformatory schools and carried out periodic inspections of schools, these schools were in reality controlled by the Congregations that ran them, and it mattered little the level of opposition, or indeed who might be opposing any changes the Congregation proposed – their decision in the matter was final.


This decision had serious consequences for the boys in Letterfrack. The School had been reduced to a number that was not economically viable and this impacted on the level of care these boys received until Letterfrack closed in 1974. To survive, Letterfrack had to continue taking children who were destitute or in breach of the School Attendance Act, but these were now in a minority in the School.


The full implications of this decision are discussed below.


On 28th September 1965 the Minister for Education met the Provincials from St Mary’s and St Helen’s Provinces, Br Mulholland and Br O Muimhneachain, together with representatives from Upton and Clonmel Industrial Schools. The meeting was convened to discuss the closure of some of the industrial schools. Br Mulholland stated that he would prefer to close Letterfrack rather than Salthill, as the latter comprised property held in trust, whereas the Brothers were free to put the premises at Letterfrack to other use. In addition, he pointed out that, if another place of detention was opened, this would act to further deplete numbers in Letterfrack.


The Department received written confirmation in November 1965 from the Provincials of their agreement to close Letterfrack.


The Archbishop of Tuam, Reverend Joseph Walsh, when he was made aware of these plans by the Department of Education, wrote an indignant letter dated 17th March 1966 to Br Mulholland registering his shock and disappointment at the news. He noted that the Christian Brothers had spent at least £30,000 on the Institution between 1958 and 1966, and considered the decision to close the School as unjust in the circumstances. In his view, Letterfrack was one school that should not be closed. It was an excellent school for delinquent boys, as they could not escape easily because of its isolated location. He continued, ‘in fact I know that the boys like the place. For many of them it is a pleasant change, and they are very happy’. He stated that he believed that the Brothers were being treated most unfairly and were not receiving the recognition they deserved for their work.


The Archbishop was clearly under the impression that Letterfrack was being closed against the wishes of the Brothers, and it seems that no attempt was made to rectify this misapprehension.


The Provincials met the representatives of the Department of Education on 28th March 1966. They explained that the Archbishop was against the closure of the school and that they did not want to go against his wishes.


From 1st July 1972, Letterfrack was recognised as a ‘special school’ by the Department of Education, which resulted in an increase in the grant payable by the Department of Education.


In 1973 the Provincial Council decided to close Letterfrack. The only information available regarding the reasons for the decision was found in a letter dated 27th August 1974, from the Secretary of the Department of Education to the Provincial of St Mary’s Province, thanking the Brothers for their devoted work in Letterfrack. In the course of the letter he stated, ‘we well understand also the reasons behind the decision of the Brothers to close the school – reasons that emanated from the difficulties of employing professional services in a place so remote as Letterfrack together with the doubt arising from having city boys in a school so far from home’. Letterfrack closed on 30th June 1974.


The Investigation Committee conducted hearings in public and private sessions into abuse in Letterfrack. Br David Gibson, Provincial Leader of St Mary’s Province, gave evidence in a public session on 16th June 2005. His evidence was based on a detailed Opening Statement submitted to the Commission in advance of the hearing.

  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.