Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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The drop in numbers from 184 to 85 was a big financial loss to the school. After the changeover, there was a small trickle of boys, very small in the beginning. Justice McCarthy in Dublin stopped sending them altogether and these were the boys that Br Ruffe was relying on getting and they were not being sent. Other Christian Brothers’ industrial schools which were also in financial difficulties, although in his view not as difficult as Letterfrack, were taking in boys that they were not supposed to be taking under the new regime, so he arranged to meet Justice McCarthy. They had a robust discussion in which Justice McCarthy flatly told him he would not send boys so far away from their parents. Br Ruffe explained to the Justice that he thought it could be good for boys to be removed from sources of temptation that landed them in industrial schools in the first place. He felt that Letterfrack had a lot to offer despite its distance, lots of fresh air and country life, giving them an opportunity to re-orientate themselves by means of work, school and education. He pointed out that he himself during his training as a Christian Brother was only allowed one visit per year from his family. He also promised to facilitate parents as much as possible by putting them up overnight or taking the boys into Galway to meet their families when they travelled. He said that the Justice took his views on board and began to send boys to Letterfrack. Unfortunately, Justice McCarthy did not live for too long after this and he had the same problems with his successor. This required another visit to explain the position to him and, following on Justice Ryan visiting Letterfrack to see for himself, he also began to send boys there.


The average number of boys between 1955 and 1969 was 107 and this was not an economically viable number. This number dropped even more dramatically between 1970 and 1973, and there were only 4159 boys in Letterfrack shortly before it closed with Br Karel stating that the number had dropped to 11 by the time he left in 1974.


The impact of the 1954 decision, taken by the Congregation in the face of opposition from all other quarters, was felt throughout the subsequent life of the Institution.


In 1954, the Inspector reported that the food was fairly good but was to be improved. She noted that the boys only received bread and tea at lunch. She reported that she had told that Manager to rectify this and to get some modern equipment.


In 1955, the Congregational Visitor reported that the boys’ diet had improved considerably. The Department Inspector made a number of suggestions regarding the diet to the Resident Manager and noted the food had improved.


By 1956 the effect of the change in finances in the Institution began to become more clear in the reports from Dr McCabe, the Department of Education Inspector, when she noted that ‘my suggestions have been brought into operation but still the “old system” is used for cooking – no other facilities’. She made the following general observation: Well conducted school on the whole – Of course, there are many improvements I would like to see – better clothes, better living conditions – better cooking facilities – but as usual when I mention these things I am always told – “we have no money” “it can’t be done” “get into debt” – so while I realise that expense comes into the argument so long as the boys are reasonably well clothed and fed there is very little else I can do.


The Resident Manager blamed the lack of funds for the poor conditions in Letterfrack and she was in no position to disagree with him. The fact that the financial crisis was caused by the actions of the Congregation itself does not appear to have been appreciated by the Inspector.


Dr McCabe reported that the food was slightly improved in 1957 although ‘much remains to be done – old archaic system still in use for cooking – very poor facilities, no modern equipment’. Again she made a general observation: Well conducted school on the whole – I would really like to see a number of improvements here – clothing, living conditions and cooking arrangements. I have often made suggestions but each time I feel up against a stone wall as always I am told – increase the grant – give more money and of course I realise their difficulties – but all the same I will have to insist on better conditions for the boys. Br Ruffe the Resident Manager is very argumentative and difficult to persuade.


In 1957 and 1958 the Congregation Visitor reported that the boys’ food had improved since Br Delmont,60 who was interested in his work and did his best to provide good meals to the boys, had taken over the kitchen. Dr McCabe was pleased to see in 1958 that an Aga and new steam boiler had been installed in the kitchen.


The situation in Letterfrack had reached an all-time low by 1959. Br Ruffe, the Resident Manager, had been hospitalised for 18 months and, to use his own description in 2001, ‘was practically an invalid’.


Br Adrien had taken over the kitchen, and the Visitor in his Report of 1959 stated that the boys’ diet needed to be looked into. He highlighted that they received bread and tea for dinner three days a week, and that they got very little meat, ‘never getting anything in the nature of an Irish stew’. He further stated that the cooking and serving of the boys’ food was not satisfactory. As regards breakfast he stated the boys received an egg one day a week, with porridge served five days per week. However, he noted that the quantity served was insufficient, with each boy receiving only a saucer full. He highlighted that the Sunday food was ‘the worst of the week’. He stated that the only redeeming feature was that twice a week the boys were served two sausages each in the evenings. He noted that Br Adrien was wholly unsuccessful in his running of the kitchen, and that Br Adrien placed the blame on the Superior whom Br Adrien said restricted his budget. On enquiring into the matter, however, the Visitor discovered that Br Adrien was running the kitchen in a most expensive manner, buying meals from shops as opposed to preparing them in the kitchen. The Visitor concluded by noting that, in order for the boys to be happy at Letterfrack, ‘the food must be improved’.


In 1959, the Provincial wrote to the acting Manager and told him that he had visited the Resident Manager who was convalescing, and complained to him about the small quantities of porridge which the boys were provided with, and the fact that the boys had three meatless days in a week. Br Ruffe told the Provincial that he believed it to be only two days a week without meat. The Provincial asked Br Malleville, who was Disciplinarian in Letterfrack, to inquire into this discreetly and discover whether the boys had been having three dinners of bread and tea over a long period. He also said that the issue of the meat was one that required an immediate remedy. This internal inquiry found that the boys received meat every day, and the only days they would not have meat was during Easter and fasting days.


Br Malleville’s word appears to have been taken and no further enquiries were made about the extremely serious situation described by the Visitor.


The 1959 Visitation Report that criticised the boys’ food said of the Brothers’ diet: The Brothers food is very well cooked and neatly served. It is also ample. The Brothers were all very satisfied.


In that same year a complaint was received from a parent about the quality of food and clothing in Letterfrack. A letter was sent on 5th August 1959 from a TD to the Minister for Education describing how the woman’s son was one of five boys who had absconded from Letterfrack, broken into two other schools and stolen food from one of them. The boys were recaptured, charged and sent to Daingean. The mother said the boys complained about the food they were getting in Letterfrack. The Resident Manager was written to on 20th August and he responded on 25th August 1959: The food supplied to the boys in the school is always plentiful, fresh and wholesome; [The boy’s mother] visited the school on a number of occasions while her son was here and made no complaints ... Dr McCabe visits the school, unannounced, periodically and she always sees the boys at their meals and she has never made any complaint about the food served. The boys’ menu is:– Breakfast: Porridge or luncheon roll, tea, bread and butter or margarine Eggs one morning each week. Lunch: Tea, Bread and Jam Dinner: Fresh beef or mutton, potatoes vegetables (cabbage, turnip, parsnips, carrots,) soup and dessert (3 times weekly) Tea: Tea , bread and butter or margarine With regard to butter and margarine the boys have their choice. At tea also the boys have sausages (fresh) twice a week.

  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.