Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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In the same year, three members of staff wrote to the Provincial complaining about the education provided. They stated that the educational set-up that prevailed in the Institution was ‘grossly inadequate to meet the educational requirements’ of the type of boy found there. They concluded by stating that, were the staff shortages not remedied, the Province would be ‘failing in the real work of Edmund Rice’, and further expressed their view that ‘the school should be closed immediately if the ... situation is to prevail’.


A Department of Education report later in the year made a number of recommendations to remedy the problems facing the staff in Letterfrack, including having the children professionally assessed. Importantly, this report recognised the need to compensate children in industrial schools for the fact that they were there. Among its many recommendations it stated: It would be necessary to provide children in care with more than the normal educational facilities. It would, in other words, be necessary to overcompensate for deprivation.


It also recommended specialised training and a more holistic approach to the care of these children. Thinking had at last begun to move on.


The fundamental problems of maintaining a school like Letterfrack were confronted in the 1973 Visitation Report. It noted that many of the boys in the School were ‘emotionally disturbed’, some of them were ‘mentally retarded’, with others being ‘backward’ on entering Letterfrack. It reported that the Brothers were conscious of the fact that they lacked the professional training required to deal with such boys’ schooling, and that the remoteness of the Institution rendered it impossible to get the professional help that the boys required.


Another concern was the need to provide higher education to the boys aged 14 to 16, which one Visitor in the 1960s stated could not be done without ‘special concessions’ being granted by the Education Office.


One witness present in the early 1970s stated that he attended school but never sat his Primary Certificate. He said that some of the older boys got the opportunity to attend the vocational school in Clifden, but he never got the opportunity to go as this arrangement ceased for no apparent reason.


By comparison, some pupils felt they received a good education and liked school. One boy said that he had received a good education prior to being sent to Letterfrack. He said that he got on all right in the school. The experience of members of the same family was not always the same. The Committee heard from three siblings, one of whom felt that the education he received in the school was all right, and whose brothers did not feel they received an adequate education.


A number of the individual respondents who gave evidence taught in the national school and they were all agreed that the standard of education in the school was bad.


Br Francois described it as pretty poor: The standard of education? It was pretty poor compared to a group on the outside that were of the same age would have been much more advanced.


Br Michel confirmed that teaching in the school was very difficult: Well progress was very slow. The boys came to us and they were assessed for a class that best suited and then they went up as they progressed. I assure you it was a slog in the classroom, they didn’t want to learn most of them, they weren’t used to being in school they weren’t used to sitting at a desk all day long.


He also felt that the curriculum was not appropriate. He said that one aspect was that the Department Inspector: made no effort to give us a little programme for these boys who were educationally neglected in the past. We had to slog at the full programme of a primary school even so far as getting the boys to say the words in Irish as they would in the western dialect.


Br Telfour, who was there from the mid to late 1960s, also stressed the low educational standard of the boys upon entry into the school. He said that, over time, some of the boys would improve and progress through the classes, eventually ending up at secondary school in Clifden. Other boys might make little or no progress.


Br Rainger, who was there around the same time, said that he found teaching in the school quite frustrating as he was unable to apply the methods he had been taught in training college because of the low standard of education possessed by the boys: Probably one of my frustrations in Letterfrack was frustration in the classroom, that I couldn’t apply the teaching methods that would have been applied, if you don’t mind me using the phrase, to normal children, because a lot of these people would have been educationally deprived, lack of reading ability and so on and so forth, and I found teaching in Letterfrack challenging, to say the least.


He said that many of the boys made little progress: I would personally describe it as minimal. It was a real slog and a real challenge just to get across even the basic concepts. Now having said that, that is across the board. There could have been exceptions.


Br Dondre described the disturbed nature of the boys: The boys in Letterfrack were disturbed. How will I say this? If they weren’t disturbed before they got to Letterfrack, they were disturbed when they got there. The fact of taking a boy from his home and sending him to an industrial school in some cases, and dragging him through criminal proceedings, through court, and being sentenced by a Justice to four/five/six, in some cases seven years, away from their home, was enough to disturb anybody. Some of them were disturbed, they came from disturbed backgrounds and they were there because they were disturbed. They were there because they were in trouble. Some of them were no trouble at all. The very fact of sending them there, they did become disturbed, they became sort of unhappy and quiet – not quiet – into themselves, introverted. Generally unhappy.

  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.