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Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Physical abuse


Br Perryn was in Letterfrack for two periods totalling 19 years between 1913 and the early 1940s. In 1941 he was discovered to have been sexually abusing the boys in his charge. The Visitor noted: Boys whom I interviewed told me that they were afraid to reveal the malpractices through fear of Br Perryn. It is alleged that he beats them, kicks them, catches them by the throat etc. and uses them for immoral ends.


This was not the first complaint that had been made against Br Perryn in respect of his use of excessive corporal punishment. In April 1917, the Sub-Superior of Letterfrack, Br Gardiner,9 wrote to the Superior complaining of Br Perryn’s ‘notorious’ severity towards the boys: Last Autumn I complained of Br Perryn’s harsh and cruel treatment, and now he still continues along the same lines. About a month ago he took a boy out of bed at near 10 o’clock at night and punished him in the lavatory in his night-shirt, and that because the boy took a pinch of salt out of the salt box on the table in the boy’s kitchen. About a week after he did the same to another boy who took a potato off the table in the boy’s kitchen and on last Thursday night, about 10 o’clock, he did the same to another boy for calling him names! In each case he acted on the report of another boy ... I stood and counted 27 slaps given in the space of about five minutes to some juniors in the knitting room. He uses a rod also and strikes them on the legs and I have been told uses it wildly and wantonly as if for sport sometimes ... His severity in the knitting room is notorious – and the more so to be deplored as many of the young children are delicate and their hands are sore, chilblains being prevalent among them.


Br Perryn remained in Letterfrack for two years after this letter was written and returned eight years later, where he continued his reign of terror until he was finally removed in 1941 because of sexual abuse of boys.


Noah Kitterick,10 who was detained in the school from 1924 to 1932, named this Brother in a letter of complaint sent to the Superior in 1953, which is considered in more detail in the later section on sexual abuse.


The Congregation in its Opening Statement commented: It is difficult to explain how Br Perryn was reappointed to Letterfrack when he had been found to have been physically abusive during his first period in Letterfrack ...


Br Perryn spent 14 years in Letterfrack on his second assignment there and, in addition to sexual abuse of boys, he was also violent and frightening to them. If the Brothers considered what Br Perryn had done to the boys to be a serious infraction, they would have responded effectively to this complaint at the time and thereby spared other children. A black eye explained (1943)


A Department of Education General Inspection was carried out on 31st August 1943. The report noted that the health of the boys was very good and that the Resident Manager, Br Marcel11 was kind and good to the boys. The Inspector did notice one case of a boy with a black eye and, on inquiring as to the cause, was informed that it was the result of a blow from a Brother. The Department of Education took the matter up with the Resident Manager: It appears, however, that she found one boy suffering from a black eye and was informed that it was the result of a blow from one of the Brothers for talking in class. The Minister would be glad to learn whether, this in fact, was the case and if so, I am to request you to forbid correction of this kind in future as it is both extremely dangerous and undesirable.


Br Marcel replied that the black eye was the result of an accident. He explained the matter as follows: The Resident Manager regrets the occurrence indicated and he has no doubt that there shall not be a recurrence of a like nature. The Brother while remonstrating with his class happened accidentally to strike the boy who stood behind him with his elbow in the face.


In Phase III, Br Gibson was asked whether this seemed like a plausible explanation and he said: Well, it doesn’t, but I’m not going to judge. I mean you are talking about 60 years ago, so I just don’t know. It doesn’t sound plausible no, it doesn’t.


• The Department of Education properly sought an explanation for the injury but accepted without further question a manifestly implausible account that was inconsistent with what the Inspector had been told. This was one of many instances where the Department allowed the Institution itself to investigate complaints. The boy does not appear to have been questioned in the course of the investigation. Br Maslin:12 Br Aubin’s13 complaint (1945)


As the Visitor prepared to leave Letterfrack after his four-day inspection in April 1945, Br Aubin wrote a hurried note to him. There had probably been a conversation between the Visitor and the Brother, in which it was proposed that the complaint which Br Aubin wished to make should be put in writing. The note described a serious disagreement between the writer and the Disciplinarian, Br Maslin, concerning severe punishments that the latter had inflicted on boys. The circumstances outlined to the Visitor were revealing of different aspects of life in the Institution. The case is therefore important for a number of reasons.


By way of background, the Visitation Report for the previous year recorded disharmony between the two Brothers involved in this episode and also involving, to a lesser extent, other members of the Letterfrack Community.


The events related in the note are best listed in sequence: Br Aubin learned that a boy who was in charge of 15 or more other boys working on the farm ill-treated them by beating them severely with a leather. The boy had done this on three occasions. The Brother reported the matter to the Disciplinarian, Br Maslin, who knew about it already. They decided that the boy should be punished ‘as he had not been allowed or told to punish these boys’. Br Aubin suggested informing the Superior but his colleague dismissed this. Br Maslin said that there was more than punishment wrong between this boy and the others, meaning sexual activity. On this the Brothers disagreed. A few days passed during which Br Aubin questioned the boy in charge and 13 of the others who were on the farm. He was satisfied that nothing more than the unauthorised punishment had taken place. On the next Sunday, Br Maslin meted out punishment to a boy, which left him with a swollen cheek, for allegedly allowing another boy into his bed or going into the other’s bed. The boy emphatically denied the charge. Later on that day, Br Maslin punished the farm boy in the surgery off the school, in the presence of Br Aubin who believed that the boy was innocent of immorality and that his only wrongdoing was unauthorised beatings of other boys. During the punishment, Br Maslin accused the boy of carrying on immorally with the boys on the farm and he confessed – out of fear, as Br Aubin believed – and gave some 15 names of those with whom he had offended, including among them the 13 previously interviewed by Br Aubin and found innocent. Before he finished punishing the boy, the Disciplinarian sent Br Aubin to bring back the boy who suffered the swollen cheek in the earlier beating and who was also on the farm at the material time. This boy was then accused of having oral sex with the boy in charge, which he denied, but he was nevertheless punished severely. The next day, Br Aubin spoke once more to the boy in charge on the farm, who assured him that none of what he had told Br Maslin was true and that he said what the Brother wanted him to say for fear of further punishment. Br Aubin went back to the farm boys he had previously interviewed and confirmed his view that there had been no immorality. Br Maslin remained convinced that he was right and refused to accompany Br Aubin to speak to the boys again. He declared his intention to punish all the boys who had not already been punished and, in addition, to punish the boy in charge for going back on his confession. Br Aubin told the Brothers who were in charge of the farm boys in the School and the dormitory, and they in turn inquired into the sexual allegations and rejected them. The Superior was informed at last. One of the School and dormitory Brothers recalled another previous unsubstantiated allegation by the Disciplinarian of sexual misconduct by a boy. The Visitor left a typewritten list of 22 recommendations with the Superior, including no. 9 with the underlined words added in handwriting: Manager to be present when punishment beyond the ordinary is being administered.


Some other points in Br Aubin’s letter should be mentioned.


Firstly, Br Aubin and the Disciplinarian were agreed that the boy temporarily in charge on the farm was wrong because ‘he had not been allowed or told to punish’ the other boys. The implication was that there could have been circumstances in which he would be authorised to do so. It may be that too much should not be read into this, taking account of the rushed nature of the letter, but the distinct impression remains that it was not the fact of punishment in itself but the punishment not having been authorised that was the real offence committed by the boy in charge.

  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.