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Chapter 2 — Upton

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Physical abuse


When Fr Christiano was asked how he reconciled the religious life, which involved love, charity and kindness, with a system that required men of the cloth to be brutal and severe, he replied that he did not believe that this was a requirement. The post of Prefect did involve the obligation to impose discipline, but he did not see the need to be brutal: I later became a Prefect in Ferryhouse and one of the things I did was throw the strap in the river, in the Suir in Ferryhouse, the one I had. There is a different way. We have the feast of St. Don Bosco every year, he was a man who loved children and I read – there is a reading in the book – his instruction to his Brothers about looking after children, and I say, ‘my God, why didn’t anyone show some of our lads this piece?’.


When asked whether he found a ‘different way’, he replied: No, I would say my judgement of Prefects was that those with better education or more culture were much better than those who were not educated and didn’t really have much of an idea what to do except keep order.


When it was suggested to him that he had found a better way through education, he replied: Oh absolutely. My experience at Upton, it just made me never ever let that happen to anybody if you can possibly do anything about it. When I was in charge, I was not going to be a Prefect like I had seen.


The use of corporal punishment as a general disciplinary measure for absconding, bed-wetting, and other infractions, many of which were of a very minor nature, produced an all-pervasive climate of fear. One former pupil described it as follows: I suppose first of all the place you were in, and obviously the people that were allegedly looking after you. I think they probably controlled these places with this fear, I believe. It was just a climate of fear that you were going to get hit, you were going to get beaten, something evil was going to happen to you. There was no happiness; there was nothing to be glad about. Maybe the only part of escaping out of that place was probably when you went to sleep, that was probably the only escape you had from the reality of that place.


Many of the witnesses described the fear they felt when they had to wait outside the office for punishment. One witness said the fear and the waiting remained a more vivid memory than being struck with the leather. Documentary evidence – the punishment books


The main documentary sources dealing with corporal punishment in Upton are two punishment books, the first covering the years from 1889 to 1893, and the second relating to the period 1952 to 1963.


The obligation to maintain a record of punishments went back to the beginning of industrial schools in the late 19th Century, and this was re-reiterated in Rule 12 of the 1933 Rules and Regulations. This rule required all industrial schools to maintain a punishment book for serious misdemeanours, and also stipulated that it was to be shown to the Inspector of the Department of Education when he visited: All serious misconduct, and the Punishments inflicted for it, shall be entered in a book to be kept for that purpose, which shall be laid before the Inspector when he visits.5


However, out of all of the industrial schools examined by the Investigation Committee, only Upton and St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Dundalk, were able to produce punishment books, and then only for some of the period under investigation.


The Upton books are leather-bound volumes, with double pages of entries set out in tabular form and divided into six columns, giving spaces for: the date of the offence, name of offender, nature of offence, by whom reported, the punishment given and remarks on the case.


The first book for Upton spans the period 1889 to 1893, and has 87 pages of details of punishments. The later book, for the period 1952 to 1963, consists of only 18 double pages of entries. While the earlier book is of interest by way of comparison and is a valuable historical source, the later volume, covering years relevant to this inquiry, is of real importance. There are, unfortunately, serious deficiencies in the record keeping in this later book, but the contents are highly significant.


The first problem with this punishment book is that it is nothing like a complete record for the period between the first entry and the last. There are long gaps in time between dates and entries appear out of chronological sequence. It is obvious that the book was not kept up to date and that it was not filled in carefully or systematically.


Another problem is inconsistency in the breaches of rules that are recorded in the punishment book. Between 1952 and 1954, there was almost no entry for punishment of immorality, yet from September 1954 onwards it was almost the sole reason for punishment. Given the frequency of punishments for immorality, it would be expected that there would have been some record of punishment for it in the first period, and, in the second period, there must have been some occasions when boys were punished for reasons other than immorality.


There is a gap at the front of the book where pages appear to be missing. There is nothing to indicate the reason for removing them.


The offences listed between 1952 and 1954 include stealing, disobedience, giving cheek, absconding, lying, laziness, smoking, talking at Mass, wasting food, horseplay, rough play, missing from yard, and being out of bounds. Also listed on a very small number of occasions was ‘immorality’ with other boys.


The recorded punishments varied according to the offence committed, and consisted of being hit with the leather strap on the hand or the buttocks. They were usually noted as being ‘over pants’, but on three dates in 1953 the book records that boys were punished by slaps ‘without pants’. Their offences were ‘run away, stole school property’, ‘run away’, ‘give cheek to a Brother’ and ‘destroying clothes’. The number of slaps with the leather strap on the bare bottom ranged from 6 to 15. These three dates in January and February 1953 are the only occasions when punishment was recorded as being given on the bare buttocks.

  1. Quoted in Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Publishing Press, 2003), p 74.
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  5. 1933 Rules and Regulations for the Certified Industrial Schools in Saorstát Éireann, Rule 12.
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  28. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
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  39. Latin for in a class of its own.
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  41. Latin for with a boy.
  42. Latin for with boys.
  43. Latin for As spoken.
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  45. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
  46. Latin for without delay.
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  49. Latin for due caution.
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  54. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
  55. Records exist for only 19 of the 23 years.
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