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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Physical abuse


According to the evidence of Fr Antonio, he did occasional holiday relief work in Ferryhouse from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. He later worked as Director of Ferryhouse from the early to mid-1990s. He said those who wet their beds during his time were not physically punished. That had stopped sometime in the mid-1960s. Also, boys were no longer segregated into a separate section. However, the boys who wet the beds still had to take their sheets down the old fire escape and across the yard to be washed in the laundry. He told the Committee: Some of the saddest memories I would have is of the boys who wet their bed bringing out their sheets to laundry in the morning because there was only one woman in the laundry and they used to have to bring them out.


During the 1960s, other steps were taken in an effort to ease the situation. During Fr Rafaele’s14 time (mid-1960s to early 1970s), electronic devices that woke the boys went on trial. The segregation of those who wet the beds in the designated section of the dormitories ceased.


Fr O’Reilly admitted to the Investigation Committee that the number of boys who wet the bed decreased only when conditions got better, because there was a reduction in the level of fear and anxiety about bed-wetting and because boys were no longer humiliated by being required to carry their sheets down to the laundry room themselves. Documentary evidence on the punishment of bed-wetting


In 1962, a County Waterford mother wrote a letter of complaint to the Department of Education about the way in which her son was punished for wetting the bed while in St Joseph’s, Ferryhouse. She wrote: Dear Sir I am writing this to ask you about my boys ... whom Justice Skinner released three weeks ago, well I want to tell you what happened their brother ... who was only sent also [earlier in the year] for three months, he was suffering from kidney trouble and the punishment they were giving him for wetting the bed was stand under a cold shower and one night he was put out of the bed by the Brother and given four showers at 9:30 p.m. Then into the office in the morning and nine whips of the leather on each hand, and they told him they would increase it, well he had to run and I said it to the Priest, you would run too and so would I. Well he ran home in a terrible state chilled to the bone so I thought he would have a nervous breakdown so I wired for his father to come for him.


Fr Alanzo15 twice wrote to the Reformatory and the Industrial Schools Branch of the Department of Education about the mother’s complaint. In his first letter in 1962, he spoke despairingly of her: ‘I have had more trouble from their mother than I have had from the rest of the boys’, but he does not deal with the complaints raised. His second letter to the Department, sent a month later, is revealing insofar as it conceded that cold showers were given, and suggested that bed-wetting was 99% a bad habit and the result of bad upbringing and laziness on the part of the boys, and it goes on to describe the mother as a neurotic person. Fr Alanzo failed, however, to deal with the question of whether corporal punishment was administered for bed-wetting, and, if so, whether it was the Institution’s policy. The Commission does not have any documentation suggesting that the Department followed up this issue.


What does emerge from the correspondence is the way in which the mother was seen as a neurotic troublemaker. The Manager’s main concern was not dealing with the substance of the complaint, that her son had been ill-treated and beaten for bed-wetting, but placating the Department of Education on the matter. In another sense, her persistence paid off, because her third son was released before the end of the month.


The General Inspection Report of Dr Lysaght dated 21st July 1966 refers to the problem of bed-wetting in the School, stating that it is ‘somewhat a problem’. According to the acting Resident Manager, Fr Dino, there were about a dozen cases of bed-wetting in the School at that time, and it was his belief that the ‘boys who came from the Convent schools were the worst in this regard’.


The question of corporal punishment in Ferryhouse was considered at a meeting of Rosminian Superiors and others, which took place in Drumcondra on 19th April 1968. Fr Filippo,16 Provincial of the Rosminian Institute, called this meeting, and amongst those who attended was Fr Rafaele, Resident Manager of Ferryhouse, Fr Pietro,17 a previous Resident Manager there, and Fr Lucio18 who succeeded Fr Rafaele in 1970. Also in attendance was Fr Ludano.


The problem of corporal punishment was raised by the Fr Provincial, Fr Filippo, because ‘Recent events seemed to indicate that the administration of it had gone beyond the mean in the past’. His solution was to make it ‘the responsibility of the Rector or the Headmaster’, with the Provincial as manager ultimately responsible. He canvassed their opinions.


One of the solutions suggested had in fact been in the regulations for decades, that ‘all punishments of this kind should be recorded, and further that they should be administered in the presence of a witness’. The Brothers suggested ‘the need for a written guide ... such had been in existence in Upton’.19


There was recognition that much depended on the appointment of capable Prefects.


There was an objection to turning to the Rector even in small things, but it was again asserted that, even there, ‘a little record should be kept’ and ‘a ceiling to the punishments’.


They discussed the current punishment systems in Ferryhouse and Omeath and agreed ‘Corporal punishment was judged the most humiliating of the lot, and the least effective’.


This meeting in 1968 was, in short, debating the need for the regulation of corporal punishment and was reaching conclusions that had been contained in the 1933 guidelines.


Notwithstanding the acknowledgement that it was humiliating and ineffective, the use of corporal punishment continued in Ferryhouse for a further 25 years, until its abolition by the School in 1993.

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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  19. This is believed to be a reference to the Upton punishment book.
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  37. Latin for surprise and wonder.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
  53. Cussen Report, p 54
  54. Cussen Report, p 55
  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.