Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Neglect and emotional abuse


A witness who was in Ferryhouse in the 1940s came from a family where illness, poverty and death led to social upheaval. He was the eighth in a family of 13 children. His mother died of pneumonia. Her youngest child at the time was just one month old, and the complainant was seven years of age. The entire family was placed into various institutions. The four brothers were initially sent to Ferryhouse, but then were split up and the younger two were sent elsewhere. He was unaware that one of his brothers was later returned to Ferryhouse. The witness explained: After he became a certain age, five years of age or that, he was sent to Ferryhouse. But the point about it was he was two and a half years in Ferryhouse before anybody told us he was our brother. So he was in the school for two and a half years and nobody knew he was – well, at least we didn’t know – we knew he was [names the boy] but that was it. We never knew he was our brother.


He was frightened and confused on entering the School, and he was ‘never prepared’ for leaving it. He recalled leaving the School and meeting his brother-in-law who took him into his flat. There was no job found for him, and the Rosminians never checked on him after leaving the School. He lived in dire circumstances with his sister and brother-in-law until he joined the Irish Army.


A witness, who was in Ferryhouse in the late 1970s, told the Investigation Committee of his family circumstances. He was the youngest of five children, with two brothers and two sisters older than himself.


He was physically abused in his primary school, so stopped attending the school. After a number of appearances before the District Court, he was sent to Ferryhouse. His mother was ill with epilepsy and this also contributed to his school non-attendance as he would remain at home to help his mother. He recalled the judge telling him that his parents did not care for him, as they were not even in court. He felt this was a huge injustice. He explained: My mother was after taking an epileptic fit as she was getting off the bus at Christchurch and it took some time to revive her. When my father got to the Court that time he pleaded with [the judge] who, could do nothing at that stage.


His mother in fact was terminally ill, and she died while he was in Ferryhouse. He was called to the office. He then told the Investigation Committee: I went into Fr Antonio’s room and Fr Antonio started crying. And he said to me, "I have something to tell you." And I said "What? is it my mother, my father, my family, something’s wrong." He said to me, "Your mother has died", he said. He started crying and I looked at him to say “what are you crying for?”, because it was all coming down now, what my father was crying for [in the Court].


He was driven to Dublin by a Brother. Instead of taking him directly to his family home, the Brother took him to a pub near his home. The witness remained in the car for hours and it was almost 8.15 pm when he arrived at his family home. The Brother walked in through the door of the house and gave his condolences to the witness’s sister and then left, saying that he would see her at the grave. He then described the funeral: She was buried on the following day, as far as I know, after Mass in [the cemetery]. I was at the grave in [the cemetery], just inside the gate, and [the Brother] said – he was at the grave as well and just as the ceremony was over and people were starting to walk away, he said his condolences again to my father and to my sisters. I don’t think he said anything to my brothers and took me by the hand and just brought me over and put me in the car. I was brought back then ... On my first night back to Ferryhouse, it was actually the early hours of the morning I woke to find another chap, a boy in the school, and he was at my bed as well and he said he was only trying to climb into my bed to comfort me over my mother’s death. That’s what I remember about my mother’s funeral.


A witness, who was in Ferryhouse in the late 1960s and early 1970s, described a family breakdown when his stepmother rejected both him and his brother. He knew his brother was placed in another institution and, when he got out of Ferryhouse, he went in search of him: I found out when I came out of Clonmel, I found out that is where he was and I went. I only found my brother five years ago, if you can understand that. That is how long we have known each other, other than the childhood ... Some family ... took him ... I knew he was in [another institution] and I knew where that was and I went up and I wanted to see me brother ... he was the only brother I had ... I was bigger so I had to protect him.


He never found him, and discovered his whereabouts only because his brother kept his surname. ‘An aunt of mine found him’, he said, and the two of them had to get to know each other after being separated for nearly 30 years.


A witness who was in Ferryhouse in the 1950s also recounted how his family was separated and dispersed into the care system, and where no contact was provided for the siblings. There were five children, three sisters and two brothers in the family. The mother died in childbirth, and the witness was sent to stay with an aunt and uncle for four or five months. One other member of his family was sent with him to these relations. His new baby sister was sent to other family members, along with his brother. His other older sister was sent to another institution. He could recall being taken to court and being sent to Ferryhouse on his own. He was devastated by the separation from his family.


From then on, he had ‘No contact, no contact as such, no. I did write letters. The regime was a letter once a month, I think’. When he got out of Ferryhouse, he went in search of his sisters who had been placed in an industrial school in Leinster. Unfortunately for him, the girls had no memory of him and did not even remember having any other siblings: I found the school ... and I knocked on the door and looked for the two people by name ... The Sister in charge invited me in and after about 20 minutes or so she came up with these two other girls and they were my younger sister and her other sister. That was the first time really I had seen the baby since our mother died ... she would have been only nine or ten at that stage. [The other sister] would have been about 11 or 12 or something like that. They didn’t know anything, in fact it was completely blotted out of their minds, that they had any other members of family.


The break-up of the family unit meant that there was no real connection between any of them: It kind of, if you know what I mean, it ended with no closeness at all, it is just that we know each other. There is no connection as such. We just know we are brothers and sisters like.


He left a loving family, and went to an institution where he found no love. He said: No one cared, that’s what it seemed to me, devoid of any emotional context or devoid of anything. The only thing that was there was physical approach ... I thought, it seemed to be deliberate. It appeared to me that it was deliberate at that time to break the strings. I don’t know why, that’s the impression I got that, that the strings separate and cut the string so you have no one left, you are more or less on your own as an independent. It was probably easier to control as well I suppose in the school situation, that maybe after a couple of years you forget that you had any connection with anyone at that time ... I don’t know if anyone made friends there, if they just gathered together. One thing that struck me when I left the school there was no goodbyes or anything like that, it wasn’t “come back” or anything like that, there was boys, no farewells or anything like that, just under the arch and up to get the bus away from there. Basically it was cold ... A cold environment.


In 1967, a local health inspector visited the School, following the death of a boy from cerebro-spinal meningitis. His report to the Department of Health was thorough, beginning with an examination of the living conditions that might have caused the disease. He wrote: Now this disease can be due to overcrowding, so I accordingly caused accurate measurements to be made of the dormitories, school, etc. and what emerged is what we expected: The school holds twice the number of children – there are 192 boys. The floor area and the cubic space available to every bed is 25 sq. ft. instead of 55 sq. ft. which is the normal and 200 cubic ft. instead of 400 c. ft. We introduced every protection for the pupils by way of prophylactics. However we run a serious risk of recurrence. The matter is grave, in fact more than grave, it is unjust, and a hazard to the health of the child ... You will note by the detailed report attached that the school structure where the children are taught is also doubly overcrowded. Again a serious hazard is the level of overcrowding.


Having found that ‘the dormitory sleeps exactly twice the number of boys recommended’, the two officials drew the Department of Health’s attention to a number of serious matters, namely: 1.Social malaise. There is clear evidence of social malaise in the institution among the younger “denizens”. 43 out of a total of 192 boys are bed-wetters. This matter I have taken up with the M.O. to the institution and also with the Assistant Co. M.O., and will deal with it as well as possible, 2.Dental Care. This question I have taken up with the Chief Dental Officer. I feel we should give very full dental care to the boys in Ferryhouse from the clinic during school closure periods etc. Without parents, you will appreciate, it is difficult for them unless the County Council acts broadly in lieu thereof.


Unlike the School, which traditionally saw bed-wetting as a matter for discipline and learning, the Public Health Officer saw it as a symptom of the level of distress among the boys. Furthermore, he did not see the Order as being in loco parentis because he asked for the local authority to take on the role of parents in caring for dental health. The full report contains other examples of neglect. Among the facts listed were the following: 1.Another unsatisfactory item is that toothbrushes for boys in each dormitory are kept in a wooden box (measuring 4’ x 5”). The brushes standing close together each in its own slot. This would appear an excellent method of spreading ’flu, mouth infections and throat infections etc. 2.On inspection only four of the ten w/c’s worked properly. Some were blocked or partially blocked, some did not flush. The anti-syphon pipes on these particular w/c’s were not connected back to the soil pipes, and flowed over after being flushed. These should be either adequately connected or blocked, as they cause the floors to be continually saturated. Ventilation is through one large roof window and is inadequate.

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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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  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.