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Chapter 4 — Greenmount

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Physical abuse


The 1940s were precisely the years that the Presentation Brothers acknowledged to have been an era marked by excessively severe corporal punishment. Br Minehane was asked to explain the contradiction. He began by saying, ‘I would have question marks about it’. He then went on to explain that the Resident Manager, Br Arrio, was in charge of discipline, and was ‘the same person who wrote that report’. He then said: He was the Resident Manager and I have no explanation for it except that he regarded himself as the disciplinarian in the School. And from his point of view ... corporal punishment was part of it.


The fundamental inadequacy of the system could not be more apparent. The Brother who was himself operating a severe and harsh regime was the same Brother who reported to the Department. His reports to the Department were misleading: they claimed that punishment consisted of a system of withdrawing privileges, when in fact the School was being controlled by severe beatings and a climate of fear through a regime that he himself commanded.


Mr Olivero21 (formerly Br Olivero) joined the Presentation Brothers in the mid-1940s. He spent a year teaching in Greenmount before going to a Training College in Waterford. He returned to Greenmount in the late 1940s, where he again taught for one and a half years. He left the Congregation in the late 1950s. He gave evidence to the Investigation Committee in respect of Br Arrio and his disciplinary regime.


Mr Olivero said that, when he arrived at the School, he was told that if any boy committed a misdemeanour he should be sent to the Head Brother, Br Arrio, who would look after him. He said that Br Arrio was regarded as a strict disciplinarian and the boys were fearful of him. He agreed that the boys had good reason to be afraid of him. He explained: if a boy did commit any misdemeanour, if he fought in the yard and if he didn’t try and pull himself together, all I had to say was, okay, do you want to go to Br Arrio and they’d say no.


When he was asked if he thought it was a good thing that the person who was in ultimate control should instil such fear in boys he replied, ‘I thought it was maybe a bit extreme’.


When asked if he had seen boys being caned in the yard, he explained: When the boys were lined up in the evening time, before going, maybe, for a meal, for the evening meal, I did see him chastising boys with a stick. I thought it was very extreme because if he had, we’ll say, twelve lines of boys there was a monitor for each who was responsible for each line of boys ... And the monitor, if he couldn’t explain the absence of some boy in his group he was punished, and I thought that was very unfair.


Mr Olivero also confirmed in oral evidence a particular method of punishment that was referred to by complainants and which is outlined below. This involved the boys climbing a ladder in a storeroom and Br Arrio beating them with a cane.


He was asked whether he and those Brothers with similar views could together have had some influence over a Brother who was harsh or severe with the boys. He replied that there was no mechanism at all to have such an effect. He explained: ... I was too young and too inexperienced at the time to make a complaint. If I did make a complaint I would probably – I don’t know would I be listened to ...


His dilemma was a common one. Those Brothers low in the hierarchy could not challenge their seniors because of their vow of obedience. This inability to challenge the status quo meant that progress or change was virtually impossible unless it came from the top.


Although he felt some complainants exaggerated the level of abuse in Greenmount, the complaints about Br Arrio were, he believed, justified. He said, ‘... I wouldn’t mind if they do make complaints about the treatment he meted out to them’.


A witness who was in Greenmount from the early 1940s to the early 1950s recalled Br Arrio taking over from his predecessor, whom he described as ‘a stern man, but he got on and I suppose he done his job’. Things changed for the worse, he said: I can still remember that man, if I can call him that, as a tyrant ... He took pleasure, and it helped him in some sick, sadistic way to beat children, and he had his own ways of doing it. If you were reported by another Brother to him you had what was commonly known in Greenmount School as "up the ladder". That will never leave my memory.


When asked to explain, he said: You stood on – that type of ladder ... and you were naked, which was a horror thing for any man saying he was a member of religion or knew there was a God there or recognised a God, as a child you are up there hanging on to ropes with your hand on them so you wouldn’t slip, naked. That’s when he lashed you across the buttocks, the hips or maybe the raw thighs. And the way he left you, you were given a white nicks like a footballer and you wore that for many days, all dressed up and the boys could laugh at you, but on top of that you had to go to the nurse and get iodine on it.


He conveyed his feelings at the time by saying: If you hit a dog he’ll squeal, a human, a little boy who was an orphan, feels just as much as a stray dog and that’s the way we were treated.


He went on to describe the implement used to hit boys: He had a cane maybe. Now I am speaking as maybe a ten year old or an eight year old, nine year old, so I am going back. Maybe it was that length of a stick (indicating). I always remember there was a knob on the end of it, it was a bamboo cane and it would bend around your leg. He said that he got that from the Garda – the Department of Justice, he made a big note of it one time, telling us where he got it, and to use it liberally ... he used keep the stick in the back, up behind his belt. You never looked at him in the face, you always looked to where that damn stick was.


Another complainant recalled this method of punishment. He was a resident in Greenmount from the mid-1950s, and he also told how Br Arrio gave him a beating ‘up the ladder’. He told the Committee: Br Arrio would take off your clothes and you would have just an underpants on you and you would walk up the ladder and he would give you a slap of the cane ... That took place in a little room .....He brought me into that room and he said – he asked me what did I run away for and all this and I told him that I just ran away, I wanted to go home. So he gave me a hiding for it as well ... He told me to walk up the ladder ... It was one of those ladders that you could go up the top and come down the other side of it. You go up one side and down the other side ... I was asked to strip to my underpants and walk up the ladder ... He was hitting me [with a bamboo cane] so I ran up the ladder. ... He used to run around after you. He wasn’t as old as people was making him out to be, he was able to run and he was able to do his thing, what he had to do... Br Arrio always made ... the kids climb up the ladder.

  1. Dermot Keogh, ‘St Joseph’s Industrial School, Greenmount, Cork’ (Report prepared for the Presentation Brothers, May 2001 and submitted to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 19 May 2004), pp 187–188.
  2. For the greater glory of God.
  3. Fratrium Presentionis Mariae.
  4. Keogh, p 54.
  5. Keogh, p 57.
  6. Cork Examiner, 28 March 1874, cited in Dermot Keogh, ‘St Joseph’s Industrial School, Greenmount, Cork’ May 2001.
  7. Cork Examiner, 30 March 1874, cited by Keogh, May 2001, p 41.
  8. Cork Examiner, 30 March 1874, cited by Keogh, May 2001, pp 41–2.
  9. Cork Examiner, 24 March 1874.
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  13. Report on Reformatory and Industrial Schools, 1936.
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