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.
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.
Secondly, when the two Brothers were discussing the sexual allegation involving the boy in charge, Br Aubin defended him by pointing out that ‘through all the morbid cases in the past his name was never mentioned’. This was recognition of the scale of the problem of sexual activity between boys in Letterfrack.
The problem that the Congregation dealt with in this case was the dispute between two Brothers; it did not deal with the cruel or unjust treatment of the boys or the failure of management to protect them. The contents of Br Aubin’s letter should have caused alarm to the Leadership of the Christian Brothers. If what he said was true, it disclosed a very serious episode of cruelty and injustice in Letterfrack. If what he said was not true, severe disciplinary action was called for against him. There should have been an immediate investigation into Br Maslin’s extreme violence against children for alleged offences that were denied by the boys and were disbelieved by other Brothers. The case illustrates how management was unable to deal with disputes between Brothers, even though they had a knock-on effect throughout the Institution and could lead to boys becoming victims of these disputes. Recommendation no. 9, as typed by the Visitor before he left Letterfrack, read ‘Manager to be present when punishment is being administered’. This was, in effect, a re-statement of the requirements of the Rules and Regulations governing industrial schools. The insertion of the words ‘beyond the ordinary’ amounted to a qualification. The amendment was highly significant because its effect was to render the injunction meaningless. It was a matter of individual interpretation what constituted punishment for which the Manager’s presence was required. The addition of these three words illustrated that keeping corporal punishment as an option for all Brothers was deemed essential to the running of the Institution. Br Percival14 (1949)
The issue arose again in 1945, in correspondence between Br Aubin and the Provincial, in which Br Aubin criticised the Disciplinarian, Br Maslin, in being overly severe in his punishment of the boys. This case has been discussed above and was a clear indication that sexual activity between boys was a persistent problem in Letterfrack at that time.
Until 1954, the farm was under the charge of one Brother, Br Aubin, who was consistently praised for his farming skills by Visitors to the school: ‘a good religious Brother and a capable farmer, a very useful devoted Brother’. The farm was, however, very labour intensive, and large numbers of boys were used as workers to keep it going. In 1942, the Visitor remarked that the rough nature of the ground, that did not allow for the use of a plough, meant that most of the tillage had to be done by spade. It was a significant source of income to the Institution and it provided the basic food requirements of the entire establishment. Even with the large numbers of boys assigned to the farm, it was hard, gruelling work. Full-time workers were assigned to the farm from 14 years of age, but all the children were engaged on a part-time basis after school and during holidays and weekends. Turf-cutting, sea-weed harvesting and saving the hay were some of the jobs undertaken by the younger children.
In 1944, the Visitor noted that Br Aubin had 40 of the bigger boys under his control at farm work. The Visitor criticised the fact that Br Aubin was frequently not with the boys when they were out working and they were left with a workman whose suitability for such a charge was very doubtful.