In a series of interviews conducted by the Christian Brothers in 2001 with Brothers who had served in a number of industrial schools, Br Ruffe57 who served as Resident Manager in Letterfrack from 1953 to 1959 described much more starkly the impact the decision to introduce ‘segregation’ had on Letterfrack.
He went on to describe how a predecessor of his had come up with a ‘brainwave’ to get extra cash for the School, by chartering a ship and getting a cargo of coal delivered to a small bay near the School, and he sold some of this to the locals and used the rest to run the furnaces. Later, the furnaces were converted to oil but Br Ruffe had to re-convert them back to coal ‘... and that gave us some form of subsistence. That was the only way we got a little alleviation’. He said the money from the Department was miserably low and it was not possible to keep a living, pay 12 employees, feed, clothe and educate the boys, and provide a trade for them, including purchasing materials and maintaining machinery.
Br Ruffe did not get the promised help from the Congregation to support the school after the 1954 decision. The Congregation had sufficient funds to meet the needs of the boys in Letterfrack but it did not make them available.
In his interview, Br Ruffe described the financial difficulties he faced in Letterfrack and the difficulties caused by the Provincial’s decision. The farm rarely made a profit, and everything it produced was put back into the school. Similarly, the shops produced little or no income. They generated their own electricity until the ESB58 came along, and the cost of switching to the ESB was covered by selling the rights back to the ESB.
The drop in numbers from 184 to 85 was a big financial loss to the school. After the changeover, there was a small trickle of boys, very small in the beginning. Justice McCarthy in Dublin stopped sending them altogether and these were the boys that Br Ruffe was relying on getting and they were not being sent. Other Christian Brothers’ industrial schools which were also in financial difficulties, although in his view not as difficult as Letterfrack, were taking in boys that they were not supposed to be taking under the new regime, so he arranged to meet Justice McCarthy. They had a robust discussion in which Justice McCarthy flatly told him he would not send boys so far away from their parents. Br Ruffe explained to the Justice that he thought it could be good for boys to be removed from sources of temptation that landed them in industrial schools in the first place. He felt that Letterfrack had a lot to offer despite its distance, lots of fresh air and country life, giving them an opportunity to re-orientate themselves by means of work, school and education. He pointed out that he himself during his training as a Christian Brother was only allowed one visit per year from his family. He also promised to facilitate parents as much as possible by putting them up overnight or taking the boys into Galway to meet their families when they travelled. He said that the Justice took his views on board and began to send boys to Letterfrack. Unfortunately, Justice McCarthy did not live for too long after this and he had the same problems with his successor. This required another visit to explain the position to him and, following on Justice Ryan visiting Letterfrack to see for himself, he also began to send boys there.
Dr McCabe reported that the food was slightly improved in 1957 although ‘much remains to be done – old archaic system still in use for cooking – very poor facilities, no modern equipment’. Again she made a general observation: Well conducted school on the whole – I would really like to see a number of improvements here – clothing, living conditions and cooking arrangements. I have often made suggestions but each time I feel up against a stone wall as always I am told – increase the grant – give more money and of course I realise their difficulties – but all the same I will have to insist on better conditions for the boys. Br Ruffe the Resident Manager is very argumentative and difficult to persuade.
The situation in Letterfrack had reached an all-time low by 1959. Br Ruffe, the Resident Manager, had been hospitalised for 18 months and, to use his own description in 2001, ‘was practically an invalid’.
In 1959, the Provincial wrote to the acting Manager and told him that he had visited the Resident Manager who was convalescing, and complained to him about the small quantities of porridge which the boys were provided with, and the fact that the boys had three meatless days in a week. Br Ruffe told the Provincial that he believed it to be only two days a week without meat. The Provincial asked Br Malleville, who was Disciplinarian in Letterfrack, to inquire into this discreetly and discover whether the boys had been having three dinners of bread and tea over a long period. He also said that the issue of the meat was one that required an immediate remedy. This internal inquiry found that the boys received meat every day, and the only days they would not have meat was during Easter and fasting days.
In his interview with the Christian Brothers that was dealt with above, Br Ruffe described his reaction on being told that he was being sent to Letterfrack: Well now, when I went to Letterfrack and don’t mind admitting it and when I was told I was going to Letterfrack I shed bitter tears because I had paid a passing visit there when I was on holidays some years previously and when we went into the school that day, the fact that it was so far away from every place it affected me more I’d say than it would affect a boy and the fact that when I go in there at all was an upset in itself but I soon got used to that, after all it was my vocation.