In 1960, the criminal trial of a man who lived beside the Reformatory gave rise to concerns about the supervision of the boys and to enquiries by the Department. Patrick O’Reilly 31 was found not guilty on charges of buggery, attempted buggery and indecent assault, but was convicted of assisting in an escape from the Reformatory and harbouring an escapee. He was given a two-month suspended sentence. An outstanding charge of indecent assault was not proceeded with by the State.
When he was on remand in Mountjoy, he asked the Governor of the prison to allow him to speak to a Garda about events that he alleged had occurred whilst he was in Daingean. He told the Garda that a lay teacher, Mr Murphy,33 often took a group of boys down to the canal for swimming when the weather was fine, and that Mr O’Reilly befriended the teacher, who allowed the boys to visit the man’s house. This continued throughout that summer.
The boy alleged that the man sexually abused him and other boys during these visits, on one of which he was given alcohol by Mr O’Reilly and claimed that he passed out and did not come to until the next morning. He absconded from Daingean and went to Mr O’Reilly’s house where, he alleged, Mr O’Reilly forced him to hide until Christmas. He was locked in during the day and subjected to sexual assaults at night. Eventually, he escaped by breaking down the door and ran away to Dublin, where he remained at large until his arrest a month later on house-breaking charges. Whether the boy was imprisoned, as he claimed, or stayed willingly in the house, there is no doubt that he was there for a time and ultimately made good his escape from the Reformatory, because the owner was convicted of harbouring him and assisting his escape.
On hearing this story, the Garda investigated further and questioned five boys. Their interviews were conducted in the presence of Br Jaime, the Prefect of Daingean. Some of these boys, who were aged between 15 and 16, alleged that Mr O’Reilly had exposed himself to them, and some of them said that they had exposed themselves in turn. The Garda also interviewed neighbours of Mr O’Reilly, who confirmed that the reformatory boys were often in the house and that the lay teacher would leave them there and then come back for them later.
The investigating Garda observed in his report to his Superintendent: The facts of this case disclose a certain amount of laxity in the disciplinary supervision of the inmates of the Reformatory. The Superior of the School has informed the local Sergeant that he was unaware of the boys habit of frequenting [O’Reilly’s] house ... It will be noted that on most, if not all, of the occasions in which the boys visited [O’Reilly’s] house, they were in charge of Mr. [Murphy], the Music Master ... It is not suggested that Mr. [Murphy] was in actual collusion with [O’Reilly] but it would appear that he displayed an attitude of indifference to the moral welfare of his charges.
When the trial was over, the matter was brought to the attention of the Department of Education, who requested in a memorandum of May 1960 that the Resident Manager be asked to comment on the circumstances under which the boys were allowed to gather in Mr O’Reilly’s house, ‘supervision was undoubtedly lax here’ and to establish whether there was any suspicion as to the teacher’s misconduct with the boys.
He then went on to make the revealing comment: In fact, a short time previously, [Brady] had been punished for breaking bounds and warned against going to [O’Reilly’s]. This punishment and warning was given to [Brady] by the Prefect, Bro. [Jaime]. Besides, [Brady] himself admitted to me that he had been in [O’Reilly’s].
The Resident Manager knew that Michael Brady had been punished for going to Mr O’Reilly’s on a previous occasion but it appears that the Gardaí were not informed about that; otherwise, Mr O’Reilly’s house would have been searched. The Resident Manager actually gave the Gardaí an entirely different impression by telling the Sergeant that he was unaware of the boys’ habit of visiting the house. The Resident Manager undermined the possibility of prosecution of Mr O’Reilly by denigrating the boy in this case, in the full knowledge that the most serious allegations had been made by five other boys against this man. The circumstances in which a group of boys could visit this man’s house on numerous occasions over a period of five months, in the words of the contemporary comment of the investigating Garda, ‘displayed an attitude of indifference to the moral welfare’ of the boys in care. The Resident Manager’s readiness to dismiss complaints of serious misconduct in respect of boys in his care, which were under investigation by the Gardaí, indicated an irrational scepticism that cannot be ignored when considering how other reports of abuse might have been received. Notwithstanding the gravity of this episode involving: a criminal investigation in which boys and staff up to the Resident Manager were interviewed; a subsequent trial on indictment with a conviction on escape-related charges; and embarrassing and potentially damaging queries from the Department, no records of this appeared in the files of the Institution or the Congregation, and no information existed as to what was done for the other boys who were involved and who were still detained in the Reformatory.