Cllr Martin McGuire informed government ministers of the brutal flogging of a 14-year-old boy called Gerard Fogarty from Limerick city in August 1945.
The determined effort of the city councillor is highlighted in a chapter on St Joseph’s Industrial School in the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, and it reveals that abuse at the County Limerick institution was known at Cabinet level thanks to Cllr McGuire who was not identified in the report.
His daughter, Patricia Dempsey, told the Limerick Leader this week that her late father was an honourable man who was not afraid to stand up for anything he believed in.
She said she was proud to discover the role her father played in this dark period of Irish history.
“I certainly was, we all were, because very few people did anything about it. He was very highly principled.”
In 1999, Ms Dempsey was contacted by Mary Raftery, the author of Suffer the Little Children, who informed her that a series of letters between Cllr McGuire and the Department of Education had been found.
The child at the centre of the case, Gerard Fogarty, who died in Limerick two years ago at the age of 77, outlined the horrific events that led Cllr McGuire to demand a public enquiry into industrial schools across the country.
He was flogged for escaping from St Joseph’s Industrial School after being committed there for skipping school.
The youngster ran away again that night and walked through fields for 32 miles until he returned to his mother in Limerick city.
“By the time I got home, the bleeding on my back had stopped and the blood had dried into my shirt. I must have been a terrible sight. My mother nearly tore the hair out of her head when she saw me.”
The Fogartys along with almost 100 of their neighbours arrived into Cllr McGuire’s offices at his mill and bakery business on Francis Street.
The councillor was so shocked by the boy’s injuries that he wrote a letter to the Minister for Education just two days later in which he stated that it was his “distasteful duty to draw your attention to what I consider is a matter of paramount public importance”.
He demanded to know if such a form of punishment was “prescribed by law”.
The councillor was relentless in his demands for a public enquiry into industrial schools and Borstal institutions, sending a series of letters to the Minister for Education and the Minister for Justice on the issue from August 1945 to May 1946, but none of his pertinent questions were answered.
“When he was told it wasn’t his business by the Minister, that he wouldn’t reveal what they did and what they didn’t do because it wasn’t his business,” his daughter said this week, “he wrote back and said it was his business because he was the representative of the people. I mean it really was shocking.”
On October 12 1945, Gerard’s mother received a letter from the head brother at Glin informing her that the Minister for Education had granted the discharge of her son.
On April 26, 1946, Cllr McGuire was incensed when he received a letter from Minister for Education Thomas Derrig which dismissed his calls for an enquiry as unnecessary.
He wrote to the Department that “the purpose of an enquiry would be to put the public in possession of the facts”.
The correspondence was found in the archive of Fr Flanagan of Boys Town in the US, who publicly denounced industrial schools during a visit to Ireland in 1946.
The Brother who flogged Gerard was transferred to another industrial school in Salthill, Co Galway at the end of 1946.
The commission’s report suggests that the Christian Brother was transferred during the New Year, a time when changes in personnel were common and would not attract gossip.
McGuire, who was a city councillor for a short period of time in the 1940s, died in 1964 of a massive heart attack while speaking at a business meeting in Dublin.
He is survived by his daughter Patricia Dempsey who lives in Quilty, Co Clare, his sons Mattie who lives in Adare, Billy who lives in Cappagh and James who lives in Australia.