The Hidden Ireland: Innocence destroyed, robbed of childhood — lives damaged beyond repair
By JIM CARNEY
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
At the entrance to the cemetery at Letterfrack
THAT FAMOUS literary quote, from the opening sentence of L. P. Hartley’s great novel The Go-Between, is considered to evoke feelings of nostalgia and innocence as an elderly man, Leo Colston, looks back on his childhood. But, as the patient reader learns, the story had at its bedrock regret, longing, class distinction, heartbreak, trauma and tragedy.The past is so often a dangerous place, too. A place of secrets and lies, cruelty, injustice, human exploitation and terrible, almost indescribable suffering.We know from history “man’s inhumanity to man” — from the Gulag Archipelago to Letterfrack Industrial School.Letterfrack (Leitir Fraoch — rough hillside, of heather) in North-West Connemara is a beautiful, vibrant place, of scenic splendour. Founded by the Quakers in the mid-19th century, it has a magnetic attraction for visitors from all over the world; it boasts thriving community life, the magnificent Connemara National Park, a furniture College and Campus for Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology; Connemara’s community radio service, and in history it has a central place in the great story of Marconi’s trans-Atlantic wireless receiver stations.Its dark, appalling, shameful secret for nearly a century, St Joseph’s Industrial School, is no longer a secret.Nor is the rest of “The Hidden Ireland” closed up and locked, with the keys thrown away. The light of revelation has also shone down on the shame of Artane Industrial School, Dublin, Carriglea Park, Dún Laoghaire; Daingean Reformatory, Co. Offaly; Clonmel, Co. Tipperary; Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, owned and managed by the Sisters of Mercy; Clifden Industrial School, Newtownforbes, Co. Longford and Dundalk (all three: Sisters of Mercy); two Industrial Schools in Kilkenny (Sisters of Charity); Glanmire, Passage West and Upton, all three in Co. Cork; Glin, Co. Limerick; Tralee; St Joseph’s School for the Deaf, Cabra; another Co. Galway industrial school, in Salthill; Goldenbridge Industrial School for girls, Inchicore, Dublin; St Martha’s Industrial School for girls in Bundoran, Co. Donegal, and several others, for boys and girls.From the huge public awareness and raw, psychologically acute concern which followed RTE film-maker Mary Raftery’s documentary States of Fear, in 1999, and her equally acclaimed follow-up book Suffer the Little Children, the Government set up, in 2000, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. What eventually became known as the Ryan Report — after Justice Seán Ryan had taken over as Commission chairperson from Justice Mary Laffoy — and with the publication of that report on May 20 2009 much, much more of the Hidden Ireland was uncovered.The Ryan Report was considered “a work of incalculable value to this country” and praised for “its meticulous gathering of evidence,” although “Justice has not been done as many of the abusers will never face the rigours of the law.”The report, which shocked the nation, painted a horrific picture of rampant abuse of children from one decade to the next, one county to the next.
• Physical and sexual abuse of boys. From the Letterfrack Industrial School era, evidence of sexual abuse by Christian Brothers and extreme physical punishments, going back to the 1930s. It’s estimated that 147 children died there while in the care of the Christian Brothers, mainly from abuse and neglect. The school was closed in 1974.• In a deal between the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr John McEvilly, and the Christian Brothers, in 1884-85, Letterfrack Industrial School was set up for 75 boys and in November 1912 the accommodation limit was increased to 190, despite the physical isolation of Letterfrack and the distances from the boys’ families, some of whom lived as far away as Dublin. The boys were stated to be “those who were homeless, without proper guardianship; destitute, in breach of the School Attendance Act, or guilty of criminal offences — ‘juvenile delinquents.’• The Ryan Report concluded that corporal punishment in Letterfrack was “severe, excessive and pervasive, and created a climate of fear”, that it was “the primary method of control … frequently capricious, unfair and inconsistent. No punishment book was kept and the Dept. of Education was found to be at fault for not ensuring one was maintained.” Sexual abuse by Christian Brothers “was a chronic problem in Letterfrack” and members of the order who served there “included those who had previously been guilty of sexual abuse of boys; those whose abuse was discovered while they worked in that institution, and some who were subsequently revealed to have abused boys.” The Christian Brothers “did not properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse of boys by Brothers” and “knew that Brothers who sexually abused boys were a continuing danger”. Also, sending known abusers to any industrial school was “an act of reckless disregard … especially one as remote and isolated as Letterfrack.” The handling of members of the order who committed abuse suggested “a policy of protecting the Brothers, the Community and the Congregation at the expense of the victims.”• Boys at Letterfrack, like boys and girls in the other institutions focused on by the Ryan Commission, also suffered from abuse, bullying and intimidation by their own peers, a lack of proper education and training, bad physical conditions, poor clothing, food and accommodation. It was “a Victorian model of childcare that failed to adapt to 20th Century conditions and did not prioritise the needs of children. Children were committed by the Courts using procedures with the trappings of the criminal law. The authorities were unwilling to address the failings in the system or consider alternatives.”• A report into St Joseph’s Industrial School, Tralee cited the case of a Brother who was violent and dangerous over a number of years. He was moved from a day school because his violence towards children was causing severe problems with their parents. He was moved to Tralee Industrial School. “Such a move displayed a callous disregard for the safety of children in care. He went on to terrorise children in Tralee for over seven years.”• One ex-Brother, now a Professor, gave evidence about his experience of Tralee and described a “cold, hostile culture; the boys were treated with harshness. It was a secret enclosed world, run on fear.”• Carriglea Park Industrial School, Dun Laoghaire had “a harsh punitive regime, facilitated by the transfer to the school of Brothers with a known propensity for severe punishment.”• In general, “girls’ schools were not as physically harsh as boys’ schools and there was no persistent problem of sexual abuse in girls’ schools although there was, at best, naiveté and at worst indifference in the way girls were sent out to foster families. A number of girls did experience sexual abuse at the hands of ‘godfathers’ which they were either unable to report or were disbelieved when they did report it.”• For boys and girls, the Ryan Report confirmed emotional abuse, neglect, hunger, the absence of “kindness and humanity,” while separating siblings and the restrictions on family contact “were profoundly damaging for family relationships. Some children lost their sense of identity and kinship, never to be recovered.”
TO this day, it is beyond the understanding of “survivors” (male and female) of Letterfrack, Artane, Daingean and the other houses of horror run by religious institutions in the so-called Island of Saints and Scholars that various authorities, warned of what was really going on, did not act. They looked the other way.The Ryan Report named two former Taoisigh, both deceased: Jack Lynch and Charlie Haughey. 1959 — “Minister of Education Jack Lynch received complaints about Upton School from Senator Gus Healy, the Mayor of Cork. A visit was arranged, with advance warning, and the case was dismissed.”1978 — “A child care worker at Madonna House kidnapped a boy in his care, took him to Edinburgh and drowned him in a bath in a hotel. The Minister for Health, Charles Haughey, rejected a call for a public enquiry into the matter, stating it “would serve no useful purpose.”
1944 — P. Ó Muircheartaigh, the Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools, reported that “the children are not properly fed … a serious indictment of the system of industrial schools run by nuns … semi-starvation and lack of proper care and attention … a state of affairs that shouldn’t be tolerated in a Christian community.”1946 — Fr. Flanagan, a native of Ballymoe and the famous founder of Boystown schools for orphans and delinquents in the USA, visits Irish industrial schools. He describes them as “a national disgrace,” leading to a public debate in the Dáil and media. State and Church pressure forces him to leave Ireland.1947 — Three-year-old Michael McQualter scalded to death in a hot bath in St Kyran’s Industrial School. An inquiry found the school to be “criminally negligent” but the case was not pursued by the Dept. of Education.1948 — Fr. Flanagan died of a heart attack, and with him the debate on Ireland’s industrial schools.1963 — The Bundoran Incident. Eight girls trying to escape from St Martha’s Industrial School had their heads shaved. It became a scandal when it was Page 1 news in a British tabloid with photos and the headline “Orphanage Horror”. A Dept. of Education official visited the Mother Superior of the Co. Donegal school to tell her that the Department was “unlikely to do anything of a disciplinary nature”.1970 — The Kennedy Report recommended closure of industrial schools, as Justice Kennedy was “appalled” by the “Dickensian and deplorable state” of industrial schools.1974 — Letterfrack and Daingean Industrial Schools closed down.1976 — RTE tribute programme to honour Bro. Joseph O’Connor, founder of the famous Artane Boys Band. He was subsequently proved to be a multiple rapist of boys in Artane Industrial School.1998 — The Christian Brothers in Ireland make a public apology to those who were physically or sexually abused in their care.
Barnardos’ family tracing service
IRELAND has only one public “tracing” service catering for the needs of people who grew up in industrial schools. This is the Barnardos Origins Tracing Service, started in 2002 and funded by the Dept. of Education and Science. Its purpose is to assist former residents of industrial schools with family tracing (parents and siblings, and relatives), mediation and information.Barnardos Origins, with offices in Dublin, Cork and Galway, provide specialized help, advice and support through the expertise and dedication of experienced professional staff. The service is free of charge and completely confidential.What does it not deal with? The Origins Service does not offer family tracing for people who were adopted or for those people who were separated from their families but did not spend time in an industrial school.The service is available to people who live all over the world. Staff from the three offices (Dublin, Cork and Galway) can meet or have phone contact with the person who wishes to trace their family. The hope is that the person ends up with a link to their family of origin or some information about their family. Tracing may not always end with a reunion.Of the thousands of children sent to industrial schools, the majority had no knowledge of their siblings. Some siblings could even have been in the same industrial school or in another industrial school, and they wouldn’t know about each other.When discharged from the industrial school, they were on their own. What often followed was emigration to England, America or Australia. Abroad, there was further erosion of the links with their family, their country, and their religion.Those who choose to find their families should contact the Barnardos Origins Information and Tracing Service.Tel. numbers: Dublin 01 4530355; Cork 021 4310591; Galway 091 388292.Confidentiality is guaranteed.