You'd hear the younger ones screaming during the night, the twelve and thirteen year olds. There was a night watchman who used to patrol the dormitories with an ash plant on his shoulder. You'd see him constantly bringing down that stick onto a boy in a bed with his full force, about five or six times. There were an awful lot of priests and brothers there in my time. The priests were unimpeachable, they beat the boys with complete impunity. No one ever interfered.

Location: Ireland

The Ryan Report I hold fast to the view that there must be no more deals, secret or otherwise done between Religious orders and the Government of Ireland without indepth consultation with people who were abused while in the care of religious orders or the state.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Former provincial of Oblates and reformatory manager

Fr William McGonagle: Fr William McGonagle, who has died aged 86, was former provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ireland, Britain and Brazil.

He was also a former resident manager of St Conleth's Reformatory School for Boys in Daingean, Co Offaly, and chairman of the Association of Resident Managers of Industrial and Reformatory Schools.

In 1970, the Kennedy committee, established to examine reformatories and industrial schools and chaired by District Justice Eileen Kennedy, recommended that Daingean should be immediately closed down. This was done in 1974.

Boys convicted of (mostly petty) crimes were committed to St Conleth's. It opened in 1870 "to correct the evil habits acquired and supply the defects in the upbringing of the boys committed . . . [ and] to train a boy, if possible, to be able to earn his living".

However in 1955, a senior Department of Education official expressed strong reservations about the running of the school. A former Oblate priest and staff member depicted the school at that time as "pre-Dickensian" and a "horrific place". Another priest in the early 1960s, referred to the frequent use of "severe punishment".

Fr McGonagle in 1968 told visiting members of the Kennedy committee, "openly and without embarrassment", how boys were beaten on the buttocks with a leather strap. Asked why he allowed boys to be stripped naked for punishment, he replied, "in a matter of fact way", that he considered punishment to be more humiliating when it was administered in that fashion.

The Department of Justice representative on the committee signed the final Kennedy report only on condition that the Daingean punishments ceased. The published report contained no reference to the practice. Peter Berry, secretary of the Department of Justice, deemed that such disclosure would have caused "a grave public scandal".

Born in Buncrana, Co Donegal, in 1920, he was one of seven children of Denis McGonagle and his wife Kate Doherty. Educated locally and at St Columb's College, he left school at 16 to work on the family farm.

Six years later he entered Mount Melleray college, resumed his education and completed the Leaving Certificate. He joined the Oblates in September 1944 and was ordained priest in June 1950. He spent the next 14 years giving parish missions in Britain and Ireland.

Appointed to St Conleth's in 1964, in a memorandum on Daingean a year later he recommended "complete obliteration and start right from the foundations again".

He increased the number of teachers, introduced art and literature classes and secured national school status for the reformatory. He arranged for some of the boys to attend the Christian Brothers school in Tullamore. In addition he fostered social and sporting links between the boys and local people, and sought to extend the psychological and psychiatric services.

Yet overall conditions remained grim. Writing in 1966 of the Daingean boys, Michael Viney in this newspaper stated: "Theirs is a world of overriding shabbiness and decrepitude". On a positive note he said Fr McGonagle was a man "of integrity and concern".

He returned to mission work in 1972, but four years later was appointed to manage Scoil Árd Mhuire, a new Oblate-run special school in Lusk, Co Dublin. It was a vast improvement on Daingean. Sr Stanislaus Kennedy came to know him at this time, and this week paid tribute to his "great humanity" and "commitment to change". He remained in charge until his election as Oblate provincial in 1982, a position he held until 1988.

In 1984 he decided to withdraw the Oblates from childcare at Lusk, following the State's failure to accede to a request for extra staff.

For 50 years Fr McGonagle was director of the annual Oblate pilgrimage to Lourdes. In 1988 he became a member of the parish team in Inchicore, with a special ministry to the Travelling community.

The issue of child abuse in residential institutions cast a shadow over his final years. "I never thought it could be there in the undergrowth," he wrote. "Maybe it should have been on my mind, but any conference I attended - and I attended many - this thing never surfaced as a problem and God knows, everything was discussed."

He is survived by his brother Hugh, a Columban missionary in Chile, nieces and nephews.

Fr William McGonagle: born August 30th, 1920; died April 7th, 2007

© 2007 The Irish Times

Monday, June 26, 2006

Oblates' role in running Daingean

Madam, - Patsy McGarry's disgraceful "lambasting" of the Oblates whom he described as the most "obdurate" of religious congregations (June 6th), met with a most tempered and admirable rebuff by Breda O'Brien (June 10th).

I don't know if Mr McGarry ever visited Daingean or has in fact ever met an Oblate priest or brother in his life or knows anything about the humanitarian work they do in some of the poorest places in the world.

My own experience of the Oblates, gained from my youth growing up in Daingean in the 1960s together with a four-year stint with them as a student for the priesthood (1972-76) gave me some insight into what exactly went on - and didn't go on - in the "reformatory".

I was aghast at the tenor of Mr McGarry's diatribes. He appears totally oblivious to the reality that in the 1960s, in schools throughout Ireland, corporal punishment was administered to some children, to a degree which, if it had occurred in St Conleth's (Daingean), would have resulted in a far greater number of abuse claims against the Oblates.

In particular, I found Mr McGarry's personal onslaught on Fr Hughes - a Welshman with no axe to grind with anyone - hard to take. I had the privilege of knowing him as a kind and most caring man throughout my four years with the Oblates.

He was also on the staff at Milltown Park Institute of Philosophy and Theology, Ranelagh, where Oblate students, together with other religious attended. To add insult to injury the startling photo used does a grave injustice to Fr Hughes.

Ms O'Brien got it right when she stated that a fuller picture of what happened behind the scenes included a horrendous amount of "buck-passing between various government departments" - some things never change! All Oblates, their families and friends - are indeed "deeply hurt by the one-sided and damning media portrayal" of their best efforts in circumstances and times a world removed from the 20/20 vision of today. - Yours, etc,

JH, RL, Leixlip, Co Kildare.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Priest condemned committal system

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

A letter sent in 1971 by the resident manager at Daingean reformatory in Co Offaly to the Garda Commissioner, in which he threatened to refuse admission to boys sent there, was described yesterday as a cri de coeur by Justice Sean Ryan of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

Fr William McGonagle had asked for a week's notice before the arrival of any boy.

Earlier yesterday, a hearing of the commission's investigation committee, which Justice Ryan chairs, was told Fr McGonagle had described the manner of committal by the courts of boys to Daingean as "a monstrous arrangement". He made the comments in a letter to his superior in the late 1960s.

Boys would arrive from the courts "at all hours of the day or night" while accompanying gardaí had "not a clue" about the boys' past history. He contrasted the situation with that operating in England where boys were assessed in advance as to their suitability for particular schools.

What was happening at Daingean "must stop", he had said, as "no constructive rehabilitation can be initiated" in such circumstances.

James Martin, assistant secretary at the Department of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform, who was giving evidence, agreed it was "certainly not a desirable situation".

Colm Ó hOisín, for the Oblate congregation which managed Daingean, said that in March 1971 Fr McGonagle had written to the Department of Education saying he would accept only those boys who would benefit from the treatment programmes available there.

Such was the situation then that boys were confusing the role of Brothers, asking "is he a Brother or a screw?"

Repressive measures were the order of the day for the purpose of containment, "the result of a take-all policy", he had said. He recalled that among the boys were the "violent, the emotionally disturbed, the psychotic".

He stated in the letter: "No one gave a second thought to the problem as long as [ Daingean] took all." It was "a pure outrage".

Mr Martin pointed out that Daingean was the only institution to which such young offenders could be referred.

He agreed with Mr Ó hOisín that the department should have been more pro-active in ensuring young offenders were sent to places of detention suited to their mental and medical capacities.

Later in his evidence he agreed that a very heated row between then minister for education Padraig Faulkner and minister for justice Desmond O'Malley over Marlborough House remand centre in 1971 delayed resolution of the problem.

The hearing was also told reforms by ministers for justice Charles Haughey and Brian Lenihan in the 1960s were frustrated by slow responses from the Department of Education.

A journalist, John Cooney, religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Independent , is seeking an apology from a solicitor representing the Christian Brothers at today's session of the investigation committee of the commission.

This follows comments made by the solicitor at yesterday's hearing about the journalist and a book he had written.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Scapegoating not the way to uncover the truth

Breda O'Brien

'We like our scapegoats, we like our simple stories," Prof Hannah McGee said last week while talking about the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report.

Her point was that it would be easier for us all if there were clearly identifiable groups in society that were responsible for most sexual abuse. Instead, the stark reality is that it is so pervasive as to be almost beyond comprehension. She also said that when it comes to religious/clerical abusers and biological fathers, that people tend to believe that the prevalence rate is much higher in these two categories because of the abhorrence they feel. All abuse is horrendous, yet undeniably, there is a higher level of revulsion when either a father, or someone promoting a high moral code, breaches trust in such a criminal fashion.

She was essentially reiterating what she said in a September 2003 interview with Sarah McDonald in The Irish Catholic. People seize on the figure from the report, that 3.2 per cent of abuse is perpetrated by clerical and religious abusers. Given that people in religious life are a tiny minority of the population, they extrapolate that this figure of 3.2 per cent must prove a greater propensity among clergy to abuse. Not so, Prof McGee says.

The report identified that 3.2 per cent of victims had been abused by a religious minister or a religious teacher. It did not identify the percentage of clerical abusers. In theory, this entire figure could be accounted for by a "small number of very active abusers".

In other words, you cannot take the figure of 3.2 per cent and say that it represents the number of clergy who abuse, because clergy and religious sadly had more access to children and each abuser was likely to have numerous victims. When Prof McGee spoke about this issue earlier this week, it was on a sensitively handled radio programme chaired by Vincent Browne that concentrated on the "other" 96.8 per cent of sexual abuse. Astute readers may notice that this is the same Vincent Browne that I took a highly personalised swipe at two weeks ago. I claimed that he was wrong to fulminate about the unique hypocrisy of the Catholic Church in relation to sexual abuse and complained that he did not make programmes about the other 96.8 per cent.

As well as my intemperate tone, I failed to acknowledge that Vincent has probably done more than any other commentator to keep the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report in the public eye, and for that I am sorry.

"We like our scapegoats, we like our simple stories."

These words echoed in my mind this week in relation to another news story, that of the Oblate Order's testimony about Daingean at the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. I had a very peripheral involvement with Daingean. Six years ago, while still writing for the Sunday Business Post, I was approached by a retired civil servant named Risteard Mac Conchradha. He had been a member of the Kennedy committee whose 1970 report signalled the beginning of the end for industrial schools. He wanted me to write about the horrors he and others had uncovered in Daingean. He had doggedly sought the closure of the reformatory, then for more than 30 years sought to publicise the harm that he felt was done to helpless and vulnerable children. When he retired, he felt free to paint a fuller picture of what happened behind the scenes, including an unflattering portrait of buck-passing between various government departments.

For some people, I would probably seem an odd choice to write such an article. Indeed, this very week, it was implied that my well-known Catholic faith commitment has so clouded my vision as to lay me open to the charge of being an apologist for sexual abuse of children by clergy. Thankfully, that was not how Risteard saw me. When he visited Daingean with others from the Kennedy committee, what they found appalled him. Conditions were Dickensian. The boys had been committed for everything from robbing orchards to stabbings; some were exceptionally difficult to handle. After a tip-off from a lay teacher, the priest in charge, Fr Willie MacGonagle, was questioned about punishment practices and freely admitted that any boy who had committed a misdemeanour during the day was called out at night from an over-crowded dormitory. He was then leathered on the bare buttocks in the presence of other boys. Later, Risteard was shocked that a visiting committee could have uncovered such a practice so easily but that the Department of Education, which was charged with inspection, could deny knowledge of such a practice.

Afterwards, and perhaps even more oddly given my original article on Daingean, I was approached by the Oblates to help Fr MacGonagle put his version of events together. Risteard, who is now dead, was a person of utmost integrity and utterly credible. I discovered that Fr MacGonagle, far from being a monster, is a man struggling to come to terms with his stewardship of Daingean. As a matter of verifiable record, he had been a progressive reformer who sought to humanise conditions for the boys, but was frustrated at every turn by public and State indifference. Those who are trying to highlight the desperate plight of some 300 asylum-seeking children who have simply disappeared from our system, to who knows what awful fate, will understand and perhaps empathise with how difficult it is to effect change for those that society considers of little value.

Fr MacGonagle is deeply hurt by the one-sided and damning media portrayal of the efforts of himself and others. He said to me: "It was taken as read and written down in stone that we were stone-age people with stone-age hearts who gloated and feasted on the sensitivities of other people." Incidentally, Risteard could not be blamed for this one-sided portrayal. He was always more nuanced and careful not to issue blanket condemnations.

Perhaps even writing this article will just lay me open to the charge once again of being an apologist for the indefensible. I suppose I will just have to rely on the innate fairness in people and their ability to see that simple stories and scapegoating, rarely if ever portray the messy complexity of human life.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

'Living hell' reformatory claim rejected

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

To describe the reformatory at Daingean, Co Offaly, as "a living hell" was to paint a completely false picture, the investigation committee of the Child Abuse Commission was told yesterday.

Fr Michael Hughes, archivist with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation which managed the St Conleth's reformatory, was responding to questions from Tim O'Leary, counsel for some former residents.

Fr Hughes had spent two summers briefly involved with supervision at Daingean.

The commission received 322 abuse complaints from former residents at St Conleth's and at Scoil Ard Mhuire at Oberstown, Lusk, Co Dublin, also managed by the Oblate congregation.

In his evidence yesterday Fr Hughes agreed there had been management failures at Daingean, that corporal punishment had been "unreasonably severe" and that peer sexual abuse was likely, but he did not accept it was widespread.

As to sexual abuse of boys by Brothers at Daingean, he accepted there was "evidence of some" though he was not saying he accepted the evidence given.

He said there was no awareness of such a possibility at the time. The fact was, in society then, people "didn't have the slightest idea it (sexual abuse of young people by adults) existed."

It was "not on people's minds in those days," he said, and noted books on family law at the time hadn't a chapter on it. "I am not a native of Ireland. I was a newcomer to this country. I thought you were all saints," he said.

He agreed with Mr O'Leary that in private hearings before the committee he had heard allegations by former residents of rape, forced oral sex, and voyeurism on the part of one Brother. Asked if he had been shocked by these, he said he had read the written complaints so he could not say he was shocked as he had heard them before.

As to whether hearing the allegations made personally had an emotional effect on him he replied that he "was not a very emotional person . . . it was, naturally, very unpleasant."

He was queried by Mr O'Leary on "the concept of the gobbler's cup" whereby boys in Daingean "would bark out the name of a person subject to (sexual) abuse and mark his cup . . . as nobody wanted to drink out of the gobbler's cup". Fr Hughes agreed it was unlikely that was made up.

On evidence of physical abuse he felt that some of it was "credible and some I think was exaggerated". He believed very few Brothers kept their own straps and did not accept that one Brother's evidence to the committee that he had his own strap for 21 years until it was stolen by a boy, was evidence the situation at Daingean was not controlled.

He accepted one former resident had said he had been beaten with a leather 140 times on one occasion at Daingean and that this involved five different Brothers. However he didn't have the discipline books to check this. He believed, from evidence to the committee private hearings and from talking to Brothers, that punished boys received between two and six straps at a time, when punished.

He agreed there were gangs and a hierarchy among the boys with newcomers known as "fish". He did not agree it was a situation which got out of control, though there were disturbances at times. "Discipline at the school was very severe for that very purpose, so staff could keep control. It was intended as protection for the children . . . these lads were not small boys."

He agreed the Brothers worked all year around, seven days a week with no day off until the 1970s, and that 20 of them were responsible for 150 boys.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Order apologises to former residents

Patsy McGarry

In his evidence to the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse yesterday, Father Michael Hughes, for the Oblate congregation, acknowledged shortcomings in their management at Daingean reformatory and apologised "unreservedly" for suffering caused to former residents there by excessive physical punishment and some sexual abuse.

He said: "It is now clear that there were management failures. In very many cases those failures were because we did not have sufficient resources at our disposal.

"Perhaps with hindsight we should have faced the fact and withdrawn from participation in the institution."

The congregation "operated a system put together and sponsored financially by the State. They did their best with the meagre resources available to them. The resources were seriously deficient," he said.

"The school buildings were old and unsuitable. The school lacked elementary facilities such as decent classrooms. It was starved of capital and income. As a consequence, education and training programmes were very limited."

He continued: "Failures at management level did not impact only on the boys. They also seriously affected the Oblates working in the school.

"It is a tragedy that men who gave so much of their lives to this work should in the last decade have been characterised in such a blanket way as abusers."

On complaints of physical and sexual abuse, he said it was for the commission to make its findings but the Oblates "condemn without reservation any such acts. We point out, however, the very serious difficulties in coming to conclusions in this regard."

Accused staff still living deny any wrongdoing while many accused staff were dead and could not defend themselves, Father Hughes said.

"If the commission makes findings that there were instances of sexual abuse, we acknowledge that the consequences for the boys affected are incalculable. Based on the facts presented we do not believe there was evidence of widespread sexual abuse.

"The infliction of excessive corporal punishment would have had serious psychological effects for the boys. We accept and do not contest that the punishment as described by some of the complaints in Phase 2 (the private hearings) was unreasonably severe," Father Hughes said.

"We acknowledge that punishment for activities such as attempting to escape from the reformatory was excessive. Corporal punishment was, however, standard practice in primary and secondary schools for much of the 20th century."

He pointed out that "the State not only sanctioned corporal punishment with straps and birches, but also provided regulations for its use.

"Corporal punishment did not become illegal in Irish schools until 1982, more than a decade after its total abolition by the Oblates in Daingean reformatory."

He said the boys at Daingean stood very low in the State's priorities. The poverty at the reformatory was a choice society made, he added.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Church denial of truth over abuse must end

It is time the Catholic Church and its apologists acknowledged the scale of what happened at the Daingean and Lusk reformatories, writes Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

The most obdurate of the religious congregations which managed residential institutions for children will appear before the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse today. They, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ireland, managed St Conleth's reformatory at Daingean in Co Offaly and Scoil Mhuire in Lusk, Co Dublin. A total of 322 abuse complaints have been made by former residents of both.

Appearing before the committee in May 2005, the congregation's Fr Michael Hughes strongly rejected allegations of serious sexual and physical abuse at Daingean. Concerning allegations of sexual abuse by staff there, he said "immoral, impure conduct", strictly forbidden at the reformatory, "was a problem among the boys".

And on physical abuse? "The punishment was very, very severe, but I feel it would be an injustice to the men of the time to say it was abuse," he said. No punishment books - required by law - had survived from there.

He didn't know why.

He was aware of concerns expressed by members of the Kennedy Committee, which inspected Daingean in 1968, at the administration of corporal punishment to boys' bare buttocks and that the then resident manager Fr McGonagle appeared to accept the value of such punishment as "more humiliating".

Fr McGonagle, he said, had denied acknowledging the added value of such humiliation, though he did not deny boys so punished were naked with their shirts pulled up. Fr Hughes accepted as "an honest statement of what was observed" a 1966 report which said corporal punishment at Daingean was "used frequently. When it is used it is very severe and in my opinion cannot in any circumstances be justified".

He disputed complaints that the boys were not fed properly and disagreed with an internal Department of Education memo which said there was "shameful neglect" of the boys' education and that they were being made use of as labourers.

He disputed findings by the Kennedy Committee on Daingean that the boys were "dirty and unkempt", that showers at Daingean were "rusted and disintegrating" through lack of use, and that toilets were "dirty and unsanitary". He contrasted those Kennedy findings with a "very careful" 1966 report from a Dr Lysaght.

He disagreed with Justice Seán Ryan, chairman of the committee, that it seemed "eccentric" to accept the findings of one report and reject those of the other.

The hearing was also told six Oblate Brothers at Daingean had nervous breakdowns between 1964 and 1969. Fr Hughes agreed men under such stress "might snap and become abusive", though he felt they "were [ now] being treated very unfairly".

Fr Hughes blamed the shortcomings at Daingean on the poor level of State funding. Yet in 1955, after a visit there, the secretary of the Department of Education described Daingean as "Dickensian" and said conditions in which its cows were kept were considerably better than those for the boys. He added: "I am of the opinion that very handsome profits are made on the farm, but I can see no evidence of any of the profits being ploughed back for the benefit of the boys."

You might say, in light of so much documented and objective evidence, that Fr Hughes is somewhat deluded where Daingean is concerned. That is for the commission to decide. But, if so, Fr Hughes is not unique.

Where some bishops, priests and many among the "our-church-right-or-wrong" brigade are concerned there is a similar tendency. For example, they have been using one statistic from the Savi Report (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland), published in 2002 by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, with unseemly regularity for the last four years.

As recently as May 27th, Breda O'Brien trotted it out on these pages in criticism of Vincent Browne. "He is aware that only 3 per cent of sexual abuse is carried out by religious or clergy. Yet how many programmes have focused on the other 97 per cent?" she asked.

That "3 per cent" is in fact 3.2 per cent. The same Savi Report found that 2.5 per cent of abuse was by fathers.

It means that religious or clergy (ie, diocesan priests, priests in religious congregations, and brothers) as a social cohort are more than 1.25 times more likely to abuse than biological fathers.

Indeed, from what is known, there is little to suggest any other relevant social cohort - teachers, social or care workers - reach such levels when it comes to abuse. Ignorance of this, wilful or otherwise, should not be indulged anymore, particularly following the welcome decision by Pope Benedict last month that the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marciel Maciel Degollado, be restricted in ministry on foot of allegations of sex abuse spanning decades.

It set a new example where Rome is concerned.

When that decision was announced the legionaries and their lay Regnum Christi movement issued an extraordinary statement.

It said that, following the Pope's decision, Fr Maciel had "declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way". The comparison is odious, perhaps blasphemous.

Delusion hardly comes greater, but in this instance it has been challenged, at last. While some senior figures in the Catholic Church here have shown commendable leadership on this issue it is about time that others, and their apologists, did so too. It is time they followed the example of Pope Benedict, acknowledged the elephant in the sacristy, and dealt with it.

© The Irish Times

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What The Oblates Have To Say

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Oblates strongly rejected there were any incidents of buggery, rape and sodomy in Daingean.

Oblates "totally and completely denied" the sexual abuse allegations.

Oblates say: "immoral, impure conduct", strictly forbidden at the reformatory.

Oblates denied severe corporal punishment in Daingean was abuse.

Oblates were "surprised" at the numerous complaints of physical abuse.

Oblates " would contend [severe physical punishment] was done in good faith and that people at the time didn't think it was abusive."

Oblates agreed "the punishment was very, very severe but I feel it would be an injustice to the men of the time to say it was abuse."

Oblates aware of concerns of members of the Kennedy committee, which inspected Daingean in 1968, at the administration of corporal punishment to the boys over the bare buttocks and that the then resident manager there, Fr McGonagle, appeared to accept the value of such punishment as "more humiliating". Oblates had not denied the boys so punished were naked or had their shirts pulled up.

Oblates accepted as "an honest statement of what was observed" a 1966 report which said corporal punishment at Daingean was "used frequently. When it is used it is very severe."

Oblates disputed complaints that the boys had not been fed properly.

Oblates disagreed with an internal Department of Education memo which said there was "shameful neglect" of the boys' education and that they were being made use of as labourers.

Oblates disputed findings by the Kennedy committee that the boys were "dirty and unkempt"

Oblatesdisputed that the showers at Daingean were "rusted and disintegrating" through lack of use,

Oblates disputed that toilets were "dirty and unsanitary".

Oblates disagreed with Justice Ryan that it seemed "eccentric" to accept the findings of one such report while rejecting that of the other.

Oblates admit that no punishment books - required by law - had survived from Daingean. Oblates don't know what happened to them.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Brain of Oblate Examined

The Oblates and Abuse

Father Useless and his "testimony"

Father Useless refused to describe beatings on the bare buttocks with a strap as 'abuse'

Father Useless stated the sexual abuse allegations were "totally and completely denied" by the Oblates.

Father Useless said the Oblate Order was "surprised" at the numerous complaints of physical abuse received by the commission.
No punishment books - required by law - had survived from Daingean. He didn't know what happened to them.

Father Useless said the Oblates denied there was "shameful neglect" of the boys' education and that they were being made use of as labourers.

Father Useless said the Oblates denied the boys were "dirty and unkempt" and that the showers at Daingean were "rusted and disintegrating" through lack of use, or that toilets were "dirty and unsanitary"

Father Useless said The Oblates admitted that strapping of the bare buttocks of boys had occurred.

Father Useless said that the strapping of the bare buttocks of boys was carried out "in good faith"

Father Useless said that people at the time "didn't think strapping boys on the bare buttocks was abuse".

Father Useless conceded that the punishment could be "very, very severe",

Father Useless said he would be "doing an injustice to the men of that time to say it was abuse".

Father Useless said that men under such stress "might snap and become abusive"

Father Useless was aware of concerns of members of the Kennedy committee, which inspected Daingean in 1968, at the administration of corporal punishment to the boys over the bare buttocks and that the then resident manager there, Fr McGonagle, appeared to accept the value of such punishment as "more humiliating". Fr McGonagle, he said, denied saying he accepted the added value of such humiliation, though he had not denied the boys so punished were naked or had their shirts pulled up.


KENNEDY REPORT 1970 [[ PRIVATE PAPERS of Kennedy Committee February 28th. 1968]] .

Both of the doctors on the Kennedy Committee (Dr. John Ryan & Dr. J.G. O'Hagan) then put a number of questions to Fr. McGonagle (Manager of Daingean) about the circumstances associated with the corporal punishment of the boys. He replied openly and without embarrassment that ordinarily the boys were called out of the dormitories after they had retired, and that they were punished here on one of the stairway landings. The boys wore nightshirts as sleeping attire when they were called for punishments. Punishment was applied to the buttocks with a leather. I put the only question that I asked in respect of corporal punishment at this juncture.

I asked if the boys were undressed of their nightshirts when they were punished. Fr. McGonagle replied that at times they were. He elaborated some further remarks to the effect that the nightshirts were pulled up when this was done. This remark was subsequently commented upon by the Committee members in private discussion. The point was made that when boys were punished with the leather they could hardly be expected to remain still and his struggles were likely to enlarge the state of his undress, and the likelihood that a struggling boy could be struck anywhere on the naked body could not be excluded.

Some other Committee members asked why he allowed boys to be stripped naked for punishment, and Fr.McGonagle replied, in a matter of a fact manner, that he considered punishment to be more humiliating when it was administered in that way.


District Justice Eileen Kennedy of the Dublin Children's Court wrote to the Dept. of Education on the 4th. April 1968, seeking details of ALL complaints received over the previous five years, and how THESE complaints had being dealt with. OVER A YEAR LATER, the Department had STILL NOT RESPONDED. Justice Kennedy sent a sharp reminder on the 5th. May 1969. It reads: My Committee is concerned at the failure to obtain replies to enquiries made to your Department affecting your Reformatory & Industrial Schools Branch. These include

1. Letter sent in April 1968 asking for details of complaints made to your Department referring to Industrial Schools, and how they were dealt with. Reminder sent in April 1969.

2. A letter sent in June 1968 regarding Daingean. Reminder sent in March 1969.

3. A complaint made by the ISPCC regarding an alleged incident of excessive corporal punishment at Artane Industrial School. The ISPCC brought up this matter at a meeting with the Committee.

4. An enquiry made by a member of this Committee in his official capacity in connection with an incident at Marlborough House Glasnevin.

While it is appreciated that in certain cases, enquiries could be protracted this hardly justifies the failure to obtain any kind of reply.

..... THESE PRIVATE PAPERS ARE MISSING .... The Files are KAPUT!! Most, if not ALL of the Working Papers used by the members of the Kennedy Report(1970) are believed to have been kept by the Dept. Of Education and are thought to have been in existence at least up to 1995.

Coincidentally a Br. P.A. O'Raghallaigh (described as Manager Artane School) and a Sr. Caoimhin Ni Chaoimh (described as Little Sisters of the Assumpta) as members of the Kennedy Committee

.... I make no ASSUMPTIONS here, maybe because I don't need to.

Daingean Described

"You'd hear the younger ones screaming during the night, the twelve and thirteen year olds . . . There was a night watchman who used to patrol the dormitories with an ash plant on his shoulder. You'd see him constantly bringing down that stick onto a boy in a bed with his full force, about five or six times . . . There were an awful lot of priests and brothers there in my time . . . The priests were unimpeachable, they beat the boys with complete impunity. No one ever interfered. They were a total law into themselves . . . It was the closest thing I've ever seen to an SS prison camp. The kids were just kicked and bullied and beaten and starved, all the time." (Hugh, a former Oblate priest who worked in 1957 at St Conleth's Reformatory, Daingean, run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.)

- - - - - - - - - -

A Department of Justice official describes the questioning in 1968 of Fr William McGonagle, Manager of Daingean and Chairman of the Association of Resident Managers of Industrial and Reformatory Schools: "He replied openly and without embarrassment that ordinarily the boys were called out of the dormitories after they had retired, and that they were punished here on one of the stairway landings . . . Punishment was applied to the buttocks with a leather . . . Some of the Committee members asked why he allowed boys to be stripped naked for punishment, and he replied in a matter of fact manner that he considered punishment to be more humiliating when it was administered in that way."

BUT only a year earlier, in 1967, the Secretary of the Department of Education, Mr T.R. O'Raifeartaigh, could report to the Minister for Education on a visit to Daingean: "Such is the spirit of dedication on the part of the staff, religious and lay, that one's principal feeling on leaving is that it is good to know that such people exist."

- - - - - - - - - -

Shortly after that he called me down from the dormitory at night and he flogged me. They'd beat us on the stairs below the dormitories and the sound of the strap would echo all over the place. I was stripped naked and had to be spread-eagled on the stairs. One brother stood on my hands to keep me there, and another held my legs. Then the Brother who made my life such a hell in the church flogged me with the leather. I always felt that this was his way to get me - if he couldn't get me sexually, then he could do it by beating me. (ex-child detainee Daingean)

Daingean Hell Hole

The Irish Times - Friday, May 14, 1999

Minister describes steps to uncover abuse in 1960s

Details of how the Kennedy Committee uncovered abuse of boys in Daingean Reformatory school in the 1960s were given to the Dail by the Minister for Education.

Mr Martin said that the committee members visited Daingean in February 1968. "Their impression of it was a dismal place which should be closed as soon as possible. " They asked the manager about corporal punishment, and he replied "openly and without embarrassment that ordinarily the boys were called out of the dormitories after they had retired and that they were punished on one of the stairway landings".

When asked if the boys were stripped, he replied that at times they were. Asked why he allowed boys to be stripped naked for punishment, he replied, "in a matter-of-fact manner, that he considered punishment to be more humiliating when it was administered in that way".

Mr Martin said that District Justice Kennedy, who chaired the committee, wrote to the department on this and other matters and received a reply which dealt with everything but the punishment. "While giving assurances about the closure of Daingean, assurance about the punishments stopping seem only to have been given as a result of significant disputes, the exact details of which do not seem to be documented."

Mr Martin said that the exception to this was an April 1970 letter from the Secretary of the Department of Justice to the Secretary of the Department of Education. The Secretary of the Department of Justice wrote that the official of his Department, who was a member of the Committee, had signed the report on the basis of assurances that the Daingean punishments would be stopped.

He wrote: "to sign a report which made no reference to the situation about punishment in Daingean would, in the absence of evidence that the practice had ceased, be to appear to acquiesce in a practice which is indefensible and for the continuance of which the minister for justice could not avoid some official responsibility arising out of his having registered Daingean as a suitable place of detention under the children acts."

Mr Martin said that the Secretary's next comment revealed much about the approach to abuse, even of concerned people: "on the other hand, to make any reference, however oblique, to this particular method of punishment in Daingean would be likely to lead to a disclosure of the situation and, in this way, to cause a grave public scandal.”

Mr Martin said that the episode demonstrated the need for everything to be out in the open. "I have no doubt that there are many other such incidents in official records and that official neglect and ignorance was commonplace."

The Minister, who was speaking during a debate on child abuse, said that any remaining files relating to the state's industrial and reformatory schools would be made public. The minister added that he was appointing a professional researcher to draw from the department's archives all files which would assist the commission or assist in identifying the Kennedy committee's working files, should they exist. He said that the patterns of neglect and abuse, which had been publicised, were clearly evident in surviving evidence, both archival and oral. "There is simply no doubt that these institutions were not only deficient, they witnessed serious levels of the direct sexual and physical abuse of children."

He recalled that in 1968, the then Minister for Education, Donough O'Malley, decided to do something about them and established a committee chaired by District Justice Kennedy. One of the committee members had told him that Mr O'Malley said of the schools: "I want the skin pulled off this pudding." but unfortunately, Mr O'Malley died soon after the Committee was established.

The Committee received little assistance in its work, said Mr Martin. "The behaviour of many managers and officials has been described to me as at best silently obstructive. It was due to the direct intervention of the new minister, Brian Lenihan, that the committee was given a proper secretariat."

It is important that the response of the State and the public to abuse should be both "adequate and courageous", Labour's Education spokesman, Mr Michael D Higgins, said. He expressed concern that there were many people who did not want the truth to come out and who "will work against the commission to make sure that the truth does not come out".

The Commission to establish the nature and extent of abuse would not work unless the person could see the perpetrator of their abuse before them and the perpetrator admitted the abuse. They would tell their own story and might then decide to leave what had happened aside and be prepared to move on. "But that has to happen first," he said. "They also had to face up to this excuse that many people didn't know what was happening. In his own constituency there were boys in the school in Letterfrack. The farmers in the area rang the institutions and had boys working in the fields. Those farmers knew who they had in the fields and the punishments that took place in the fields."

He recalled the publication of the actor Mannix Flynn's book Nothing To Say. Mr Flynn had been in Letterfrack. The Labour Deputy said he remembered the difficulty the actor had in publishing the book and in having it reviewed. "There were many people who simply would prefer that the truth never came out. They are still there."

© The Irish Times

Friday, April 28, 2006

An Account of Daingean

Few accounts of life in Daingean reformatory from the perspective of staff or inmate have been published. One account is that of Sean Bourke (he who sprung George Blake British spy from prison) of Limerick who was sent to Daingean in 1947 when he was 12 years old. His account (published in the Old Limerick Journal, 1982) is very much in line with what has been emerging about many of these places of detention and homes in recent years.

'It was a cold October morning in 1947. Mr. Justice Gleeson gazed down from his lofty perch on the judicial bench at the three cold, hungry and ragged boys standing huddled together in the well of the court. He spoke to the other two first and there seemed to be some confusion about which of us had done what. I hadn't been with the other lads all the time and they sometimes did things on their own but now we were all charged with everything. Finally, the judge turned his attention to me. "Have you anything to say for yourself?" he asked severely. "No, sir", I answered. He turned to the Superintendent. "It seems to me, Superintendent, they've been doing so much mischief in the streets of Limerick for the past few months that they don't know what they've done and what they haven't done".

"I took a bunch of bananas out of the car, sir", I said weakly.

"I agree with you, Your Honour", the Superintendent answered, ignoring me. "They seem to have lost track of what they did". He smiled as he spoke.

The worst part of it was the turmoil within, the conflict of inexplicable feelings. Was it possible for a twelve-year-old boy to stand there and not care what happened to him? Was it natural? The streets outside were so hateful to me I knew deep down I did not want to go back to them. But how could I want to be sent away? Oh God, help me to understand! These are not the thoughts and feelings of a young boy. I cannot want to go away and yet I do. Please, Justice, please don't send me away! If I could only understand. Why do I want to go? Oh God, tell me why I feel this way....

The young boy was standing in the middle of the playground at Sexton Street. It was the mid-morning break and he was surrounded by a hundred other boys laughing and pushing. The tears were streaming down his face hot and large and hurried as if they were impatient to escape till it seemed they must leave river beds behind them. The schoolmaster was also there and he had the boy's left arm gripped tightly with his right hand and his knuckles stood out big and white. He had a long thick round stick in his left hand and was tapping it against the side of his lame leg in time to the rhythm of his words.

"How-many-times-does-nine-go-into-eighty-one?" he shouted. He wasn't angry at all and smiled all the time.

"Eight t..t..times sir", the boy sobbed.

The teacher threw his head back and laughed. "Did ye hear that, lads?" he demanded, looking around at the sea of young faces. "We did, sir", some of them answered. He turned back to the sobbing boy. "I'll teach you to do your homework, boy!" He shifted his weight away from his lame leg. "Hold out your hand!" The boy slowly stretched his hand out and closed his eyes tightly and for the tenth time the teacher, still smiling, brought the heavy stick down on the bruised palm.

Brother Andrews, the Head Brother, was standing over near the wall with three other brothers and two of the schoolmasters were also with them. And they were all laughing at the teacher and the boy. The boy's hand had turned blue and was all swollen up but the teacher kept hitting it with the stick till the boy's knees started bending with the weight and the pain and the shame....

Justice Gleeson's voice sounded far away, as if in a dream. "I don't see what else can I do. Superintendent, I'll have to send them to Daingean".

DAINGEAN! The word was like a sword thrust. DAINGEAN! The times we had talked about it and joked about it. And heard about it from boys who had been there. DAINGEAN! Would he really send us there?

Fully awake now, hanging on to his every word. He shuffled the papers decisively into a neat bundle in front of him. Not Daingean! Oh God, please God, not Daingean!

"I am committing all three of you to Daingean for a period of three years each!"

I looked at the other two. They didn't seem to be distressed. Perhaps it wasn't just me. But surely they couldn't want to be sent away too? It wasn't right. It wasn't natural. Nobody could have thoughts like mine, feel the way I did. It was a curious elation that came over me and completely enveloped me as I walked from the court with the two policemen.

The other two boys would not be leaving for Daingean for another week so I would be making the journey on my own. Four hours in a cell in William Street Barracks to wait for the three o'clock train to Tullamore in Offaly. My mother called at dinner time with a can of tea and I drank it out of the lid as I ate the bread and jam sandwiches. She stood in the middle of the cold, damp cell watching me, and then she cried. "You'll have no mother by the time you get back! Oh God, you'll have no mother!" I didn't cry and I wondered if she was puzzled by my silence. I was glad to be leaving Limerick.

A young policeman in civilian clothes with a white belted raincoat collected me from the cell at half past two and told me that he would be escorting me to Daingean. As we sat in the third-class carriage at Limerick Station I could see my mother making her way along the platform and looking in all the windows of the train to see where I was. When she found me she reached in and handed me two bars of chocolate. The train started to move and she cried again and said something but I couldn't hear her words above the noise of the hissing steam and the chugging engine.

"Would you like a piece of chocolate?" I said to the policeman as we approached Limerick Junction. He smiled, "Thanks very much", he said, "I didn't have time to get anything myself".

That curious feeling of elation came over me again. I was glad to be leaving the claustrophobic poverty of Limerick and the mindless cruelty of Sexton Street. I would hate those Christian Brothers till my dying day. We got off the train at Tullamore and walked to the police barracks, where my escort made enquiries about how to get to the village of Daingean where St. Conleth's Reformatory School was situated. The station sergeant got us a taxi and we went out on the last lap of our journey. Dusk was falling as we drove through the flat, dull boglands of Offaly. We passed through the village of Ballinagar and finally arrived at Daingean (known as Philipstown in the days of the British) at seven o'clock that night.

The car pulled up near the stone bridge over the Grand Canal and the driver spoke to a passing villager. "Could you tell us where the ... er ... Industrial School is?" he asked, choosing his words out of politeness to me. The villager frowned. "You mean the reformatory?" he said. He pointed to a high stone wall on the other side of the bridge close by the canal. "That's it", he said. We crossed the bridge and drove through the iron gates.

The part of St. Conleth's school visible to the public gaze on the other side of the gates was a two-storey, symmetrical building consisting of three wings that embraced well-tended lawns. The main wing faced the gates and the other two wings were connected to it at right angles and faced each other across the expanse of lawns. so that the entire building resembled a giant letter E with the centre bar missing.

The driveway up to the main door was interrupted by a large marble plinth surmounted by a statute of St. Conleth. The car weaved round to the left of the statute in a semi-circular motion and then straightened out and went on for another twenty yards before coming to a halt.

I got out with the policeman and we stood for a moment on the gravelled driveway. I glanced back towards the gate but it was already hidden by the winter darkness and the bogland mist. Then the policeman nodded at the big solid door, "This is it", he said. "Let's go in".
First Night at Daingean

Daingean Reformatory for boys in Offaly was justly known as the Alcatraz of Ireland. More so than any adult prison could ever be, for there is a limit to the amount of abuse that can be meted out to grown men under the harshest of rules. But young boys of twelve and upwards have no way of hitting back at their tormentors, particularly when those tormentors are officially appointed and encouraged by the State.

I arrived at this inhuman institution on a cold dark Friday night in October 1947. I was just turned twelve years of age and had that morning been sentenced to three years by Justice Gleeson for the crime of stealing a bunch of bananas from the back seat of a motorcar.

The reception procedure was very informal. An elderly Brother with horn-rimmed glasses met us at the door. He invited my escorting policeman to go along to the parlour and told him that he would send along a meal and a pot of tea. The Brother then took me to a small office and made a note of my name and address. He allocated me the number 558 which for the next three years would be used mainly for stamping on my laundry. He then took me along to the kitchen where I was seated at a bare wooden table and given a mug of tea and a couple of slices of bread and butter and a plate of roast beef.

I should explain at this point that the kitchen in question was that which catered for the priests and brothers who ran Daingean Reformatory and not the kitchen which perpetrated the "meals" provided for the inmates. The boys' kitchen was referred to as the "cookhouse". This contrast was to be my first shock. And that plate of beef was to be the last meat I was to taste for a whole year.

Daingean Reformatory was run by a Roman Catholic order known as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. They are priests and lay brothers and their distinctive insignia is a crucifix attached to a black cord round their neck and then stuck at an angle into the waist belt of the cassock. Their headquarters and training college is at Inchicore in Dublin and they also send missionaries overseas to convert the natives to their own Oblate beliefs.

The Brother in charge of the kitchen was Brother F. and he came from County Clare. As I ate my meal off the bare working table I noticed that there were four other boys with white aprons working at various chores. One was washing-up at the sink and then handing the plates and pots to another boy at a nearby table to dry them. A third boy was scrubbing bigger pots out in the adjoining scullery. The fourth and oldest boy seemed to be in charge. The first three boys seemed to be about fourteen years of age and the boy in charge was probably sixteen. All wore short trousers under their white aprons and black, down-at-heel battered boots with torn grey stockings just barely clear of the upper of the boots.

I was still wearing my dark blue Confirmation suit (also with short trousers) and, although a little the worse for wear, it made me look quite smart by comparison with the other boys who kept staring at me as they worked. At one stage, when Brother F. had left the kitchen for a moment to go to the refectory, the boy who was washing-up came across to me and whispered: "You'll be alright. You'll be working here in the kitchen with us and so you won't be on an outside job for the winter". "How do you know that?" I asked surprised. "Because you're good looking", he replied, and went back to his washing-up.

Dormitory time was at eight o'clock and as I had arrived at seven I did not have long to wait to get away to bed. The other boys took off their aprons to get ready to go. "These lads will show you the way to the dormitory", Brother F. told me. Then, after a very brief pause, he added: "You can work here in the kitchen with us - you'd like that wouldn't you?" "I don't mind, sir", I replied. "Good", he smiled. "You can come in with the others tomorrow morning".

The dormitory was the ground floor of the wing to the right of the main building. It had bare floorboards and small single iron beds along each wall about three feet apart. The green paint was peeling off the walls and from the ceiling hung bare forty-watt bulbs suspended on long lengths of worn flex.

"There is no talking allowed once you step inside the dormitory", one of the kitchen boys whispered to me. And the silence was very noticeable indeed, as a cassocked Brother paced up and down the centre aisle glowering at the occupant of each bed. This brother was called Brother S. and he was from Kerry. He pointed to a bed about half-way down on the left hand side and told me it was mine.

"Thank you, sir", I said. "There is no talking allowed in the dormitory!" he growled. "You won't be told again!"

I went down to the bed allocated to me and took off my jacket and shirt. I began to fumble with the fly buttons of my trousers and noticed the other boys all staring at me and grinning. Then the boy in the next bed (who turned out to be from the "Bombing Field" in Limerick) whispered: "You have to take your trousers off in bed". "In bed?" I started at him incredulously. "Yes. Between the sheets". He glanced furtively up the dormitory to the far end where Brother S. was just about to turn around for his return journey. "If you take them off standing there, you'll be flogged for impurity".

I climbed in between the dirty sheets and with considerable difficulty removed my trousers and placed them on the floor with my jacket and shirt. There were no lockers.

There was no library at Daingean but the boys were allowed to read any comics they might have till ten o'clock. Then half the lights were switched off and everybody was required to go to sleep and a civilian night-watchman took over from Brother S. and continued the pacing and the vigilance for the rest of the night.
Witness to Obscenity

If only the night-watchman hadn't been late coming on duty in the dormitory that night, it might never have happened. But he was late, a whole hour late. There had been some breakdown in communications and Brother S. had left the dormitory at half past eight, expecting Mr. D., a local villager, to arrive at any minute and take over his vigil for the night.

We had said our night prayers in the chapel at eight and had then been marched across the dark, wintry quadrangle towards the junior boys' dormitory where the junior boys, from twelve to fifteen, slept in two long rows of iron beds spaced evenly along the full length of the green-painted walls. The senior boys, from sixteen to twenty, had their dormitory at the opposite end of the school, and were watched over for the night by yet another civilian nightwatchman. There was no supper at Daingean. The last meal of the day was tea at five o'clock, which consisted of a plate of porridge and two slices of bread and dripping, washed down by lukewarm, unsweetened tea contained in a rusty tin mug. The porridge and tea were poured out on all the tables about ten minutes before the boys were marched into the refectory and so were barely lukewarm when the boys finally set down after a prolonged grace-before-meals. The grace itself might have to be repeated three or four times until the Brother on duty was satisfied that it had been said in perfect unison by the ravenously hungry mob.
Iron Discipline

Iron discipline was the rule at Daingean, and God help any boy who stepped out of line. The school was run by a religious order called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate whose headquarters in Ireland are at Inchicore, Dublin. The order is made up of both priests and lay brothers. It is not a teaching order and the brothers are "workers" without any formal qualifications. The only rules at Daingean were the Ten Commandments. A boy who did wrong did not commit a breach of discipline: he committed a sin. And sin had to be punished far more severely than purely temporal misdeeds. To remove a crust of bread from the swill-bin, as many of the starving boys were wont to do, was to break the Seventh Commandment. This merited a flogging. To say "Christ" or "Jesus" unless you happened to be on your bended knees in the chapel, was to break the Second Commandment. A boy who was rash enough not to comply instantly with an order given by a Brother broke the Fourth Commandment.

Rude and vulgar language, which by its very nature is bound to have some sexual overtones, was only one step short of the ultimate sin in the eyes of the priests and brothers - undue familiarity with another boy. For both these sins the brothers involved the Sixth Commandment. The penalty was a severe flogging followed by a diet of bread-and-water kneeling on the concrete floor of the refectory for a week.

I suppose it was a combination of hunger and the pent-up frustrations of the harsh discipline that made some of the junior boys go a bit wild that night in the hour between Brother S.'s departure and the arrival of Mr. D. at nine-thirty. Not that anything very serious happened. There were a few innocent pillow fights, a certain amount of mock wrestling which, I remember, involved at least two Limerick boys whom I still meet in the street today. There was one boy, Mick H. from Cahirciveen in the County Kerry, who did a little more swearing than the others. If a priest or brother walked in all the Ten Commandments would have been invoked and half the dormitory of a hundred boys would have been flogged.

But, tragically, one brother did see and hear. And that brother was the most savagely sadistic member of the Order in Daingean. Brother F. was from County Clare, and on that dark wintry night in October 1949 he was standing on an upturned box in the grass verge outside the dormitory wall peeping in through one of the uncurtained windows, invisible in his black habit to the unsuspecting boys inside and to the other brothers and priests who might be passing on the outside.

Equally tragic was the fact that Mick H. worked in the priests' and brothers' kitchen with four other boys, including myself. And the man in charge of the kitchen was Brother F.

The principle that an accused be punished only once for his crime did not apply in Daingean. Apart from the punishment meted out by the Prefect of Discipline, there were other beatings administered by the brother in charge of the boy's working party and by any other brother who just happened to be on duty in the exercise yard or the refectory when the accused came in sight. And Brother F. was in charge of Mick H.'s party in the kitchen.

Brother F. had a ritual which he had carefully developed and perfected over the years. A boy must not be punished too quickly; he must be made to suffer the mental torture of knowing that he is going to be beaten without knowing when or for what reason. And so, when the five of us arrived in the kitchen to start work at nine o'clock that morning, exchanged a little cheerful banter, Brother F. carried out the first move of his sadistic ritual. "Keep quiet and get on with yere work!" He looked Mick H. straight in the face and scowled. "And that goes for you too, H. Get on with your washing-up!"

And so the ritual began. It was familiar to all of us. In exactly two hours, as the clock struck eleven, Mick H. would be beaten. And between now and then none of us would utter one word to each other for fear of being made to join our wretched comrade on the sacrificial altar of Brother F.'s sadistic lust.

The soup was made. The roast was in the oven for the priests and brothers. The breakfast pots and pans and cups and saucers were washed and shined. I myself as senior boy had laid out the cutlery and the various items of delph on the crisp white linen in the priests' and brothers' refectory. Brother F. sat on a chair next to the work-table against the kitchen wall opposite the long anthracite range reading his breviary, his pale lips moving silently in an ashen face. Mick H. was over at the sink washing a plate for the tenth time, afraid to look up, visibly trembling. The silence was almost physical in its oppressiveness.

The kitchen clock struck eleven. Brother F. slowing closed his breviary, kissed it, and placed it on the shelf above the table. He got to his feet and walked to the small gap between the table and the dresser. He reached in and pulled out a stick about three feet long and an inch across. Nicholas O. from Kilkenny picked up a sweeping brush and started towards the scullery in a desperate effort to escape what was to follow. "Put that brush down and stay where you are!" Brother F. growled. It was part of the ritual that when a boy was to be beaten the others must watch. The fear in their young faces was something Brother F. seemed to get great satisfaction from.

Mick H. was still washing the same plate, afraid to stop, afraid to be idle and add to his guilt. "Put that plate down and turn round!" He did as he was told.

"You are the dirtiest little scut it has ever been my misfortune to meet. You are dirty and filthy and evil minded. Well, I'm going to teach you a lesson that you will never forget. Hold out your hand!"

Mick H. held out his right hand. He thrust it forward fully and firmly, as if to show Brother F. that whatever he had done wrong he was sorry for it and was prepared to take his punishment like a man and maybe Brother F. in his mercy would take this into account. But this bold and frightened gesture was wasted and Mick H., at fourteen and a half years of age, was to receive the most vicious and sadistic beating I have ever seen inflicted on another human being. Brother F. reduced Mick H.'s right hand to a black and blue pulp of bleeding flesh from the finger-tips to the elbow, and then ordered him to hold out his left hand. He did the same to this, bringing the stick back over his head and then down with all his physical might on the boy's left hand H. was begging for mercy. "Please, sir, oh please sir, I won't do it any more sir. I won't sir. I won't sir...."

"Shut up your whimpering, you cowardly little wretch!" Brother F.'s face was by now a sickly white in colour and his lips trembled visibly. He looked almost epileptic. "You are filthy and disgusting. You have a foul mouth. You have a dirty mind. You are totally obscene. You are a dirty little coward who cannot take his punishment. And you are a robber and a Daingean boy. That is the testimonial you will take out into the world with you when you go. And I hope you are proud of it, you filthy wretch!"

"Oh please sir, please, sir, I won't do it anymore sir. It was a slip of the tongue, sir..." By this time Mick H.'s knees were giving way under the sheer agony of his ordeal, and his torrential tears were forming a small pool at his feet. "Please sir, please sir..." He looked like he was on the point of fainting. Surely Brother F. must stop now.

"Roll up your sleeves now to your shoulders".

Mick H. looked at him in horror. "Oh, please, sir, please".

Brother F. delivered three rapid blows to the boy's upper left arm, then three more to the right causing the shirt sleeves to sink into the sweat-soaked flesh with the force. "When I tell you to do something you do it!"

"Yes, sir, yes, sir....." Mick H.'s fingers were by now twice their normal size and he could not bend them at the joints. His hands and forearms looked like joints of raw meat that had been left hanging in a butcher's shop too long and had putrefied. He made a feeble gesture at forcing his sleeves up past the elbows but could not do so. His elbow joints, as well as his fingers, were beyond use. "I c-c-can't, sir, I c-c-can't..." The sweat was pouring down his forehead in large beads. "I'm sorry, sir, I'm sorry sir..."

"You filthy dirty wretch!" Brother F. leaned the stick against the wall and grabbed hold of the boy. He forced both his sleeves up to the shoulders and picked up the stick once more. The contrast between the lower half of Mick H.'s arms and the upper was quite frightening and sickening. The broken black and blue flesh gave way at the elbows to the smooth, white skin of the upper arms and biceps so characteristic of the Daingean boy deprived at the sun. I felt myself trembling with fear and impotent rage and a deep loving compassion for my comrade in his terrible agony. The other three boys, from Longford, Wicklow and Cork, stood, terrified to make a sound or a movement.

Realising that the boy was no longer physically capable of actively cooperating in the obscene ritual, Brother F. no longer told him to extend his hands. Instead he proceeded to lash him on the upper arms with all his force and continued for at least another five minutes until Mick's entire arms, from the fingers to the shoulders, were no longer recognisable as human limbs.

"Oh, God, oh, God! Please, Brother F., please, sir, please...."

Mick H. fell to his knees at last, his young boy's strength and endurance finally spent. Sitting on his haunches, he eased his body forward and rested his forehead on the ground, his chin touching his knees. His arms hung loosely by his side, completely out of control, and the blood, trickling down his broken flesh, paused for a second at the finger-tips and then fell to the floor to mingle with his sweat. He had finished pleading and he just moaned softly to himself. "Dirty cowardly filthy wretch!" With all his might, Brother F. delivered three final blows to the boy's quivering back. The stick made a sickening thud as it fell and Mick H. eased over on his side and lay still.

Brother F. looked across at me and then at the other three boys in turn. His face was contorted almost beyond recognition and he seemed to be shaking all over. When he spoke, his breath came in short gasps.

"Let that be a lesson to all of ye. There is enough filth and dirt in this world without ye people starting. Even to think an impure thought is a mortal sin. If ye haven't got the strength to avoid temptation and sin, then by God I'll give ye that strength - with this!" He held the stick tightly in his right hand until the knuckles were white and jabbed it rhythmically at each of us in turn. "With this", he repeated, "with this!"

He looked down at Mick H. again with hatred in his eyes. "Get up, you devil incarnate, get up, before I give you the same again. Get up, you filthy, foul-mouthed wretch! And for the rest of the week you will wash up all the greasy plates in cold water! Do you hear me! - you filthy, cowardly little wretch!"

With what must have been a superhuman effort, Mick H. slowly got to his feet. He turned back to his sink, and, by raising the right side of his body, as high as he could, and then the left, he managed to get both his dead arms into the by now cold, greasy water, Lowering his head, he pulled at the plug stopper chain with his teeth and then somehow managed to turn on the cold tap in the same manner. He let the water flow over his broken flesh as he sobbed quietly to himself.

Brother F. walked across the gap between the table and the dresser and replaced his blood-stained stick. Then he turned his attention to the four of us once more.

"Let that be a lesson to all of ye, do ye hear?" If I hear any of ye using dirty language, that's what ye'll get. Foul, dirty, sinful language. Evil, that's what it is. Foul and evil. An insult to God. Just one word of foul language out of any of ye and ye won't be able to walk for a month!"

It was then I noticed that the crucifix, which was the badge of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, had worked its way loose from the belt of Brother Fitzpatrick's black habit during the ritualistic torture of Mick H. and now hung loosely from the cord around his neck, swinging gently to and fro as he spoke. The crucifix had the figure of Christ in brass on a black wooden cross. Brother F. seemed to notice it at the same time and hastily tucked it back into his belt. "Alright, get back to yere work, all of ye", he said, dismissing us. "And I repeat for the last time, don't ever let me hear any of ye using a foul word, for if ye do, then may God help ye because I won't".

I made my way across the hall to the priests' and brothers' refectory. I took a bundle of rags from the press and went down on my knees to shine the linoleum floor. I couldn't get the thought of Mick H.'s mutilated young arms out of my mind and the terrible agony and despair of his tortured face. I didn't realise it then, but that day was to be the turning point of my life. It was the day I lost my innocence. Hardly a day was to go by from that day to this without my recalling the obscenity of Mick H.'s desperate sufferings and total degradation.

It was all done for the greater glory of God and with the acquiescence of the Civil Authority. And I have never respected either concept since. And never will as long as I live.

The day began at Daingean Reformatory with the shrill sound of the nightwatchman's hand-bell as he paraded up and down the centre of the dormitory shouting, "Come on, wakey wakey! Get out of those beds and get dressed before Brother S. gets in!"

Brother S. was the Kerryman in charge of the dormitories and the wash-house and his round face was perpetually flushed with anger. He would arrive to take over from the civilian nightwatchman at 7.30 am. By then we would all have our beds made and would be lined up ready for the next phase of the never-changing daily ritual.

It was the middle of October 1947 when I arrived in Daingean and I was twelve-and-a-half years of age. The winter of that year was a particularly bitter one and the snow was heavy and stayed thick on the ground. We left the dormitory in two parallel lines and were marched by Brother S. through the dark, snow-covered grounds of the Reformatory. On the other side of the chapel was a long shed with small windows from which came a very faint light to punctuate the gloom. This shed had a single door at each end and as we, the junior boys, entered at one end, the senior boys (those from sixteen to twenty) were coming in at the other end. This shed was called the wash-house.

Both the senior and the junior boys were divided into sections called after different saints, and these sections were in turn arranged so as to keep the boys together as much as possible within their own age groups. Whenever the senior boys and the junior boys had to be brought together, the youngest section of the senior boys was deliberately positioned closest to the oldest section of the junior boys, and this progression went on so that the oldest boys in the senior sections were at all times farthest from the youngest boys in the junior sections. The significance of all these elaborate arrangements did not dawn on me for many months. The 24 brothers and five priests at Daingean Reformatory seemed to have an obsession with the Sixth Commandment.

The wash-house had a bare concrete floor and unpainted walls from which the plaster was crumbling. Like the dormitory, it had a number of bare 40-watt bulbs suspended on lengths of worn flex from the beams of the tin roof. The only furniture was a long wooden stand stretching from one end of the shed to the other down the middle of the floor. On this stand were positioned two parallel lines of tin basins already filled with water. There was only one tap in the wash-house to which was attached a long rubber hose for filling the basins.

The boys lined up on either side of the stand, facing each other, the junior boys at one end of the wash-house and the senior boys at the other, with the youngest of the senior boys closest to the oldest of the junior boys. Near each basin was a small piece of yellow soap the kind used for scrubbing floors. There was no heating in the wash-house and the ice was about a quarter of an inch thick in the basins. I copied the other boys and broke the ice with a quick jab of the elbow before having a wash in the freezing water.

Absolute silence had to be maintained at all times. The first words of the day could only be spoken at breakfast. Brother S. had departed and Brother A. was supervising the wash-house. He did this by standing on a wooden box at the point where the senior boys met the junior boys and watching every move and listening for the slightest whisper. Brother A. was nicknamed "The Killer". I found out why on that very first morning in Daingean.

Some boy was heard to whisper to another at the other end of the wash-house. Brother A. went red in the face. "If I catch the fella that's talking he won't be able to talk again for a long time!" he shouted. He had a harsh, grating voice. Then suddenly he seemed to notice something. He jumped down off the box and ran down to where the whisper had come from. He caught hold of a boy of about seventeen and proceeded to beat him methodically with his fists. He punched the boy in the face repeatedly until his lip was split and his nose spurted blood. In his frenzy, Brother A.'s crucifix worked its way loose from the belt of his cassock and, dangling from its neck cord, jumped about in a grotesque dance as he carried out his attack on the terrified boy.

Brother A. then resumed his position on the wooden box and glared up and down the wash-house. "Ye scum of the earth!" he screamed, addressing the inmates in general. "Ye dirty, filthy, good-for-nothing scum of the earth! Ye dirty pack of robbers! Ye will be no loss to anyone when ye go back to the dirty filthy hovels and the ignorant, illiterate fathers and mothers that ye came from!"

From the wash-house we were marched once more through the snow and darkness to the chapel for Mass. The bright lights and the heating were a welcome relief from the squalor we had just left. The youngest of the junior boys were up in the front pews and the older ones about half way down the chapel. One row of pews was then left empty to separate the youngest of the senior boys from the oldest of the junior boys. Further down towards the back of the chapel there was a wide gap separating the boys completely from the special pews for the priests and brothers. The Mass of course was in Latin and went on for about half an hour, being celebrated this morning by a Cork priest named Father C..

After Mass we were marched across the grounds of the Reformatory again to an enclosed, gravelled yard where Brother A. put us through half an hour of P.T. in the snow. Then, at long last, it was time for breakfast. Another march through the gloom to the boys' dining hall. And here another shock awaited me.

The dining hall was part of the main building and comprised the entire ground floor of one of the wings. The floor was scrubbed concrete and the walls were painted dark green. From the peeling white-washed ceiling hung the inevitable 40-watt bulbs. Along each of the two longer walls was a row of tables covered with black and white chequered linoleum like large chess boards. There was eight wooden kitchen chairs with spoked backs at each table. In front of each chair was a rusty tin mug filled with sugarless tea that had been poured out from buckets half an hour before and was now almost cold. Next to the mug was a chipped enamel plate half filled with watery porridge that had also been poured out half an hour before and was also now cold. (The boys working in the dining hall were excused P.T. so that they could do the pouring out well in advance of breakfast time). There was a small cob of bread for every two boys amounting to about two slices each.

The centre aisle of the dining hall was marked off from the table areas by two white lines that stretched the whole length of the hall. The boys, on entering the dining hall, had to stand with their toes just touching these white lines and facing each other in two long single files across the aisle, their backs to the tables. Brother S. was back in charge again. He waited until you could hear a pin drop and, since everyone was starving, he did not have long to wait. Then, very slowly and deliberately, he started to make the sign of the cross and we all followed suit. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. And may the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen."

But some of the boys, in their impatient hunger, had rushed the grace before meals and Brother S. had noticed it. He made us say the prayer four more times before he was satisfied and by then we had already been ten minutes in the dining hall and the breakfast was stone cold. Finally, he clapped his hands together loudly as a signal for us to sit down.

The porridge was uneatable and the tiny pat of margarine was hardly sufficient for one of the two slices of bread. Everybody forced himself to drink the cold tea. There was nothing else.

Twenty minutes later Brother S. stopped his pacing up and down the centre aisle and, placing himself at the point where the oldest of the junior boys met the youngest of the senior boys, he slapped his hands together again about three or four times. Everybody went silent. He clapped his hands again, once, and we all resumed our positions with our toes to the white lines facing each other across the aisle. Again, slowly, and deliberately: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen". Another pause whilst he listened for someone talking. "We give Thee thanks to almighty God for all Thy benefits, who livest and reignest world without end. Amen. And may the souls of the faithful departed through the grace of God rest in peace. Amen."

The grace after meals had to be said three times before Brother S. was satisfied that we were really grateful to God for his bounty. Then we were marched off to our various jobs.

I couldn't help reflecting as we left the dining hall that the Oblates of Mary Immaculate seemed to be more concerned with the dead and their sins than with the living and their sufferings. It was going to be a long three years.