'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.