The Ryan Report

In Dublin on May 20 2009 the Commission to Investigate Child Abuse released its report on abuse of children in industrial schools run by religious orders in Ireland. The period covered by the Investigation Committee Inquiry is from 1936 to the present, but “mostly from a period during which large scale institutionalisation was the norm, which was, in effect, the period between the Cussen Report (1936) and the Kennedy report (1970).”

As Patsy McGarry put it in the Irish Times, “The report, that runs to thousands of pages, outlined a harrowing account of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on young people who attended schools and institutions from 1940 onwards.” Ireland and the rest of the world read the account with shock and horror.

A few passages from The Executive Summary give a hint of the flavour:


“Artane was founded in 1870 and was certified for 830 boys. This was almost four times the size of any other school in the State. The size of Artane and the regimentation and military-style discipline required to run it were persistent complaints by ex-pupils and ex-staff members alike. The numbers led to problems of supervision and control, and children were left feeling powerless and defenceless in the face of bullying and abuse by staff and fellow pupils. Although physical care was better than in some schools, it was still poorly provided and so imbued with the harshness of the underlying regime that children constantly felt under threat and fearful.

All of the witnesses who made allegations against Artane complained of physical abuse. This abuse is outlined in full both from the documents and the evidence of witnesses. Conclusions on physical abuse are contained at Paragraph 7.311 of Volume I and state that physical punishment of boys in Artane was excessive and pervasive and, because of its arbitrary nature, led to a climate of fear amongst the boys.”


“The school in Letterfrack was founded in 1885 and was situated in a remote hillside location in Connemara, miles away from Galway or from public transport. The remoteness of Letterfrack was a common theme of complainants and of Brothers who had worked there. It was an inhospitable, bleak, isolated institution accessable only by car or bicycle and out of reach for family or friends of boys incarcerated there.

Physical punishment was severe, excessive and pervasive and by being administered in public or within earshot of other children it was used as a means of engendering fear and ensuring control.

Sexual abuse was a chronic problem. For two thirds of the relevant period there was at least one sexual abuser in the school, for almost one third of the period there were two abusers in the school and at times there were three abusers working in Letterfrack at the same time. Two abusers were present for periods of 14 years each and the Congregation could offer no explanation as to how these Brothers could have remained in the School for so long undetected and unreported.”


“A high level of physical abuse was perpetrated by Religious and lay staff in Goldenbridge. The method of inflicting punishments and the implements used were cruel and excessive and physical punishment was an immediate response to even minor infractions. Children were in constant fear of beatings and in many cases were beaten for no apparent reason. A feature of this school was a rosary bead industry that was operated from the school. This industry was conducted in a way that imposed impossible standards on children and caused great suffering to many of them. It was a school that was characterised by a regime of extreme drudgery, both in terms of the rosary bead making and the daily workload of the children.

Goldenbridge was an emotionally abusive institution. Girls were humiliated and belittled on a regular basis and treated with contempt by some staff members. It was characterised by an absence of kindness or sympathy for the children.”

The report rebuked the Department of Education:

“The Department was lacking in ideas about policy. It made no attempt to impose changes that would have improved the lot of the detained children. Indeed, it never thought about changing the system.

The failures by the Department that are catalogued in the chapters on the schools can also be seen as tacit acknowledgment by the State of the ascendancy of the Congregations and their ownership of the system. The Departments’ Secretary General, at a public hearing, told the Investigation Committee that the Department had shown a ‘very significant deference’ towards the religious Congregations. This deference impeded change, and it took an independent intervention in the form of the Kennedy Report in 1970 to dismantle a long out-dated system.”

Extracts from letters on the Letters page here also give a flavour.

Kathleen O’Brien, May 17

[T]he rosary factory was there in 1950 as well as the children making and glueing brown paper bags for shop’s,in ireland.making and sewing underware for export knitting jumpers and socks for the nuns to sell to shops ,there was no Education except Religious education, Domestic work which we had to an exam for which was cleaning and basic cooking ,inspectors came and examined our work, THAT WAS OUR EXAM.The Redress Board was set up to terrorise and frighten vonourable survivors into silenceing them forever,you are right there were only 3 girls in goldenbridge during the late 1950’s who were sent to the Outside national school…Survivors were put through more suffering at the redress board by being Insulted with infamitory remarks about the survivors parents and told it was their fault and the fault of their parents that children were sentenced into reformatories to be Beaten ,Starved,that they were NOT effected by what happened to them in Industrial reformatories But rather it was because their parents were Genetically inadequate ,this of course is so cruel,insults were thrown at survivors,many could not face going through any more and just excepted i silence ,and went away even more traumatised,hurt and deeply upset.and knew they had no choice to try and go on to the high court,they had no chance…

May Cornish, May 28

I am a 76 year old lady and I was in goldenbridge from 1935 to 1950 . We not only made rosary beeds we also Knitted all kinds of hats. gloves. Jumpers socks.
If you had no family at 16 years you were sent to hospitals and others places for domestic work you were not even a change og clothes. If you were in from infancy it was like going to a forigen country and you still had no woe to ask for help . I only found out in 1998 that I had sisters and a brother my children were brought up with no aunts or uncles and no grandparents as all my mothers letters which were written in the 40s were withell.

Internal Resources

Marie-Therese O’Loughlin, The Goldenbridge Secret Rosary Bead Factory

Marie-Therese O’Loughlin, Goldenbridge II

External Resources

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