The house of hell at Letterfrack – originally told to Tuairim – a UCD group inquiring into child care institutions in Ireland. Tuairim ignored Noah’s statements. Forty-two years later they wish ride on the back of his pain.
NOAH Kitterick was clearly a troubled man when he wrote to the Superior of Letterfrack Industrial School in 1953. He had been a former resident of the institution from 1924 to 1932 and his childhood in Letterfrack had been far from happy. In his letter, Mr Kitterick made serious – potentially criminal – allegations against three named Christian Brothers whom he had encountered in his years in Letterfrack – Bros Piperel, Corvax and Perryn.
“…these men were a disgrace to the Christian Brothers,” he wrote. “Piperel and Corvax were tyrants. Br Perryn who was in the cook-house and refectory took great pleasure in beating boys for no reason, he was a sadist; for beating us he used a piece of rubber motor tyre.
“Almost daily we were flogged by one or other of these Bros. Dozens of times I left the dining room with my hands bleeding…
“On several occasions after a meal, I was taken to the pantry… by Br Perryn. He would lock the door and make me undress. He would then sit on a stool and would put me across his knee and then flog me savagely. He would then pinch me until I was unconscious.”
Two days after his first letter, Noah Kitterick wrote again to the Superior of Letterfrack, telling him he wished to see the industrial school closed until improvements were made and the perpetrators of abuse brought to justice.
He never received a reply to either letter.
Mr Kitterick’s allegations would not have come as a surprise to the Superior of Letterfrack. At least one of the three brothers whom he named – Brother Perryn – had a proven history of physical and sexual abuse in Letterfrack and other institutions. Indeed, of the many monsters that were unleashed on the children of Letterfrack, Perryn appears to have been the worst. The Christian Brothers’ own inspector stated in the Visitation Report of 1941 that there had been a very serious case of sexual abuse involving Perryn. The inspector demanded immediate action:
“Br Perryn has charge of the boys’ kitchen. He is dirty, untidy and repulsive… It is alleged that his relations with the boys are immoral, and if the statements that I have got from the boys and which I now submit to the Br Provincial are true, he has been living a most depraved, unclean and gravely immoral life for years. So bad are the charges that I could not conscientiously allow him to remain with boys any longer… I have got statements from the boys with whom he is alleged to have had immoral relations. They are so shockingly obscene, revolting and abominable that it is hard to believe them.”
Perryn had been in Letterfrack for most of Noah Kitterick’s eight years in the institution. Incredibly, this inveterate child abuser had been removed from the school in 1919 after a complaint was made about his “notorious” severity towards the boys, yet he was allowed to return in 1927, spending the next 14 years inflicting an unimaginable reign of terror on boys as young as five and six.
Noah Kitterick had right on his side when he made his allegations about Perryn in 1953. And he knew it. So, too did the Christian Brothers who choose to ignore his letters. Yet Mr Kitterick was not to be dissuaded. Having left Letterfrack in 1932 he had joined the British Army and had, perhaps, developed a sense of confidence to do what no other former resident had done up to then – to blow the whistle on Letterfrack’s hidden hell.
In 1957 Mr Kitterick travelled to Dublin to meet with the Provincial of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers. He got short shrift. A letter from the Provincial to the Brothers’ solicitors offers a revealing – and sickening – insight into the undisguised disdain with which the Brothers viewed former residents like Noah Kitterick.
“This evening I had a ‘gentleman’ named Kitterick – ex-British army – to see me. He said he was an ex-pupil of our industrial school in Letterfrack and that the doctors said that all his troubles were due to the hardship he got whilst in Letterfrack. I took it that he was on the blackmail ticket and after listening to him for some time I gave him your name and address as our solicitor. I know you will know how to deal with him if he approaches.”
So much for Christian charity and justice. Noah Kitterick was sent on his way with a farewell letter that dripped of contempt and lofty arrogance. The Brother Provincial knew his organisation was untouchable, and that sense of absolute impunity cascaded all the way from the Christian Brothers’ headquarters in Dublin to the remote industrial school of Letterfrack on the distant Atlantic seaboard.
Ironically, Letterfrack was a school that should never have been founded. Our British masters of the nineteenth century – so often the bogeymen of Irish history books – initially resisted the establishment of Letterfrack Industrial School. Originally built by a wealthy Quaker couple who moved to Letterfrack from England in the dying days of the Famine in 1849, the school was used by the children of the locality until 1884 when it was sold to the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr John McEvilly. The archbishop purchased the property, which included nearly 300 acres of land that was mainly bog and mountain, from the proceeds of a legacy bequeathed for charitable purposes. He immediately applied to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Spencer, for permission to open a boys’ industrial school, claiming such a facility was “so sadly needed in that district”. But the Lord Lieutenant begged to differ.
“In a wild remote district like Letterfrack it is very improbable that there would be any genuine cases for committal, the children there do not beg. There is no one to beg from. They all have settled places of abode – they live with their parents; are not found wandering, and though no doubt very poor, are not destitute: they do not frequent the company of thieves – there are no thieves in districts like Letterfrack in Ireland – the people are very poor but very honest.”
Those words were to haunt Letterfrack Industrial School in the years after its establishment in 1885. The Christian Brothers – even to this day – attempt to portray the young residents of Letterfrack as juvenile offenders who were in need of regimental discipline. One Brother told the Commission of Inquiry:
“Well, it was a pretty strict place and I think that the children who came had a carefree life before coming. It was necessary to discipline them and unfortunately they had to be disciplined otherwise we couldn’t run the place.”
But an analysis of the committals to Letterfrack in 1954 – the year after Noah Kitterick wrote his first letters – would tend to confirm the views of the Lord Lieutenant 70 years earlier. Of the 171 boys in the school, 71 were committed on the grounds of destitution; 48 were cases of parents or guardians not exercising proper guardianship; 22 were public assistance cases; five were under the school attendance act; 10 were for being uncontrollable; 13 were larceny cases; two were for receiving alms and four were voluntary admissions.
Therefore, out of a total of 171 children in Letterfrack in 1954, only 13 had committed an offence punishable by penal servitude if perpetrated by an adult. In truth, the only offence committed by the vast majority of the children in Letterfrack was to have been born poor or neglected.
The story of Letterfrack is merely a 100-page chapter in an epic report from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan Report) that stretches to 2,600 pages and many millions of words. The unspeakable horrors endured by children who were committed to institutions like Letterfrack are almost impossible for the human mind to comprehend: the entire report is simply too much to take in.
The Christian Brothers’ own documents – obtained by the Commission through various discovery orders – reveal a never-ending cycle of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at Letterfrack.
The Commission concludes that sexual abuse was a “chronic problem” in the institution with paedophiles present for two-thirds of the period under investigation (1937-1974).
While some young residents may have managed to miraculously escape the evil intentions of the paedophiles, there was no escaping the physical violence that was a constant feature of Letterfrack. The Brothers’ own documents reveal some truly horrifying examples of the types of punishments meted out to young, defenceless boys – punishments that involved horse-whips, hurleys and other ‘weaponry’.
There was a culture of punishment at Letterfrack that hung like a heavy cloud over every boy. The Commission asked one former resident if it was possible to avoid the beatings. He replied: “Not really, you couldn’t. Not in Letterfrack, you couldn’t. Not from certain brothers, you could not.”
The punishment beatings were as arbitrary as they were frequent. One Brother openly admitted to the Commission that he had a bizarre prejudice against boys from Limerick, another Brother would engage in widespread unprovoked beatings if his native county lost a GAA match.
Readers of a certain generation will, perhaps, argue that it was not just in Letterfrack that physical punishment was been meted out by those in authority: schoolchildren the length and breadth of the land were feeling the wrath of religious and lay teachers.
But the Commission makes a very pertinent point in response to such claims. Letterfrack was not just a school for these boys; it was their home. While most put-upon schoolchildren could at least find solace each evening in returning to a loving family environment, the boys in Letterfrack had no such escape. This was their only world: every hour of every day of their formative years were spent in this indimidating, hate-filled place.
The State had put these boys into the charge of the Christian Brothers for the provision of proper care, education and security; what they received was physical violence, sexual abuse and ritual humiliation. One Brother admitted to the Commission that he had once forced a young resident to eat his own excrement after the boy had soiled his bed at night. Other former residents recalled the public nature of beatings, especially at night-time when boys would be brought from the main dormitory into an adjacent washroom to be beaten. The screams would echo through the dormitory long into the night.
“You nearly preferred to get it yourself,” recalled the resident, “because listening to somebody getting bashed, in a sense it is worse than getting it yourself.”
It was the knowledge that other young boys were continuing to suffer in Letterfrack that prompted Noah Kitterick to continue his campaign for its closure. His unsuccessful meeting with the Brother Provincial of the Christian Brothers in 1957 must have made him realise that his efforts to get the religious order to clean up its own house were futile. Therefore, he focused his campaign elsewhere, sending letters to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid, the Bishop of Galway, Dr Michael Browne and to the then President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera. Although he received no replies the message could not have been clearer: ‘Official Ireland’ did not want to know the terrible truth about institutions like Letterfrack.
Even District Court Judges were unable to loosen the extraordinary stranglehold on institutional power enjoyed by religious orders like the Christian Brothers. In 1954, the Brothers proposed that Letterfrack should become the main centre in Ireland for ‘juvenile offenders’. The plan was opposed by District Justice McCarthy, who presided over the Dublin Metropolitan Children’s Court, because he believed the isolated location of Letterfrack made it unsuitable as a school for young offenders. His protests fell on deaf ears and the Brothers pushed ahead with their plans. The Department of Education capitulated as it had always done in its dealings with the religious orders. If a District Justice could not succeed in his attempts to close Letterfrack, what hope was there for poor Noah Kitterick?
Ten years after his meeting with the Provincial of the Christian Brothers, Noah Kitterick took his own life by setting fire to himself in London. His tortured past had clearly become too much to bear.
In the same year – 1967 – six boys attempted to escape from Letterfrack; five were aged 13, the other was 14. A year earlier an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old had made their break for freedom.
But the remote location of the industrial school in Letterfrack meant it was almost impossible to escape. And the Brothers had a particularly cruel form of punishment for those who were captured – a fate that befell two boys who absconded at a time when there was heavy snowfall in the area. On their return to the school the youngsters were put up against a wall, hosed down with fire hoses and made to stand in the freezing cold in their underpants.
There were 129 boys in Letterfrack Industrial School in 1967, the highest number of residents in 15 years. Indeed, the figure was not dissimilar to the population of the school in the 1930s when depraved sadists like Brother Perryn were inflicting unspeakable horrors on Noah Kitterick and the other young boys in their charge; plundering their innocent childhood and leaving them tortured for life.
But, in a peculiar twist of fate, Letterfrack went into terminal decline after 1967, the year of Noah Kitterick’s tragic death. Numbers plummeted at an unprecedented rate and, by 1972, there were only 41 boys left in the school. In 1974 this house of horrors closed its doors for good.
Noah Kitterick, the troubled man who had vowed not to rest until Letterfrack Industrial School was consigned to history, had got his wish at long last. Maybe in death he had finally met someone who would listen to his terrible tale of injustice, finding in Heaven the Christian God whose gospel of love and charity was so grievously defiled by those godless Christian Brothers who roamed the corridors of the hellish home they called Letterfrack Industrial School.
¦ Due to a court action by the Congregation of Christian Brothers’, only pseudonyms can be used in identifying those Brothers convicted or accused of physical and sexual abuse at Letterfrack. ‘Noah Kitterick’ is also a pseudonym; the man’s real name was Peter Tyrrell and he was a true hero who showed immense courage at a time in Ireland’s history when heroes were few and far between. Like so many other victims of institutional abuse in this country, Peter Tyrrell was vindicated on May 20th when the Child Abuse Commission published its damning report.