Tom Wall, above, who suffered horrific abuse at the hands of Christian Brothers at a notorious industrial school in Limerick in Ireland, claims the Catholic order tried to destroy documents that showed that boys at the school were being sold into slavery.
According to this Sunday Independent report, in 1973, with the Glin Industrial School about to close, he was told by a brother to take record books and ledgers from a pile of documents and place them in the boot of a car. The rest were to be destroyed.
Some were burned but Wall held on to many of the documents as he wanted to see if they contained information about his past and his mother.
In a statement to RTÉ News the Christian Brothers refer to this as an “allegation”, adding that such a direction:
Would run entirely contrary to congregation policy.
Wall was placed in the school at the age of three because he was born out of wedlock. Christians Brothers lied to him about his mother, saying she was dead when she was in fact alive.
By the time I found her she only had about six weeks to live. She was dying of cancer. I just made it but she was very sick in bed. I met with her a couple of times and asked why she never came to see me. She said: ‘I called three or four times but I wasn’t allowed in. The brothers told me you wanted no more to do with me.’
Wall, who has written a book about the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Christian Brothers, kept the files he liberated in an attic for more than 40 years then handed them to the University of Limerick, but they remained untouched there for two years. He removed them from the university’s Glucksman Library last week following a row over the ownership of the documents that prevented UL from putting them on display.
The European Province of Christian Brothers sent archivists and legal representatives to view the files in UL. They then claimed ownership and demanded the documents be returned for storage in their own archives in Dublin. They threatened legal action to obtain them.
Later, however, the Christian Brothers backed down, saying it would be happy to receive copies of the documents rather than the originals.
The documents show that the Christian Brothers were paid to send boys under the age of 16 to work for traders, merchants and farmers and that local communities were involved in the “industrialisation and exploitation of marginalised children”.
There is no record of the boys receiving money for their work among the files rescued from the school. Tom Wall called the contracts:
Slave deals, tying boys to a ‘master’ for up to three years. I would never have thought slavery existed in Ireland until I went through these. All these documents need to be gone through now. Someone needs to look at it. The congregations that were set up to help the poor children totally strayed from their foundation.
They finished up exploiting the children and that is the saddest part of this. They ended up making money out of poverty.
The Ryan Report previously found there had been provisions enabling schools to “license out” children to a “trustworthy and respectable person” to help assimilate the child into society. The report states licensing was a rare occurrence. However, it said “a severe, systemic regime of corporal punishment” was evident at Glin with deficiencies in care.
Two Christian Brothers were previously transferred there, despite evidence or suspicion of sexually abusing boys in another institution.
Dublin City University Deputy President Daire Keogh, above, has studied and written about the Christian Brothers throughout his career. He said the practice of licensing children was a way for locals to avail of cheap labour.
These farmers seldom kept boys on once they became men and wouldn’t pay an adult wage. The whole thing reflects the level of societal collusion and institutionalisation and exploitation of marginalised kids.
The indentures, or contracts, between Glin and local businessmen or farmers tied the boys to new masters for three years. The monthly sums paid for the use of the boys increased for every year served, often from £3, to £5 and £8.
Under the terms of the indentures, the boys – referred to as apprentices – were prevented from getting married or working for a competitor. They could not drink, play cards or:
Absent himself from his said master’s service day or night unlawfully.
The indentures seen by the Sunday Independent are dated between 1895 and 1914. However, Tom also has more recent documents and ledgers dated up to the 1950s.
Wall said growing up in Glin was horrific. He was sexually abused and faced regular beatings. He can recall most of them and still bears the scars from one of the beatings on his forehead. He fell while being thrashed and his head was “split open”.
He was also accused of absconding from the school after going through some nearby fields in search of food before returning in time for dinner.
We were down in the fields looking for a few blackberries on briars because we were starving. We never got much food and you were always hungry.
Wall now wants all the documents must be put on display so people can see what happened.
The archives are too sealed up and inaccessible. I think these papers can serve a purpose. The public and relatives of residents should be able to see them. They must be accessible.