In June 1964, a twelve-year old child was summonsed to appear at Dublin’s Children's Court. The offence for which he was charged related to an amateurish break-in when coerced and accompanied by older children. In terms of gravity the misbehaviour was hardly more than a prank. In the severe surroundings of that oak panelled court, deep in the bowels of Dublin Castle, Mickey was sentenced to serve Three years hard labour in what was then known as an industrial school. Letterfrack Industrial School to which he was sent is situated in Connemara, one of Ireland’s most isolated regions. For a child its remoteness found its equal only in a Siberian gulag; the likelihood of escape less than that from San Francisco’s notorious Alcatraz Prison. Its seclusion in this malevolent place of correction was a major factor in the institutionalised abuse of children by the Christian Brothers with whom these unfortunate waifs were placed Many of these ill-fated youngsters had not been convicted of any offence; their crime was that they were orphaned; most if not all were victims of dysfunctional family life. During his sentence Mickey, and the hundreds of other children who passed through this den of depravity, were methodically physically and mentally tortured and abused. The Irish State was instrumental in providing this depraved band of brothers with a steady supply of victims. With Taliban-like zeal the Christian Brothers methodically administered random life threatening beatings merely on a whim; the more injurious were witnessed by fellow brothers and many witnessed by other terrified children.
As an Irish national it gives me no pleasure to assist in recording an account of the heartbreaking suffering of those boys who, largely through no fault of their own, were sent to St Joseph’s Industrial School in Letterfrack, County Galway. The road to hell being paved with good intentions this hideous and now notorious children’s penal colony began life and for some, death, as a Quaker-inspired school in 1887. Through the passage of time it malformed into what was euphemistically called an industrial school (Scoileanna Saothair) for young boys. Today they are called Children’s Detention Schools. Under the Industrial Schools Act (1888) their purpose was to ‘care for neglected, orphaned and abandoned children.’ In essence they were a dumping ground for children who found themselves on the fringes of society. In 1954 there were three classes of boys placed in Letterfrack’s St Josephs: The Homeless and those guilty of criminal offences, the destitute sent by local authorities in accordance with the Public Assistance Act; those voluntarily admitted by parents and guardians. From its conception St Joseph’s Industrial School was mismanaged by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. In respect of those committed for criminal acts it should be remembered that these unfortunates were extremely young and their ‘offences’ petty in the extreme. It is a sobering thought that within our lifetime conditions at this school find their equal only in 18th Century English judicial barbarism. The nearby Fields of Athenry are poignant enough for most people’s stomachs. For many of the unfortunate boys who endured St Joseph’s transportation might well have been a blessing. The ‘school’s’ notoriety was founded upon the abuse and extreme physical and mental punishments inflicted upon defenceless children by a largely psychotic mob of cassocked ecclesiastic wardens. No fewer that 147 children died whilst under their tender mercies. Many of these brothers may be presumed to be practitioners of the dark arts. Only the devil could have been inspired to inflict such miseries on defenceless waifs; only darkness have conspired a whole community to turn aside from the wailing of hundreds of children through those dark decades of its existence. Some of the dreadful scenes are reminiscent of the scenes depicted in medieval tapestries in which the excesses of hell are defined. This is the testimony of Mickey Finn, himself an inmate from the age of twelve to sixteen. It is also an authentication, a memorial and recognition for each of the adolescent victims of those men of the cloth and their collaborationists. His account of life in this dreadful institution will give many pauses for thought as to the iniquities of man. It immortalises the cold hearted ethos of the judiciary. They will also be inspired by the selfless acts, rebelliousness and inborn stoicism of young boys in the face of extreme hostility. Mickey Finn
In June 1964 a twelve year old child was summoned to appear at Dublins Children's Court. The offence for which he was charged related to an amateurish break-in when coerced and accompanied by older children. In the severe surroundings of that Oak panelled court, deep in the bowels of Dublin Castle. I Mickey Finn was sentenced to three years in what was then known as. St Joseph's Industrial school. Letterfrack. Connemara. Ireland. It gives me no pleasure as an Irish Citizen to assist in recording an account of the heartbreaking tribulation of those boys who, largely through no fault of their own were sent to this Devils School and were abused by the Christan Brothers on a daily basis. Mickey Finn is the pen name of RFH who after living away from Ireland for over twenty years has returned. To see that not a lot has changed in his native land. This has resulted in the writing of this harrowing autobiography. Mickey lives in Dublin and has five children and eight grand children.