Victim of 'Irish gulag' who spent most of his life in State custody


Charlie 'The Hare' Maguire:CHARLIE “THE Hare” Maguire was one of the dwindling number of survivors from Ireland’s gulag of the 1940s – the industrial school system. A powerless man seemingly perceived as a rural outsider, he spent nearly two-thirds of his life in the custody of the State, and died after nearly half a century as a patient in St Davnet’s hospital in Monaghan.

Charlie Maguire was born in 1933 on a small farm at Knockroe, near the Co Cavan village of Swanlinbar. His father, Peter Maguire, was 72 when Charlie was born. It was Peter Maguire’s second marriage. At the time of Charlie’s birth, his half-brother Owen was 37, and had long left the area.

His mother Brigid Maguire (née Kelly) was a native of Killesher, Co Fermanagh. She was nearly 40 years younger than her husband. Her mother had come to the farm as a “serving woman”, and made a match for her daughter with Peter Maguire.

When Charlie was six, Peter Maguire died. The Knockroe farm was left to Owen, and Charlie and his mother moved to Peter’s other farm in the neighbouring townland of Gobnafarna.

In 1944, a local priest and the gardaí decided Charlie’s mother was unable to control him. The 11-year-old was sent to St Joseph’s Industrial School at Letterfrack, Co Galway. He never recovered psychologically from the physical abuse he suffered.

At 16 he was released and spent the next eight years working on a farm in Galway. Then he made his way back to Swanlinbar.

The family was traditional, even by 1950s standards. Their house was thatched and Bridget Maguire is remembered as still wearing a black shawl in the 1960s.

Charlie was blamed for petty crime in the area. In 1960 he was jailed for two years, with hard labour, after being found guilty of the larceny of five hens. He was found not guilty of stealing sheaves of oats to the value of £2 (approximately €90 in today’s money), and a turf spade.

In April 1962, soon after his release, he was charged with setting fire to a haypeck. The alleged offences were part of a dispute with a neighbour. Some older locals still claim the haypeck was rotten, and couldn’t burn. The court found Charlie unfit to plead and ordered he be detained at the Central Mental Hospital. Medical staff there assessed him as schizophrenic, but not a threat. In 1963 he was transferred to St Davnet’s Hospital, Monaghan, where he would spend the rest of his life.

In 1971 the Forest and Wildlife Service bought his farm at Gubnafarna. He was paid £350 (approximately €7,500 in today’s terms) for the 15 acres. He was satisfied with the price. However, after the money was paid to him he had difficulties in ascertaining its whereabouts. Despite his limited education, he challenged several solicitors and banks till he tracked down the money.

One bank manager was so impressed by his persistence that he attended Charlie’s funeral. He regularly challenged the Health Board in writing with facts and figures querying deductions made from his benefit.

Incarceration made Charlie institutionalised. In 1983, a psychiatrist at St Davnet’s wrote: “If it were possible in some way to have the original charges processed so that he can remain on here as a voluntary patient, he would much appreciate it.”

Unfortunately this did not happen. The fact that there is no photograph to accompany this obituary of Charlie Maguire tells its own story.

Charlie “The Hare” Maguire: born January 14th, 1933; died October 10th, 2010