100 died at Letterfrack school, say Brothers

 

The number of boys who died at Letterfrack Industrial School in Connemara between its opening in 1888 and closure in 1974 was 100, it has been confirmed.

Brother David Gibson, provincial of the Irish Christian Brothers' northern province, which includes Letterfrack, said that following a more thorough investigation of their files it was now established that 100 boys had died at the school during the 86-year period. A trawl two weeks ago had set the figure at 97. Twenty-six of the boys died while on leave/holidays from Letterfrack.

Brother Gibson also rebutted claims by the Joseph Pyke Memorial Trust that Joseph Pyke died in 1958, aged 15, after a beating at another of the industrial schools, in Tralee. The death certificate recorded the cause of death, on February 9th, 1958, as "bilateral pleural effusion" which he understood to mean pneumonia, he said.

In a detailed statement responding to recent media reports, the Brothers pointed out that 2,819 boys attended Letterfrack between 1888 and 1974. Over that period several factors affected the life and health of the boys in Letterfrack and of the people of Ireland. There was the level of poverty that could not easily be appreciated in modern Ireland, the Great Flu of 1918 and the prevalence of tuberculosis up to the 1950s.

In Letterfrack between 1891 and 1942, 74 boys were buried in the cemetery there. Between 1896 and 1970, 26 more boys died and were buried at various locations. The statement continued: "Some died in hospital, some in the care of employers to whom they had been sent from Letterfrack, and others while at their own homes. The deaths and causes of death were recorded in all cases."

At the end of November 1918, during the Great Flu, seven boys died within 12 days at Letterfrack. At that time it was recorded that 14,000 people in Ireland died due to the epidemic over three months.

As regards the cemetery at Letterfrack, the statement said that "in the early 1960s, the cemetery was in need of attention. Nobody had been interred there for several years."

In an attempt to record the names and commemorate all buried there "a single headstone was erected. Regrettably, the full record was not consulted and so an incomplete list of names appears on the headstone". The headstone recorded just 61 of the deaths.

The statement continued that "the News of the World claimed in September 2002 that 'a single headstone was erected in the dead of night'. This statement was untrue, as the headstone was erected in broad daylight".

The newspaper had continued that "dead boys were simply wrapped in blankets and dropped in lime which quickly dissolved their bodies, wiping out any trace that they ever existed". This, too, was untrue, the statement said.

"All burials in Letterfrack were carried out in the normal way. There is a record of the date of death and the medical cause of death in all cases. Four sources or records exist in which [each of\] the deaths were recorded."

These sources were the official school register, the school's infirmary record, "Form B", a regular written report of events at the school, and the official \ registry of births and deaths.

The statement rejected a claim in the same article that "the Christian Brothers wilfully concealed the deaths of 17 boys entrusted to their care". All deaths of boys in Letterfrack were documented and accounted for by the Christian Brothers, the statement said.

A named former pupil in Letterfrack was quoted in the article on the nature of deaths there, it said. "He was a pupil at the school from 1959 until 1963. Seventeen years before he arrived in Letterfrack, the last boy died and was buried there in 1942." It was also reported that Martin "the General" Cahill had been in Letterfrack, but he had never been, according to records.

A News of the World article of May 6th last claimed to have "uncovered vital clues which explain" the deaths of two boys at the school. Both boys, George Glynn and John McDonnell, died after they had left Letterfrack, the former in an accident near Tuam, Co Galway, in 1953, and the latter died in 1956 in his sleep in Castlebar, said Brother Gibson.