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Hidden files reveal plight of the boys 'made into slaves'

Documents reveal the Christian Brothers placed boys into servitude with Limerick's merchant princes, writes Wayne O'Connor


Hidden for decades: Tom Wall pictured in his home at Glin in Co Limerick with the documents from Glin Industrial School. Tom, an abuse survivor from the school, said boys from Glin were ‘licensed out’ to farmers as ‘slaves’. Photo: Brian Gavin

Hidden for decades: Tom Wall pictured in his home at Glin in Co Limerick with the documents from Glin Industrial School. Tom, an abuse survivor from the school, said boys from Glin were ‘licensed out’ to farmers as ‘slaves’. Photo: Brian Gavin

Hidden for decades: Tom Wall pictured in his home at Glin in Co Limerick with the documents from Glin Industrial School. Tom, an abuse survivor from the school, said boys from Glin were ‘licensed out’ to farmers as ‘slaves’. Photo: Brian Gavin

A notorious industrial school in Limerick was paid to send boys under the age of 16 to work for traders, merchants and big farmers, according to hundreds of documents that have remained hidden for decades.

Experts say the find demonstrates 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 Glin Industrial School. An abuse survivor from the school called the contracts "slave deals, tying boys to a 'master' for up to three years".

Former Glin boy Tom Wall, who saved the documents from being destroyed, said he believes the commission of inquiry into the abuse of children should be reopened as the records show the practice of "licensing out" children was widespread. "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," said Tom.

"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."

These records were not included in the 2009 Ryan Report following the inquiry as they only came to light two years ago. They were seen publicly for the first time last week.

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 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.

He added the practice was a major bone of contention for many former industrial school residents, who often left the country for England shortly after the school's contract with local businesses was terminated.

"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."

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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.

Among them are hundreds of committal orders, discharge summaries and personal letters sent to, and by, the boys staying in the school. It appears the personal letters Tom rescued were never delivered.

Tom was born to a single mother in a mother and baby home in Newcastle West and was admitted to Glin Industrial School when he was three years old. His committal form was discovered among the rescued documents and shows he was deemed "illegitimate".

Letters from to and from his mother were among those that were never delivered.

"I asked about her on numerous occasions and I was told she was dead. I found out she was actually living in Newcastle West. I searched everywhere looking for her but nobody had heard of a Josephine Wall.

"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.'

"I told her I wrote letters. She said she was writing letters as well but I never got a letter. There was no communication, no hope of getting anything through.

"I asked her about my father but she never let me know and I never found out."

Tom 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.

"Didn't one of the brothers come looking for us and it was said that we absconded but we hadn't gone anywhere.

"I got such a beating. That will always stay with me."

However, he was deemed to be a "very good child", according to the records, and a "good worker". He was kept on at the school after his discharge to help with maintenance and the running of the buildings.

In 1973, with the 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 he held on to many of the documents as he wanted to see if they contained information about his past and his mother. Tom kept the liberated files in an attic for more than 40 years.

"All I was interested in was finding something in the documents about myself. I was not into history or anything like that. I wanted to know about myself.

"I put them up in the attic and they remained there undisturbed until the roof tiles started slipping in 2015. Then I went to look for an archivist or someone who could do something with them."

He offered them to the University of Limerick (UL) 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 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.

After visiting their archives, Tom was not satisfied that the documents would be made publicly available and he was concerned that they would be difficult to access.

Tom's case was highlighted in the Dail last month by Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins and the European Province of Christian Brothers has since changed its stance, saying it would be happy to receive copies of the documents rather than the originals.

"We advised UL that were we to be provided with appropriate copies of the Glin documents for our archive we would have no objection to the original papers being donated to the university," said a spokesman.

He conceded there were gaps in the Christian Brothers' archives but described the suggestion Tom was told to burn records at the school as a "claim" and not in line with the congregation's policy. He refused to be drawn on the indentures or contracts when questioned by the Sunday Independent.

Tom has now called on the State to intervene and said 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."

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