We must stop claiming that ‘we never knew’ about child abuse

  • Fin Dwyer with a piece on the extent to which child abuse was known about in Irish society. The piece featured on Irish History Podcast. and is reproduced by TPQ with permission.
I wrote this piece for journal.ie originally about two years ago, but given the current revelations about ‘mother and child’ homes I think it has some relevance. As Ireland tries to deal with this scandal, an important aspect of this will be acknowledging many were aware the abuse was on-going and would not or could not do anything to stop it.

OVER THE PAST two decades the issue of child abuse has dominated the Irish political agenda. Harrowing as the various reports have been Irish society has yet to deal with one of the most challenging and complex aspects of the abuse; how much did wider society in Ireland know?

A frequent response to this question has been that the vast majority of people never knew about child abuse until the 1990s. This does not hold up to scrutiny. Historians such as Diarmaid Ferriter have have pointed out that evidence in newspapers, court reports and government files indicate many people on all levels of society had varying degrees of knowledge of the abuse of children.

Carrigan Report

As early as 1931 the Cumann na nGaedheal government had conclusive evidence of widespread child abuse in Irish society when they received ‘The Carrigan Report’, findings of a committee that examined ‘Criminal Law Amendment Acts and Juvenile Prostitution’.

The then Garda commissioner Eoin O’Duffy had testified to the committee that there had been over four hundred reported cases of abuse of girls under the age of 18 between 1924 and 1929 including an “alarming… number of cases of interference with girls under 16 and with children under 11 years of age”. O Duffy estimated that these reflected at most 15 per cent of the actual crimes being committed.

In what became an all too frequent response in Ireland those in authority were unwilling to act when presented with the findings of the Carrigan Report. Ireland’s nationalist leaders had long argued that the country’s ills had been caused by the British presence on the island. The publishing of such a report after nearly a decade of Independence would directly contradict this. It would also tarnish Ireland’s image as a Catholic country.

Many also struggled to believe the testimony of children, something that the reporting of child abuse was dependent on.

In this context the report was treated with hostility. The Department of Justice memo on the report in 1931 called it ‘practically without value’. Through 1932, two successive government cabinets, a secret Dáil committee representing all parties and the Standing Committee Of Irish Bishops viewed the report. Disturbingly the report was suppressed and none of these people who had seen its shocking details raised the disturbing findings in public.

All agreed that the best way to deal with the report was through as little public debate as possible on issues surrounding sexual immorality. Perhaps most worryingly they even failed to call for further examination into O’Duffy’s statistics or further monitoring of abuse cases.

Black and blue

Despite the Carrigan Report’s suppression, evidence of the abuse of children surfaced in public from time to time. Between 1924 and 1960 Irish circuit courts heard 1,500 cases regarding sexual offences of which 81 per cent were regarding victims seventeen or younger. As well as the discussion these cases must have provoked in local communities, many were also reported in the press. Even though the term paedophilia would not be commonly used until the 1990s, references to terms such as ‘indecent assault against a young girl’ left the reader with a fairly clear idea of the nature, if not the detail, of the crime.

While the Carrigan Report and court prosecutions dealt with abuse in wider society, abuse in church run institutions was not completely unknown either. For example in 1935, 15-year-old John Byrne was killed in Artane Industrial School. He had been beaten by a teacher which was reported in The Irish Times. Although the coroner reported that the boy had died of disease, the Communist Party newspaper The Workers Voice interviewed the boy’s father who said his son’s body “was black and blue”. The Communist Party called for a public inquiry as early as May, 1935.

Mary Raftery and Eoin O Sullivan have pointed that knowledge of the regimes of abuse in Irish industrial schools was also held in communities adjacent to these institutions. Communities close to the Christian Brothers School in Salthill, Co Galway frequently heard the screams of children at night as did those living beside a similar institution in Daingean, Co Offaly.

In the summer of 1946 the issue of institutional abuse was widely debated in the Irish papers when Fr Edward Flanagan, a native of Roscommon and well known US priest visited Ireland. He had earned widespread fame through his progressive institution Boystown which was the subject of a 1938 Oscar winning film. As he travelled across Ireland Flanagan was critical of the regime of physical abuse he witnessed in some of Ireland’s institutions.


He directly attacked youth prisons in public saying “your institutions are not all noble, particularly your borstals which are a disgrace.” When addressing a crowd at a public meeting in Cork he encouraged people to help children “by keeping your children away from these institutions”.

When Flanagan returned to the US his criticism was reported in the American press and a prolonged debate on the issue continued in Ireland through the late summer and autumn of 1946. Nothing was done as the government denied the charges. Similar criticism was widely reported in 1963 when eight girls who had escaped an institution in Bundoran had their heads shaved when they were caught and returned to the institution run by the Sisters of St. Louis. The story was covered in the British newspaper The People under the headline “Orphanage horror”.

Rather than provoke protest, the phrase ‘Bundoran haircut’ entered popular parlance in the north-west to threaten misbehaving children – reflecting the uncaring attitudes pervasive in Irish society toward children in these institutions, who were for the main working class children and the children of single mothers. For those concerned taking action against abuse was not easy. When people did complain they were ignored by politicians and department officials who time and again believed the church who denied allegations.

As a society, Ireland needs to address this fact that many knew of the abuse of children, and ask why they did not or perhaps more to the point could not act. This will involve looking at the historic role of the Catholic Church in shaping ideas around morality and sex which made discussion of sexual abuse very difficult. Likewise we must look at the role played by the highly authoritarian and conservative governments of the state who were more concerned about the country’s image than children suffering abuse.


  1. We didn't know or Ireland was so obedient to the Church?

    I have heard the claims of ignorance likened to that of post war second world war Germany. And children's homes were effectively concentration camps and its inmates died of neglect, malnutrition or succumbed to infections as result of neglect and malnutrition.

    There is a false excuse making the rounds on all the mainstream media that because of the cramped conditions contagion was to blame and not neglect and malnutrition creating the vulnerability to contagion.

    It isn't exactly a war crime, its not even accurately ethnic cleansing, is it the emerging of a new phenomena of Religious Crime? Or is it just the Irish peoples innate sense of needing to feel better and morally superior to others even if it is the most vulnerable and defenseless from within our own society?

  2. Although I am no lover of the Catholic Church, the Irish people bear responsibility collectively with institutions like the church. We should all be striving to rectify any wrongs carried out by fellow irish people back then and even now.
    A lot of people pontificating now about the Tuam scandal probably have no problem with the 'benefit scroungers' campaign waged by the great and good in the present day? They have no problem if people in our society are too poor to get good healthcare or a basic standard of living. They are very quiet when a couple of pensioners are found frozen to death in a flat because they couldn't afford heating. Surely their lives are as sacred as those poor people in Tuam? Because as far as I can see the present day 'burdens on society' would probably have been turfed into an institution like Tuam if they were around in that time. In fact there are some who would still do today.
    I would hope these journalists who are concerned about scandals like Tuam, further their investigations and start looking further afield at this practice of abusing and using kids? They will find this isn't an 'Irish' problem solely. This carry on was/is going on we're ever the westerner has settled. Look no further than England and you will see systematic child abuse/trafficking that would dwarf anything that has happened in Ireland. Questions need to be raised as to why our 'brave' media fail or neglect to report these stories properly. When the media takes a blackout or downplays scandals it usually means some very important people are involved.
    If the press etc continue to ignore scandals in other countries that are connected to these shores then one could assume the press is blatantly anti irish. One could also assume they are no more interested in the welfare of those kids in Tuam than they are with those kids in the Jersey care home, for example.

  3. Yeah Wolfe Tone, a great attempt to deflect attention- don't look at the finger, look at the moon, which is much bigger and brighter!!
    But instead of looking at the moon, why don't we start by focusing on the finger -
    The catholic <church in ireland created the problem of single mums and their children and then created the various solutions.
    Business, anybody?
    do have a look at http://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/the-way-we-were-single-mums/
    Then follow the trail to some other posts about the vatican, the UN and when is a state not a state and so on
    Then come back and tell me we should focus on the moon and leave the finger out of the picture!!!

  4. Eurofree3

    I dont know what you are on about with fingers and moons but i am not trying to deflect scandals the catholic church is involved in. If i had my way all religions would be knocked on the head but when certain pro brit media outlets based in ireland are now all of a sudden showing concern for poor kids in Tuam, i just wonder why they arent pulling up trees in places like Jersey etc?
    Perhaps if they did they would be shocked at how widespread child abuse/trafficking is and perhaps it might shock people into doing something about it?
    What with all the reports around these isles you would be forgiven for thinking it was an irish catholic problem thing this exploitation of kids.
    Maybe you can do a bit of investigating seeing as you are passionate about it?

  5. I will tell you what Ireland is -A largely piss weak nation of people drunk on notions they have balls of steel. If you are young get the hell out of the place if you can. Let the place burn and crumble without you. I am ashamed of Ireland I am NOT proud to be Irish and the older I get the angrier I get about the filth of the Catholic religion and the cries of "o how shocking" and such when more atrocities are exposed. Bullshit. If you cared you would boot Catholicism up its arse and expose it for the rotten deal it is. Actively spurn it.

    You didn't and don't listen to us survivors What does a march calling for Justice mean when thousands still totter off to Mass and give money to the very organisation that fucks them over and fucks little ones literally.
    Those babies and children meant nothing to the Catholic church and you can build a trillion memorials and spruce up graveyards showing too late concern and love (Letterfrack springs to mind) BUT until Irish men and women individually and collectively spurn the religion that shaped atrocities into the now – expect nothing to change. Catholicism is a curse on native Irish and as for the OO – you know witch or the bitch stuff

    Both are pathetic and both keep sectarianism alive through generational pus of indoctrination. I am a non religious Christian and no amount of money would get me inside a church although occasionally I go to an Aboriginal Christian gathering here in Australia. Ireland is slow to mature and take a stand and face what it is

    Effectively no-one did anything for the single mums and babes and wee ones because to step out of the oppression and name it and demand justice would mean you were on your own. That is the power of indoctrination. Church and State sealed their fate. Many DID understand and many today also understand the Catholic religion was/is a pox on humanity as oppressive as any secular regime that oppresses.

  6. @ eurofree yes you nailed it right imo… It is entrenched societal mores shaped by religious doctrines specifically RC (I am ex Catholic) that allowed for centuries of subjugation of Irish and abuse of minors. Catholicism became woven/embedded in Irish culture and psyche til in the end Irish identified as Irish Catholic rather than indigenous or native Irish… There was and remains a curious loyalty to Catholicism by many Irish irrespective of the obvious subjugation and suffering it inflicted.

    This misplaced loyalty I attribute to centuries old indoctrination…. I can see from my own generational family history – the displacement, the despair, the alcoholism, the self negating, the suicides, the depression, the neuroses, the encoding of misogyny, fear and tapping into the human desire for surety of life in the hereafter because life on earth was so twisted. All can be traced back to Catholicism. A religion that demanded so much yet gave so little to the people yet still they clung to the religion til death they did part… A religion that adores a god man dressed in jewels The King of Pharisees The Pope and Jesus have nothing in common. The Pope is a Pharisee – a whitewashed grave.

  7. thanks for the support Mary
    One comment you made started off a train of thought "This misplaced loyalty I attribute to centuries old indoctrination"

    There's "the few good apples" argument explained -

    I suppose there were some Nazis or hardline communists who opposed the Holocaust or Stalin's purges Yet we don't use them to support those regimes.

    Why should the line "there were/are some great men/women in the Church"be used to justify what in normal terms would be called "crimes" which apparently the majority of Church clergy has done or condoned?

  8. "I will tell you what Ireland is -A largely piss weak nation of people drunk on notions they have balls of steel. "

    fair ball to you mary, got it in one. for what its worth i call myself gaelic-irish now. and it doesnt mean i speak irish, even though i am lately, it means i try to speak the fuc*ing truth, especially when it comes to this country of sleeveens, gombeens, shoneens and all round spineless bastards. good luck to u mary down there in oz.

  9. Mary Marscal,
    Who are you to tell people to spurn Catholicism or tell them to stop going to mass? If you think paedophilia is an Irish catholic problem you are showing a great deal of ignorance. Look at the bbc scandal, the franklin scandal, the Austrian rings, Hollie greig, so on and so forth. Paedophiles are a global problem and one we should unite in exterminating. However your tactic seems to be labelling all mass going catholics paedo supporters, tell me how's that tactic going to work? Paedophilia has nothing to do with Catholicism if Catholicism didn't exist paedos would find other bodies to exploit to rape kids. I don't see how your wee rant is in any way productive.

  10. david, they moved their paedo priests around poor areas. never to foxrock or the likes. and that legion of christ bloke m maciel. he was off his head on drugs and riding men women and kids for decades. this was known for 50 years. only thing is, he was brill at bringing in millions to the vatican so he was okay. its fukd up. how can u expect people not to be fuming. they rekd a lot of minds and bodies and not one went hungry during 'famine'. hypocrisy and bullying to the nth degree. and the holy mary catholic middle class brown nosed them and covered up for them so their teresas and seans cud get on. people are pisd off and proper order. if it happened to one of mine id be fit to kill. they called themselves princes and lived in palaces. how did that come about. its weird.

  11. @ David Higgins So this be my answer to your question. I am 55 not 15 – don’t mess with me re implying Catholicism being of merit. It is sugar coated feces and Ireland needs to cop on hard to this and discard it along with OO as well.
    Those godly nuns were largely twisted up individuals who joined the nunnery because of impoverishment or indoctrination or were just too physically fugly for a man to want to marry them and that was all that was left for them. Cruel but true.

    Their unhappiness and suppressed sexuality exploded as a twisted form of imposed morality and rabid hate for babes and young mums. It’s disgusting. They did not serve Jesus Christ They were demonic instruments of evil and those little corpses were their victims.

    The article is specifically addressing crimes of the Vatican dating back decades and into the now is it not. Whilst abuse of minors is not limited to Catholic religion it is entrenched within it’s construct.

    Did you read the article by Fin Dwyer – it is worth reading. As to who am I to say what I say re leave the Catholic church. I have every right to say it more than some perhaps and definitely on a level with all of us now old who suffered horrendous abuse under the auspices of Catholicism.

    I spit on Catholicism for its deception, twisted doctrines, control and pure evil. I also spit on the Masonic order. They are both beasts. Catholicism is a false god peddler of neuroses and inflictor of horrors on the young. A disgusting, mercenary religion steeped in spiritual deceptions that wrought havoc on lives world wide.

    Btw I grew up in a fiercely Catholic home. The Masonic order is as vile but porchmasons don’t u/stand what really it is all about do they now… Have not a clue re eye of Horus. It is not all in their faces now is it like it is in Catholicism. They are too busy worshiping King Billy to even get hip to abit of what Masonic order really is.

    If you study the history of Catholicism and understand the false doctrines it perpetrated on Ireland you would shun it. To Hell with enforced, unnatural codes of morality, statutes, rosary beads, saints intercession (madness), a god man Pope to bow low to (dangerous move with clergy about). To Hell with the whole caboodle. Bring back Celtic Christianity not Catholicism.

    If you practice Catholicism you are a deceived fool. Walk away from it. Open your eyes and ears. See it for what it is. St Patrick was not Catholic. Everything is phoney in Catholicism… it’s astounding how much bullshit is cleverly crafted and hoisted on to the naïve as spirituality. “how much Father for a Mass?”

    Prayers for the dead yeah right Bless me Father for I have sinned… (tragic comedy – telling your dastardly deeds to a flesh and blood equally as fallible human who somehow possesses the only hotline to God). It is insanity and blasphemy if you are a Christian of the highest order. The sole mediator to God in Christianity is Jesus Christ. Mary worship btw is nothing new It aligns with old pagan ways and also Islam yes that's right. In Islam Mary is worshiped. But as you know us Irish just love the wee statues and wishing trees and rosaries and trinkets and good luck charms... O Father so lovely to see you Yes Father... no Father 3 fkn bags full Father tehe! Yes Sister o thank you Sister Pray for me Sister o thank ye thank ye Where has this all CRAP got us? Up shit creek without a paddle.

  12. @ grouch yeah teanga... it is sorta comforting having that and other cultural aspects. In fact its all that left of worth I think of being Irish Hard to keep the faith in Dia... to plod on stay strong speak yer truth Refuse compromise or be stood over... effort fkn effort At least we know who we are and what is what

  13. @ eurofree there were 'good priests' that is for certain... I know of one who worked with lepers and died of the disease Gave his all... However for all those who were 'good' it does not mean they were not deceived to have affiliated with Catholicism. It cannot and never will justify adhering to Catholicism in the now when it is blatantly obvious the construct is evil and rotten to the core...

  14. I think David Higgins might be Jihad John lol

  15. Mary Marscal,
    I didn't ask for a theological debate. There is no empirical evidence that a Jesus even existed so, Catholicism, celtic Christianity to some people it's all a control mechanism. The point is it's all about belief and I ask again who are you to tell people what to believe and what right do you have to tell people to abandon their belief structure regardless of what you think of it.
    Tell me how is how is abandoning roman Catholicism going to eradicate paedophilia? people always want to blame organisations but you have to deal with the evil side of humanity wherever you find it. Was the Catholic church response to child rape disgusting? of course it was, that's not up for debate, but for you to label practicing Catholics paedo supporters was outrageous and unbelievable arrogant.
    Incidentally I don't care what age you are, don't see how that is relevant. For me your argument is counter productive and unrealistic. What do you think is going to happen people will all leave religion and live happily ever after? Ask yourself this why are humans so easily lead and so ready for violence? Is this religion's fault? If you eradicate religion what will replace it? socialism? that worked well!
    There is a lot to be said for Christian values, any community should make the protection of children paramount, we failed, but your solution to insult practicing Catholics makes no sense to me. It is very easy to be a smartarse about religion, the parables make no sense in a modern world but the fact is Christian groups, including catholic groups that you openly despise do a lot of work in their own communities.

  16. @ David Dunderhead Higgins You don't have a clue not a clue re how the Global Rape Cartel rolls and it shows. It is vital that Catholics walk away from the construct of Catholicism and throw off the centuries old shackles. Plenty of other Christian orgs/churches they can join. And you are so wrong so dammed wrong. Yes every Catholic who continues to attend Catholic church, give money to Catholic orgs is a traitor and enabler of the worst kind.

    Do you really think there are not more atrocities yet to be revealed... And they (the abusers) there are thousands of them out there in the Catholic churches and orgs worldwide. It is a pandemic pedo org. As for theological debate - was not my intent. I don't care what you personally believe Its your prerogative atheist Christian Buddhist whatever Before you run your trap educate yourself on what Catholicism has done and listen to survivors. Their voices are the voices of those also who did not make it.

    We are the voices of all who never made it DISMANTLE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH Starve it of attendance, money and misplaced respect & free Ireland from the curse of it. Nothing more to say cept F you for your stupidity.

  17. David
    Mary Marscal,
    Who are you to tell people to spurn Catholicimsm or tell them to stop going to mass?

    I'd hazard a guess because Mary thinks it's another 'ism. ISM's don't work David they never have and they never will. ISM's put people in 'boxes' and control them. That's why I'm a Belfast rockabilly, because it can't be 'ISMed'. Neither can Punk. Doesn't stop me being Irish or knowing right from wrong. On this front I can only speak for myself but I'm generally too hung over on a Sunday morning to think about mass.

  18. Mary marscal,
    I don't need to educate myself about the Catholic church I am quite aware of it's history. My point was there was paedos and evil men before Catholicism and there will be once it's gone. If you want to protect children, then be active in the prosecution of the perpetrators. Labelling all mass going Catholics as paedo enablers is moronic in the highest order and shows your intellectual limitations, not mine.
    As for the name calling, you can do better than dunderhead, I am fat, small and drink to much, so maybe something like wee fat pisshead would be more appropriate.
    You still didn't answer my question, say, for arguments sake you bring down Catholicism, how does that stop paedophilia? and what implications does that have on the wider society?
    Frankie, I never said isms do work I just want people to accept there is deep problems in the human nature, we always like to blame something powerful i.e Catholicism, monarchs, governments, Nazis, socialism and so on the common denominator is humans. Blaming one section of society solves nothing.

  19. mary, for what its worth i believe in the communion of saints, especially padre pio, frankie, marxist-lennonism is the exception to the ism debate.

  20. 2014 Irishman John Deegan confronting Bishops at St Patricks college Maynooth A man to salute. I was particularly struck by how succinct he was and nailed them down all ways they roll through history
    “Rome and the British establishment looked after ya’s well…” YES yes yes!!! Say it say say it.

    If link don’t work (I dunno how to make it so u just click on it – some techhead let me know if pos ta) If link don’t work Google: Irish Catholic Bishops confronted 2014

  21. @ grouch padre pio - interesting life As for stigmata and other verified experiences (levitation) he had what smells like dance with the devil to me. Was from childhood extremely obsessed with the supernatural No dif to guru stuff in India But what spirit/s were operating. Test the spirit.
    Re Communion of saints? I cannot stand most of the churchified Christians I encounter My face twists into a sneer of derision as they head my way. R ye saved sister? F off lol Could I be possessed? (insert sarcastic laugh here) Hope heaven has a place well away from these headfucks for me. slan

  22. @ David Higgins Apologies for cursing you out. Was out of order. RE'...you bring down Catholicism, how does that stop paedophilia? and what implications does that have on the wider society?"
    It would be a huge start for a foundation of accountability to be set A standard sans revering and trusting those who purport to serve God. Re pedophilia - a cop once told me the first place they look for a pedo on the run is in churches and religious orgs. I can only address RC situation and I know I'm right with what I say, Know it down to the marrow in me bones. Theres an inner thing in every man & woman....

  23. mary, he got me out of an unbelievably evil situation. st francis had stigmata too. i believe in the other side and these beings along with aboriginal ancestors and good people whov gone are there to help us.

  24. Mary Marscal,
    No need for apologies it's a hard topic to discuss and it can get heated. I just think child rape is a society problem, not a catholic one, having said that Catholics need to do more to expose these bastards, but for me it's too easy to say if we took down the church we would rid the world of perverts. Some of the people I love dearly attend mass weekly and I can't stand by and hear them called paedo enablers.

  25. I see the british have again been accused of a cover up. This time a paedophile ring in the corridors of power in London. Alas the great and the good have been quick to demand an explanation whilst down playing the extent of this scandal. One suspects that if the allegations are true it would explain why so much focus has been on the celebrity abusers like rolf harris etc lately ie to deflect from even bigger prominent abusers in british society.
    Surely it isnt possible that the actual lawmakers would actually be involved in the most vile practices of child abuse, for all these years?
    Surely the actual people who pontificate how the plebs live wouldnt be involved in such evil deeds?
    Just like the catholic church was rocked to its foundations when its evil deeds were made known the possibility of the british establishment being involved in similar or even worse actions would blow the lid of any perceived notions of decency and honesty the british like to portray.
    For this reason alone the ruling classes will pull out all the stops to wish away this scandal just like the catholic church does/did. Who would have thought these 2 institutions would have lots in common?
    Unfortunately the deafening silence by those who are quick to condemn(and rightl so)the catholic church abuses seem reluctant to highlight similar scandals in the UK. Strange indeed.