St Joseph’s Industrial School was an industrial school for young boys in LetterfrackCounty GalwayIreland. The school was opened in 1887, and ran by the Congregation of Christian Brothers.

St Joseph’s received a lasting notoriety through revelation of physical and sexual abuse of the boys by some of the Brothers there, with evidence of sexual abuse and extreme physical punishments going back to the 1930s. 147 children died there while in the care of the Christian Brothers mainly from abuse and neglect. The school was closed in 1974.

Letterfrack Industrial School in Connemara – Sexual/physical abuse & death !

FOR generations of children, institutional care was run like a military regime where abandoned, orphaned and abused kids were given a number and ordered to march like little soldiers to the beat of a drum played by vicious and cruel masters.

They were beaten for wetting their beds, raped by evil paedophiles and subjected to unthinkable punishments for the tiniest offence. Letterfrack, the Magdalene Laundries, Artane and Daingean are just a few of the institutions from a long list of shame that has emerged from the stories of horror of those who survived.

Cold, grey buildings run by evil men and women who hid behind the Catholic Church and its iron grip on the psyche of a nation. Some never made it out alive and were buried without a headstone in the lonely grounds.

Countless, so deeply haunted by the memories, took their own lives. Thousands still struggle with the physical and mental scars they will bear like a cross until the day they die. 

Number of boys who died at Letterfrack Industrial School is 147

The number of boys who died at Letterfrack Industrial School in Connemara between its opening in 1888 and closure in 1974 was 147, 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 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.

Physical abuse

The report concluded that corporal punishment in Letterfrack was “severe, excessive and pervasive, and created a climate of fear”, that it “was the primary method of control” and that unavoidable because “it was frequently capricious, unfair and inconsistent”

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse “by Brothers was a chronic problem in Letterfrack” and that those members of the order who served there “included firstly those who had previously been guilty of sexual abuse of boys, secondly those whose abuse was discovered while they worked in that institution and, thirdly some who were subsequently revealed to have abused boys”.The Christian Brothers “did not properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse of boys by Brothers” and “knew that Brothers who sexually abused boys were a continuing danger”. Sending known abusers to any industrial school was “an act of reckless disregard” especially “one as remote and isolated as Letterfrack”.The handling of members of the order who committed abuse suggested “a policy of protecting the Brothers, the Community and the Congregation at the expense of the victims”.

Abuse by peers was “an element of the bullying and intimidation that were prevalent in Letterfrack and the Brothers failed to recognise it as a persistent problem”. Lack of understanding on behalf of the order of the nature of abuse committed by peers combined with fear of punishment meant that some victims didn’t report such abuse at the time.


Boys at Letterfrack “were unprotected in a hostile environment isolated from their families”, they “left Letterfrack with little education and no adequate training”. They needed extra support to bring them up to standard “but instead they got poor teachers and bad conditions”

Christian Brothers sentenced for sexual abuse at Letterfrack (click photo for profile)

2002 –  A FORMER Christian Brother was given a suspended three-year sentence after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting three boys at Letterfrack Industrial School.

2003 – 71-year-old Christian Brother Maurice Tobin has been given a 12-year jail sentence for sexually abusing 25 boys at the Letterfrack Industrial School in Co Galway between 1959 and 1974.

Dec 1997`Fixated’ paedophile is given 10 years for abusing orphans and foster-sons

Child-care worker David Murray, who sexually abused orphan boys in the 1970s and his foster-sons a decade later, was an “obsessive, fixated paedophile” said Judge Joseph Mathews, who yesterday jailed him for 10 years.

He described the case at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court as “a Kafkaesque nightmare” and said the eight victims who gave evidence were “living examples of profiles in courage whom I salute for their tenacity and bravery”