Artane. Daingean. Goldenbridge. Letterfrack. Seemingly innocuous placenames. They can still send a shudder of cold fear through the hearts of Irishmen and women of a certain age.
It was in these dark and sinister institutions that bad boys and wayward girls would disappear.
Society handed over responsibility for its children to a powerful and authoritarian Catholic Church. The great grey walls of these institutions were surrounded by even higher walls of secrecy.
They were described variously as reform schools or industrial schools. The “reform” we now know was brought about by a regime of terror, and the “industry” was hugely exploitative. Children worked long hours and the schools made a handsome profit on the state subvention given.
The children entered these schools at the age of eight and generally left on turning 17.
But only now are we beginning to realise just how menacing and unforgiving these corridors were.
Institutional state and Church silence has meant that these bastions of brutality have been slow to yield their horror stories. People bought into the notion that these buildings were worthy places where orphaned children, or children with parents who could not afford to clothe and feed them, were sent by order of the courts for their welfare and education.
But from the late 1930s Catholic bishops, parish priests and devout members of the flock were reporting to the Department of Education and to the courts the names of children whose parents might be always quarrelling in an alcoholic daze, or a Catholic widow who was living in sin with an unmarried Protestant partner.
Probation officers would whisk away those children who came before the courts and were allocated to one of the 100 institutions of clerical detention.
What really happened behind those closed walls is now revealed in the first major inquiry conducted by a state which abdicated to a clericalist Church corrupt with power. More than 90% of all the victims who gave evidence to the Ryan Commission reported being physically abused while in industrial and residential schools or out of home care. About half of the inmates were subjected to brutal sexual abuse.
Inspectors from the Department of Education who should have been whistleblowers were meanwhile deferring to the clergy. Some of these inspectors had studied for the priesthood before joining the civil service and were only too happy to sit with fine food in the parochial halls of their former colleagues, forgetful of the lack of food, nutrition and clothing of the incarcerated children.
The Ryan Report has opened our eyes to the evil done in the name of religion. The abusers were not just a few bad clerical eggs — it was a monstrous and iniquitous system. This report, even more than the Ferns Inquiry and the preliminary Cloyne probe, has dealt another damaging blow to the standing of the Catholic Church in Ireland.