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Brother Quoted Selectively From Death Certificate

The new headstone in the graveyard at Letterfrack Industrial School laid by Joseph Pyke Memorial Trust, named after 16-year-old Joseph Pyke who died in Tralee Industrial School in 1958

The new headstone in the graveyard at Letterfrack Industrial School laid by Joseph Pyke Memorial Trust, named after 16-year-old Joseph Pyke who died in Tralee Industrial School in 1958

The Irish Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002 by Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Provincial of the Irish Christian Brothers, Southern Province, Brother David Gibson, has been unable to explain why he quoted selectively from the death certificate of a boy who died in Tralee industrial school when speaking to The Irish Times  last Monday.

Brother Gibson was then rebutting claims by the Joseph Pyke Memorial Trust that Joseph Pyke died in 1958 after a beating by a Brother in Tralee industrial school. Having stated that he was quoting from the boy's death certificate he said last Monday that on February 9th, 1958 Joseph Pyke had died of "bilateral pleural effusion". This he understood to mean pneumonia.

However, a copy of the death certificate of 16-year-old Joseph Pyke "apprentice bootmaker", since seen by The Irish Times, gives the cause of death as "Bilateral Pleural Effusion. Septicaemia. Certified". Mr Pyke is recorded as having died in St Joseph's Industrial School, Tralee, on the date given, February 9th, 1958.

Brother Gibson did say, however, that the death certificate had been officially changed from the original which, he said, gave "senility" as a cause of the boy's death. That, he said, was changed later to "septicaemia".

In responding to queries from The Irish Times over why he had quoted selectively from the death certificate in response to previous queries, he said he had been quoting from documents faxed to him by the Order's Southern Province. [The Irish Christian Brothers divide Ireland into two provinces, an imaginary line dividing the country from Dublin to Galway.] The document he quoted from was not signed by a registrar, he acknowledged, and may have been issued in Dublin.

A copy of the death certificate, signed by Ms Nora O'Shea, registrar of births and deaths in Co Kerry, was issued on September 19th, 1995 and has been seen by The Irish Times.

Septicaemia is more commonly known as blood poisoning. The death certificate of September 19th, 1995 was issued to Mr John Prior of the Joseph Pyke Memorial Trust, who said he witnessed Mr Pyke's final beating, which he and other boys living in the industrial school at the time believed caused his death.

He recalled that all the boys had gathered in the school dining room for "bread and dripping" that day under the supervision of a named Brother. He knew something was about to happen as the Brother was "at his teeth with a matchstick".

Joseph Pyke was not eating his bread and dripping, which the Brother noticed. He came down to where the boy was sitting and laid into him with a strap.

"Joseph had a carbuncle on his back and when it was hit he fell to the ground," Mr Prior recalled. The injured boy was taken away. "We never saw him again."

When they heard Joseph Pyke had died, the other boys were convinced his death was caused by the beating, particularly as they believed the carbuncle had been opened by a blow.

It is why Mr Prior sought the death certificate in 1995 and why the group, currently involved in uncovering how many boys died, and how, in Ireland's 76 industrial schools, is called the Joseph Pyke Memorial Trust.

Last Saturday the trust organised the blessing of newly placed memorials to 77 of the 100 boys who died at Letterfrack industrial school in Connemara. The group said yesterday it had secured signed permission from relatives for the exhumation of one boy whose remains they believe are buried in a wooded area near the Letterfrack graveyard.

They hope today to secure such written permission for the exhumation of another boy they believe was buried in the same circumstances there. It is intended that both boys will be reinterred in the graveyard proper. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Clifden gardaí said they were investigating reports by relatives of boys who are said to be buried in the wooded area.

To date four men, including a priest, a Brother, a former Brother, and a lay man have been charged in connection with the sexual abuse of boys at Letterfrack industrial school.

Last July, one of the four, Brother John McKenna, was convicted in court in Galway on three sample charges of indecent assault on up to 15 boys at the school over a period of years. He received a three-year suspended sentence.

In total, gardaí at Clifden have to date sent 22 files to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) arising out of their investigations into what took place at Letterfrack. It is understood that, so far, the DPP has decided to bring no charges in up to half of those cases.