De La Salle Boys' Home, Rubane House, Newtownards, Down, Northern Ireland

In April 1950, the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Mageean, asked the De La Salle Brothers to establish a voluntary home and orphanage in the diocese. The home was intended to provide relieve the shortage of places at the Nazareth Lodge boys' home in Belfast run by the Sisters of Nazareth. The Brothers did have their own establishment in Belfast, St Patrick's Training School for Boys, but that was for junior offenders rather than boys being taken into care. A property, known as Rubane House, was acquired for the new home on Gransha Road, Kirkcubbin, near Newtownards. Situated near near the shores of Strangford Lough, the large Victorian mansion, together with farm buildings and 250 acres of land, was purchased for £32,500 and initially accommodated up to 30 Roman Catholic boys. An opening ceremony for the Home took place on 15 December 1950, with the first group of 16 boys arriving a month later.

The Rubane House site is shown on the 1970s map below.

De La Salle Boys' Home site, Newtownards, c.1974.

Rubane House from the south-west.

In 2014, Rubane House was one of thirteen institutions examined by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI). Early on in the proceedings, lawyers issued apologies on behalf of the Sisters of Nazareth and the De La Salle Brothers for any abuse residents suffered while living in homes run by the two organisations.

The Inquiry heard that Rubane House had suffered from chronic over-crowding during the 1950s and 1960s, with as many as 86 boys residing in the premises. A former member of the order who arrived at the establishment in 1964 described conditions there as harsh, sub-standard and Dickensian. Although a succession of plans were discussed to remedy the over-crowding, it was not until 1968that the first of two groups of chalets was erected to increase the accommodation to a satisfactory level.

From 1980 onwards, there were growing allegations of physical and sexual abuse against staff and reports from lay staff about poor child care practice and management in the home. In 1982, the Eastern Health and Social Services Board placed an embargo on boys from its area being placed at Rubane. In March 1985, the home's board of governors decided that Rubane was no longer viable and that it should close.

The HIAI Inquiry heard that the remote location of the home, some 22 miles from Belfast, where most of the boys came from, made it difficult for family members to visit. The home did, however, provide good sporting and recreational facilities, eventually including grass and all-weather playing fields, basketball and tennis courts, play halls, sports hall, swimming pool, cinema visits, historical excursions, camping trips, discos, bird-watching, gardening and keeping pets. The boys also competed in inter-school and inter-community activities such as sporting competitions, bands, choirs and Irish dancing. Education was said to be utilitarian and cultural in content rather than academic, focusing on subjects such as woodwork, art and design, technical drawing, geography, history and maths. The daily routine changed over the years — in the 1950s and early 1960s, the regime was structured around religious observance, schooling and completion of daily chores with more extensive cleaning at the weekend. Boys were sometimes taken out of school to help with the farm work. However, by the late 1960s the routine had become more relaxed, with boys being allowed to visit nearby Kirkcubbin unsupervised and attend local discos.

The Inquiry heard extensive evidence from former residents of Rubane alleging widespread physical and sexual abuse by Brothers and lay staff, and of abuse amongst the boys themselves — full details can be found in the HIAI reports.

The Inquiry concluded that there had been systemic failings to ensure that:

  • Rubane provided proper care
  • Children in Rubane would be free from abuse
  • All proper steps were taken to prevent, detect and disclose abuse in Rubane; and
  • Appropriate steps were taken to ensure the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences involving abuse in Rubane.

Those who contributed to these failings included the Northern Ireland Government, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Diocese of Connor and Down, the De Las Salle Order, and the welfare authorities.

The Rubane site is now occupied by the Echlinville Distillery.


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