Vigil to remember Peter Tyrrell in Hampstead and Highgate

Nuala Flynn
Mar 1 · 8 min read

If you would like to be part of the vigil -it is free but please book on Eventbrite, At this link:

On April 26th 1967, Peter Tyrrell set fire to himself on Hampstead Heath in London. He had been writing his life story and sending chapters to Senator Owen Sheehy Skeffington in Dublin, who was campaigning for the abolition of corporal punishment in Irish schools. But his book was to remain unpublished until 2006. He may well have been the first Irish survivor in the 1950s to break the silence about childhood rape and systemic violence that he experienced in Letterfrack Industrial School in Connemara. As one of 10 children living in extreme poverty, he was removed, age 8 with his three older brothers by the state, and sent to Letterfrack, in what is now Connemara National Park, where he was incarcerated for 7 years in the 1920s and 1930s. He suffered and witnessed extreme physical, emotional and sexual brutality. The heart wrenching children’s graveyard at Letterfrack, holds the remains of children he would have known.

After leaving Ireland, he served in the British Army in many parts of the world, notably India, and was a German prisoner of war in WW2, which he compared favourably to Letterfrack. Returning to London, living in the Irish community in Camden, his traumatic memories returned as he met with other survivors and listened to their experiences. His brother visited Letterfrack in 1955 and spoke to around 20 boys who confirmed daily beatings and unchanged cruelty. He began to write to the authorities and the press about his experiences, who all dismissed his concerns. At the London Irish Centre, in 1955 it was suggested he contact Senator Sheehy Skeffington, who was campaigning rigorously against corporal punishment in schools, whose evidence of abuse was dismissed as un-Irish by the minister of Education. Skeffington suggested Tyrrell write a factual account of life in Letterfrack and its impact on him as the best way to focus attention on how the industrial schools are run. The first part of the book about Letterfrack, was produced in 5 months, but the writing became a longer project, providing a detailed account of his time in the army in India and in combat and in prisoner of war camp in Germany. Throughout, he connects and makes links to the impact of Letterfrack. The writing, cathartic,the desire to get it all out, frustrating, probably re-traumatising, as memories too disturbing for the book emerged.

To be isolated with activated traumatic memories is dangerous . Sheehy Skeffington arranged for Joy Rudd in London to have an article published in the Hibernia journal about life in Letterfrack and through her he became a member of the London Tuairim Study Group, meeting at the London Irish Centre, who were creating policy recommendations for reform in Ireland. The group included people who would go on to have significant political and public roles, Garrett Fitzgerald among them.“I told them about Letterfrack . The meeting was a great success”, and his hopes of reform were raised. When, in 1966 they produced their report on industrial schools called ‘Some of Our Children’, they refused to include the truth that Peter had conveyed, that the abuse was still happening in the schools- right now, and only made a mild rebuke. He set fire to himself the following year. Later testimonies in the Ryan report, personal testimonies and books including Mannix Flynn’s novel, “Nothing to Say”confirm that they were beating beaten and abused at the time of publication. He had been corresponding with Sheehy Skeffington for nearly ten years. It took nearly a year to identify him, by a scrap of a postcard addressed to him.

During the nine year investigation that became the Ryan Report in 2009, Peter Tyrrell’s notebooks were discovered - 40 years after his death. The notebooks were edited by Diarmuid Whelan , and the book “Founded on Fear” was launched in 2006 by Mary Raftery, who’s TV Documentary “States of Fear” gave voice to the testimony of survivors, including Peter, finally forcing a response from the state which set up the investigation.

Peter’s testimony was included in the Ryan report, where he is given the pseudonym Noah Kitterick.

We want to tell his story and honour him with a Candlelit Vigil and Memorial event on April 26th 2019.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Ryan and Murphy Reports. The Ryan Report, the first national enquiry in the world into institutional child abuse, followed a nine year investigation into the physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect of children in the industrial and reformatory schools, imprisoned there for minor misdemeanors, poverty, or taken from an unmarried mother, who herself might have been sent to a Magdalen laundry.

The testimony of survivors demonstrated beyond a doubt that the entire system treated children more like prison inmates and slaves than children with emotional and physical needs, with no legal rights and with no concern for their future, their human potential. Sexual abuse was endemic, amid a “culture of self-serving secrecy”. From the very beginning of the century, critics were consistently silenced , critical reports shelved, and government inspectors failed to stop the abuses.

A few months after the Ryan Report, the Murphy Report into the cover up of reported sexual abuse by clergy in the archdiocese of Dublin was published, blowing open the squalid and chronic evasions of moral duty and justice by church and state for the victims of clergy abuse. The complaints of parents and their children were ignored and other children placed in immediate danger as bishops protected offenders and the church at the expense of children.

The Vigil and Memorial is an open community event for anyone who would like to honour and grieve for Peter Tyrrell, and all children and survivors of imprisonment in the institutions, and to bear witness in support for all survivors who are now seeking truth, justice and reconciliation by coming together for this event, which will include speakers , poetry and music.

We are crowdfunding the event and had hoped to bring survivor and acclaimed poet Connie Roberts to recite in person poem “Letterfrack Man” in praise of Peter Tyrrell, telling of his courage and tragic loss that she will honour one day on Hampstead Heath.

Letterfrack Man

One day I will go to Hampstead heath

to read his postscript…..

I will stand a long time;

weep that it took so long for his

match to spark a revolution

She is now unable to come in person, and has recorded a video recital for the Vigil. Her “ability to make poems out of harrowing autobiographical material .. to speak up about things we would rather not address,” in ways that are compelling and vital. In recognising his passionate desire to expose and change the cruel abuse of children in the industrial schools, linking to the present needs to address the unfinished business and work towards truth and reconciliation.

There will be two other key speakers who have deep involvement in the long and ongoing struggle and process of bringing past and present hidden truths to light :

Conrad Bryan — Member of the Collaborative Forum on Mother and Baby Homes Investigation will speak about the live issues and struggles for justice sparked by the discovery of the mass grave of 796 babies in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, and the Justice for Magdalenes campaigns

Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, researcher for the documentary “States of Fear”, and co-author of “Suffer the Little Children” (1999) and will be speaking about the background to institutional abuse. It was the testimony of survivors and the detailed research presented to the public in the book that finally forced a response from the state, and reveals the mindset of government officials and religious orders who ran this vast system.

We might see how Peter Tyrrell’s story is still so relevant — so resonant with the continuing necessity of facing and difficult disturbing devastating truths.

I realised through working with survivors that there is also social, political and cultural trauma. That society needed to look within to activate it’s own deeper response. This has been recognised across other areas of social and cultural and ecological trauma, areas of physical and sexual violence, of domination, with no reflection on the harm, self-harm and unsustainable destructiveness that permeates our culture .Collective efforts in recognition, remembrance, solidarity, putting the emphasis on a truthful understanding and presentation of events can build bridges between excluded individuals and society.

I was drawn to participate in the first Vigil for the survivors and 796 “Home Babies” in 2016. The Vigil was a collaboration by Sadie Cramer and Catherine Corless, a simple and heartfelt community ritual and memorial. I have been involved in other vigils Tuam, Letterfrack and Belfast.

Vigil means — to be awake, observant — with purpose.

This Vigil is part of that series, a community ritual and memorial, a space for reflection and remembrance to foster awareness and heartfelt engagement with past and present issues.

This Vigil has been organised with much help from Conrad Bryan, Sadie Cramer, Connie Roberts, colleagues, family and friends. With deep thanks.

If you would like to be part of the vigil -it is free but please book Any queries to Nuala at

Friday 26th April 2019

7 pm — Gathering and Vigil on Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath. On sacred ground where Peter Tyrrell died. A silent candlelit walk from Parliament Hill via St Albans Road to Highgate Civic Hall of 20 mins.

Parliament Hill is a 10 minute walk from Hampstead Heath or Gospel Oak Overground Station. It is a small but fairly steep hill in Hampstead Heath. There is a good path, but if the part of the vigil is not suitable for you, you can join the memorial at 8pm in Highgate Library and Civic Hall.

8pm — The Memorial at Highgate Civic and Cultural Centre Croftdown Rd, Highgate, London NW5 1HB

Route for Peter Tyrrell Vigil and Memorial — Link to Google map and to parking below,+Heath+Lodge,+Hampstead,+London+NW5+1QR/Highgate+Library+Civic+%26+Cultural+Centre,+Children's+Corner,+Croftdown+Rd,+Highgate,+London+NW5+1HB/@51.5617126,-0.1605162,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x48761a5eeed782ff:0x5d1c7a11316edc48!2m2!1d-0.1597044!2d51.5596682!1m5!1m1!1s0x48761a530ae7cbff:0x65b5f94503d977d5!2m2!1d-0.1439972!2d51.5636657!3e2

Parking Locator for London Borough of Camden — RingGo — Parking …

Parliament Hill Hampstead Heath

    Nuala Flynn

    Written by

    Nuala Flynn is a psychotherapist artist and dreamworker working in London UK and Ireland

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