Survivors have told the Northern Ireland Historical Insitutional Abuse inquiry details of the sexual and physical abuse they experienced at the hands of De La Salle Christian Brothers, including being locked in a “cattle crusher” and raped.

The alleged abuse of the witnesses, now aged 70 and 77, took place at Rubane House, in Kirubbin, County Down, a voluntary home for boys aged between 11 and 16. Three witnesses gave evidence on Monday and two of them described the home as “hell on earth.”

The official inquiry is investigating the abuse carried out at 13 Northern Ireland institutions from 1922 to 1995. Currently the period under investigation at Rubane House is between 1951 and 1985. Over 1,000 boys were in the religious order's care during that period.

Former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) detective chief superintendent Eric Anderson has said sexual abuse was rampant. In the 1990s three brothers from the home were charged, but none were convicted of abuse due to legal issues.

In 1958 the younger stepbrother was brought to the home. The witness described how when the children went to bed at night the Christian Brothers got into bed with them. He told the inquiry how he was woken up by one of the men “fumbling and fondling” him. He also mentioned two members of the religious order whom he “had to fondle and masturbate.”

The 70-year-old witness described the most serious incident when a brother trapped and raped him in a home-made “cattle crusher” (a pen used to trap cattle when they are being treated or tended to). He described how his head and body were trapped. The brother then removed his clothes and raped him.

He subsequently told the chaplain for the home about the rape during confession. His confession resulted in him being locked in a cupboard for a long period.

The older brother told the inquiry he was one of the first children to enter the home in 1951 and the abuse began immediately.

The 77-year-old said, “I don’t remember the good times because I had so many bad times.”

He described how just after he had arrived at the home he was sent for a shower where one of the brothers interfered with him, saying it was “horse play.”

He told the inquiry that on occasion he was sent to get a film for the house but lost the money. He was so terrified of what punishment he might receive he did not return to the home. He was eventually picked up by the police, who were kind to him, but returned him to the home.

When he was returned the Christian Brothers beat him in the car and had his hair shaved off, as an act of humiliation.

The same witness also claimed that he saw one of the brothers committing bestiality with a pig.

He also said that some of the boys were “interfered” with in the dormitories were never seen again.

When asked what happened to them he said, “There are a whole lot of possibilities, a lot of possibilities, but the one I come up with was because of the severity of some of the way that the brothers carried on in the house. I would not be at all surprised what had happened. You can draw your own conclusions on that.”

The third witness (69), from County Fermanagh, described four incidents of sexual abuse at the hands of a senior brother and other experiences of physical abuse from other brothers.

He said, “I blamed myself for a long time for what happened to me. I realize now that it was not my fault but I would still suffer from very bad nightmares.”

The witness said that he was taken in to care because his mother had suffered a breakdown, but that his mother wanted to look after him.

“They took her life away from her and I suppose they took my childhood away as well.”

And he added, “I hope that children of the future have a better lifestyle that I had in there and that the other boys had as well.”

About 200 former residents have alleged they were abused at the home and 55 have come forward to the inquiry. The majority are expected to give evidence.

Lawyers are to examine 40,000 pages of documents.

At the beginning of Monday’s hearing the lawyer for the De La Salle order, Kevin Rooney, repeated the apology the brothers had previously made. He added that some of the allegations were "inaccurate, unreliable and possibly untruthful" and said the order was seeking to protect its reputation and the integrity and the character of those brothers who did not abuse.

Testimonies tell of being trapped in pens and raped, heads being shaved, a living “hell on earth.”Getty Images/Design Pics RF