Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 12 — Salthill

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Physical abuse


Br Burdette described his time in the Institution as ‘the happiest, hardest, most demanding, and most memorable three years of my life’. He was not able, even at this remove, to appreciate the impact of a harsh and severe routine of discipline on the children in Salthill. He did not see it as affecting the overall atmosphere in the School, but it has been found in other schools examined by the Committee that such a regime created a climate of fear that permeated life in an institution.


In his report on Salthill, which was commissioned by the Congregation in March 2002, Br John McCormack cfc interviewed a past pupil who was there in the 1960s. This ex-resident acknowledged that ‘we had happy times as well as the sad times’ and recalled with pride participating in the band and the medal he won for hurling. He also asserted that he had received a good education in Salthill, as had most of the boys who were there with him. He arrived at the age of seven, and was fortunate to have an older brother there who could watch out for him. He mentioned one Brother, Br Michel,2 as being very humane but had no such praise for any of the other Brothers there: I was not terribly gone on the rest of the Brothers in St Joseph’s in my time. They were strict and always made you toe the line. Some of them never smiled that I remember, but they must have ... Even though the Brothers were strict, there was none of them vicious or cruel. They must have had a tough time too.


It is a sad reflection on Salthill that even a past pupil who had reasonably positive memories of his time there could find so little to say in praise of the Brothers. He was in their care from the age of seven.


There follows an analysis of Brothers who were in Salthill and against whom allegations of physical abuse were made.


A Visitor in the late 1930s remarked that there was a greater sense of harmony in the Community since this Brother’s departure and that: By all the accounts I got it would seem to me that Br Chappell should never be put in charge of boys: his violent, vengeful disposition render him quite unsuitable for such a charge.


According to the records, he had been in Salthill for almost six years when he was transferred. Although he had served in a number of industrial schools prior to that, he did not work in any residential school after 1937 but worked as a domestic Brother in a Community house.


Br Leveret was transferred to Salthill in the early 1940s after a history of serious and violent abuse in Letterfrack. In the year before his transfer to Salthill, a Brother on the staff of Letterfrack wrote to the Provincial about the use of a horse whip on the boys. Br Leveret was one of the perpetrators of this brutal punishment. The Resident Manager forbade such punishments and directed that, in future, all punishments for serious offences would be administered by him, the Manager, in the presence of a third party. Br Leveret, however, did not comply with this direction, and the Resident Manager had to write to the Provincial to report that ‘Br Leveret has not adhered to the regulations’.


He referred to Br Leveret in a subsequent letter: Punishment: a stick is the general instrument used and even with this he goes beyond the rule. I have seen recently a boy with swollen hand, palm and thumb, the steward on farm remarked he was not able to milk for some days. A boy was stripped and beaten in his (Br Leveret’s) room. He has put boys across his bed in room and even in unbecoming postures to beat them behind. The boys are absolutely afraid to divulge who punished them and won’t even answer questions truthfully, through fear of being punished again. Only this week I got two little fellows crying and I asked them what happened they would not tell me.


Although Br Leveret wrote a letter in defence of his behaviour, the Provincial did not believe him and he was removed from Letterfrack that year.


He was transferred to Salthill where he remained for almost 10 years. His proclivity for violence emerged again. A Visitation Report in the late 1940s noted that Br Leveret ‘is said to be too severe in school’. A year later, the Superior informed the Visitor of serious misgivings he had regarding Br Leveret’s suitability as a teacher in an industrial school. The Visitation Report noted that: The Superior complained that Br Leveret was very severe on the boys and had injured at least two boys when inflicting corporal punishment. I spoke to Br Leveret and he said that on each occasion it was on account of boys giving him impertinence. He said one boy called him a tinker before the other boys in the class. It seems the Superior made some statement in the chapel when speaking to all the boys to the effect that he was against corporal punishment and that he was the responsible person in the place for inflicting such. The Brother Superior thinks that Br Leveret is not a right individual to have in an industrial school and would like to have him changed. He has rather light work here and is unwilling, according to the Superior to take extra duties.


Br Leveret was transferred to Cork and did not teach in an industrial school again.


Br Leveret should never have been transferred to Salthill after his behaviour in Letterfrack. The Congregation commented on the use of the horse whip in Letterfrack but made no reference to his subsequent move to Salthill. They stated: The above incident demonstrates well how the Brothers generally did not approve of severe corporal punishment. Those who did not approve were courageous enough to speak out even though it meant having to live with the person against whom they spoke. The contention that those religious who did not abuse were culpable because they did not “stand in the way” of abuse they witnessed does not stand up to scrutiny. When abuse was known to a Brother, the documentation indicates that he made it known to the authorities.


Notwithstanding the warnings and reprimands he had received in Letterfrack, this Brother was transferred to Salthill where he continued his aggressive behaviour. It was an example of serious management failure on the part of the Provincial to have transferred such a man to another residential school.


Br Sebastien served in Salthill in the early 1940s. Some three years prior to his posting to Salthill, when being given permission to take his final vows, Br Noonan, the Superior General, drew his attention to a fault which would require correcting, namely his severity towards boys. Br Noonan wrote of his excesses: This is indefensible; it is in every way against the canons of the teaching profession. Punishment in a moderate way is allowed; but severity is altogether to be avoided. It injures the boy’s feelings and never produces real improvement.


No written record was kept of this Brother’s performance in Salthill. Given his earlier history, such a record would have been expected. It was a persistent management failure on the part of the Leadership of the Congregation that violent men were so often posted to residential schools.

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  30. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period. See the Department of Education chapter for a discussion of her role and performance.
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