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Chapter 12 — Salthill

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Physical abuse


The Bishop of Galway wrote to the Superior in July 1950, complaining about the violent behaviour of an employee of the Industrial School. The letter said: Dear Br Rousskin,7 On Thursday last, my attention was drawn to the fact that one of your employees, Orvelle, was beating some of the boys severely and in a very harsh manner. When I bade him desist he answered back very roughly indeed. I do not think that fellows like Orvelle should have such power and should exercise it so harshly and so publicly that they can be seen and heard from so many houses all around. If the boys are recalcitrant, they should be punished by a Brother, but Orvelle’s methods would evoke indignation if they were directed against brute animals. I feel sure that you will be able to apply the proper remedy once your attention has been called to the matter.


The Bishop’s letter records a disturbing and serious complaint, and it is surprising that neither the letter nor any response to it has survived in the records of Salthill. A copy of the letter was obtained from the diocesan archive but the original was not found in the Christian Brothers’ discovery in relation to Salthill. Neither was there any information as to what action followed the receipt of the letter. It was a surprising example of indifference by a layman to an order coming from a Bishop. The Bishop’s outrage that the man should be in a position to treat boys in a way that would have been cruel if directed at ‘brute animals’, should have caused the School embarrassment at the very least, and should have led to an investigation and serious sanction for the employee. No mention was made of this man in the annals, and all that is known is that he was not a member of the teaching staff, as he was not listed in any of the Visitation Reports for the period.


There were no documented complaints about Br Delano’s treatment of boys in Salthill during his service there in the early 1950s but his subsequent career in other schools, shortly after leaving Salthill, gave cause for concern.


The Brother came to the notice of the Provincial and General Councils because of repeated complaints of ‘immoderate punishment’ of his pupils in successive schools. The authorities were worried that he ‘could become a very serious liability’ and noted that he had narrowly escaped prosecution.


The Provincial wrote that there was no doubt about most of the complaints. Another Brother had witnessed the latest incident, when, in the course of a plain chant class, the Brother injured a boy by striking him on the nose and face, making his nose bleed.


The Brother’s response to the disciplinary inquiries was to apply for a dispensation, which was rejected. Instead, he was ordered to remain in his vocation and was given a ‘maneat’ (an order to stay).


The Provincial Council did not recommend the dispensation because it thought that the way he administered punishment was something that the Brother ‘can correct as some Brothers have done in the past’. The Provincial did not think the situation merited a Canonical Warning, even though the Brother had been given a previous, informal caution. The General Council considered the matter and ultimately agreed to issue the ‘maneat’. The Provincial wrote to the Brother informing him of the position. He said that, by complying with his religious duties with meekness and humility, the Brother would find that his ‘difficulties with the pupils will lessen and that in time you will acquire that patience and kindness with children so necessary for us all as Other Christs in the school room’.


The manner in which this case was handled suggested that the first concern was for the Congregation, for which the Brother ‘could become a very serious liability’. The next consideration was for the Brother himself, who, it was hoped, would acquire the necessary teaching skills in time. The children who were likely to suffer at the hands of this man whilst he acquired these skills were not considered at all.


Br Marque was transferred to Salthill in the early 1970s, where he remained for 15 years. One Visitor was very critical of Br Marque who held a senior position in the Community at that time. He noted: Unfortunately he has a problem with drink and when under its influence he can deal harshly with erring boys. The boys are aware of this weakness and the irrational motivation behind these punishments. This does not increase their respect for their staff nor their confidence in it.


The following year, the Visitor noted that Br Marque ‘still has a drink problem but the Superior’s good sense and vigilance have helped to lessen the gravity of the situation’.


The situation remained unresolved into the mid-1970s. The Visitor remarked that Br Marque gave the impression that he was not too happy in Galway and repeated, verbatim, the comment of the previous year: ‘He still has a drink problem but the Superior’s good sense and vigilance have helped to lessen the gravity of the situation’.


The real problem was not just that this Brother drank but that, under the influence of drink, he administered harsh and irrational punishments to the boys. While ‘the gravity of the situation’ had been lessened by the Superior’s monitoring, the question of whether children should have been under the care of such a man was not addressed. He should have been seen as an unacceptable risk to the children in the School and removed once this problem was identified.


An incident was recorded in the Manager’s diary during the mid-1970s, concerning the behaviour of Br Remi. He spent most of his teaching career working in residential schools.


The diary entry from the mid-1970s stated ‘Br Remi struck [Michael].11 deformed his teeth’. The entry the following day noted that the boy attended the dentist.


He was mentioned by the Visitor as having difficulty in adapting to the new regime that was being introduced to Salthill at that time. He wrote: despite his overt yearning for the good old days when boys were made toe the line in quasi-military fashion one senses that deep down he is slowly and reluctantly coming to appreciate that the new approach has something to recommend it.

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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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  33. This is a reference to the Gardaí.