Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


A Visitation Report in the early 1940s referred to a complaint by the Resident Manager that the existing Disciplinarian, Br Piperel, was ‘not sufficiently strict as disciplinarian’ and making a ‘strong appeal’ to have him changed. He left in the early 1940s and, 12 months later, Br Ansel was sent from Artane to take over the role.


The Committee heard from two witnesses who gave detailed evidence about Br Ansel’s harshness during his time as Disciplinarian.


The first witness, referring to Br Ansel, told the Investigation Committee: He was absolutely terrible, that man. That man put the fear of God in me. Rather than meet that man I would hide. If I saw that man or I thought that man was going to come into the schoolyard I would disappear. That man was unbelievable ... He absolutely frightened me. Whenever you would meet him it was always a beating. It was always a clip across the side of the head with the baton. He just seemed to – as you look back on it in later years he didn’t like me for some reason or another, I don’t know what.


The ‘baton’ was different to the leather. He explained that it was ‘made of several pieces of leather stitched together as they would stitch leather in a shoe’. It was shorter and stiffer than the leather. He said that they used to say that there was a lump of lead in the end of it, but he had no direct knowledge of that.


He also recalled being beaten on his feet by Br Ansel with this ‘baton’, after Br Ansel asked him to put his feet out from under the sheets. This happened to him one night when a boil on his bottom burst and his sheets were covered in blood. He was not given any explanation for the punishment and, although he had difficulty walking afterwards, no Brother asked him what was wrong with him. He never discussed it with anyone.


This same witness recalled one night when between 15 and 20 boys were called into the kitchen and locked in, along with three Brothers, one of whom was Br Ansel.13 They were ordered one by one to take off their nightshirts, and to tie the shirts around their waists, fold their arms and bend forward. Br Rayce said how many strokes each boy was to have. The witness was ordered to have six strokes of the cat-o’-nine-tails. He was never told why.


The implement he called the ‘cat-o’-nine-tails’ was made in the School. When he was marching around the school yard, he had seen the Disciplinarian at the end of the yard threading leather thongs through holes in a piece of wood shaped as a handle. This was the implement that was used on them. After the beating, he was ‘covered in blood’ and some of the strokes went around his neck. It was the only time this implement was used. He did not recall other boys being punished with it, and he did not recall the matter being discussed afterwards. He added that he thought Br Ansel enjoyed the beatings.


The second witness said that, until Br Ansel arrived from Artane in the early 1940s, ‘I would say the place was reasonable’. He said that, when Br Ansel introduced himself to the boys as the new Disciplinarian, he told them, ‘you will learn what a disciplinarian is by the time I finish with you’. From that time he imposed a really ruthless rule. The witness went on to explain: Then he proceeded from there, he became an absolute tyrant. I knew real fear. He went on from there inventing punishments, like the holding out the hand wasn’t enough. The sole of the foot was one at night. Your name would be called and you just automatically stuck your leg out and you got three lashes of a leather ... You would get three lashes for every item or whatever; if you were talking in the dormitory, whatever it might be. Then he went on from there, he created monitors, twelve monitors but we didn’t know what they were. Whatever you do, step out of bounds, they were certain areas you weren’t allowed to go. Talking to another boy in the toilet, that was an offence, things like that, your name would be put down. He created a pay night, Friday night ... It was punishment but he called it pay nights. In Ireland in them days payday was mostly in all jobs I believe on a Friday. So, he called this Friday night rather than punishment night “pay night”. We all lined up in the hall and he would come up the stairs, I don’t know what it was about me but I always got the job of speaking. My job was to stand up, he had his table out and a book and an ash plant put on the table, and the gymnasium horse, the vaulting horse in the front. He would stand up and come up the stairs and he’d said good evening. I used to speak first and say “Good evening, sir”, the rest of the school would reply “Good evening, sir”. Then he’d say “What night is it [Name of witness]?” I would say “it is Friday night, sir.” “What does that mean, [name of witness]?” “That means it’s pay night, sir and we are glad it’s come.” Then I would sit down. Then he would proceed to look at the book and call out the names ... of whatever you’d be accused of, what was down on the book. The monitors wrote whatever offence you committed during the week or, offences, it might be two or three. Your name would be called out and you marched up, dropped your trousers, jumped over the horse and you got three lashes of an ash plant on the bare backside for every item. The problem was that if you got it all at once your name might not appear again until way down the list then you would get it on other side, and you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a few days. We had a sort of unwritten code there, that you took it ... no matter what punishment you got you took it like a man, you didn’t squeal so you just took it. You went away in a quiet corner and cried later when you got away from the crowd or something. You might have wished your father and mother were there, or something like that.


This complainant also explained that there was a ‘monitor’s book’ that the monitors used to write in. Br Ansel did not tell the boys who the monitors were and the boys did not know. This meant that on Friday night you did not know whether your name was in the book or not. He did not know how the monitors were chosen or changed. He thought it would be out of fear of receiving a beating. ‘Pay night’ lasted as long as Br Ansel remained in Tralee.


Br Ansel used other forms of punishment. These included ‘square bashing on the double, thumbs up’ and running around the field. Running produced greater discomfort because the boys had chafing tweed clothes, no underwear and boots that ‘wouldn’t be very clever fitting’. He explained, ‘They’d just keep you running until you dropped, which I found was probably the hardest punishment of all really on a hot day’.


He said that Br Ansel was trying to make young soldiers out of the boys and, on one occasion, had them lined up as a ‘human rake’, raking the hay on Tralee racecourse because the Christian Brothers had bought the hay on that site. Their bottoms had to be in line, military style, and Br Ansel would whip the bottom of any boy not in line. He recalled, ‘You daren’t take thistles out of your fingers or anything like that. You just kept raking’.


He also described a Saturday morning art class and how Br Ansel had a cane that could be bent. He explained that, while the boys were drawing, he would swish the cane by their ears while asking them questions that they had to get correct to avoid being hit on the ears. Br Ansel, he said, ‘had no problem where he’d hit you or when he’d hit you’.


A translation of a Department of Education memorandum to the Secretary, Office of National Education, stated that Br Ansel ‘controls with authority but without being harsh. He succeeds in exercising a kind discipline in the school’.


The Visitor in the same year noted that he was ‘a very satisfactory man’ and, if the Resident Manager placed more confidence in him, the ‘Community would be happier and the boys better disciplined’. Another Visitation Report noted he was a ‘very efficient’ Disciplinarian.


According to the second complainant, Br Ansel got booed on his last day in Tralee. Everybody was happy that he was leaving.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period. See Department of Education chapter, Vol. IV.
  2. The Visitation Report for February 1960 records the total number in the primary school as being 119 and the Visitation Report for May 1961 gave the total number of boys in Tralee as 130, with 107 boys on the roll in the primary school.
  3. The 1969 Visitation Report refers to 35 boys being still in the School, and the Opening Statement says that by 30th June 1970, the School had closed.
  4. Prior to leaving, the Visitor gave the Resident Manager directions as to certain matters that should be attended to without delay including cleaning the entrance path and flowerbeds, employing a woman to take over the care of the laundry, teaching the boys table manners and providing them with washing facilities before dinner and tea time. These were reiterated in a follow-up letter to the Resident Manager, without the reference to the paths and flowerbeds.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. He said that he thought it was probably another Brother (Br Cheney, the Principal at that time) who made the decision that he was to be kept away from the dormitories but he ‘would totally agree with that’.
  7. ‘Strong hand’ in Irish.
  8. The two Brothers referred to were Br Mahieu and Br Cheney.
  9. The letters to Br Sebastien, Br Millard and Br Beaufort mentioned below.
  10. He had also worked in Carriglea in the early 1930s.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. The school annals note that the Brother resigned from the post due to ill-health.
  13. One of the others was Br Rayce. The complainant did not know who the third one was.
  14. Br Aribert accepted that this was a fair summary of Br Lafayette.
  15. Brs Archard and Kalle.
  16. This is a pseudonym.
  17. ‘Senility’ was subsequently changed to ‘septicaemia’.
  18. This is a pseudonym.
  19. He confirmed also that it was not the general rule that you would be punished if you failed in your homework or schoolwork at class.
  20. Professor Tom Dunne, ‘Seven Years in the Brothers’ Dublin Review (Spring 2002).
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This Brother worked in Tralee from the mid-1960s to 1970.
  23. There were three Resident Managers during Br Lisle’s time in Tralee: Brs Sinclair, Millard and Roy.
  24. Br Sinclair was Resident Manager for a period of six years in the 1960s.
  25. Question Time was a radio programme
  26. The annals refer to ‘this tax’ ceasing to be paid when Br Dareau came as Resident Manager.
  27. This is borne out by the Department Inspector’s Reports, which until 1950 categorised the food and diet as ‘satisfactory’. The 1953 Report said that food and diet was ‘much improved’ and, from then on, was always described by this inspector as very good.
  28. A later Visitation Report noted that there was no evidence of the pilfering of food that had taken place before this Brother arrived in Tralee.
  29. The 1940s Visitation Reports only commented on the standard of the boys’ clothing in 1940, 1941 and 1943, and then only in positive terms.
  30. ‘The School has improved out of all recognition’ and ‘excellent manager’.
  31. This complainant was in Tralee from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s.
  32. One complainant told the Committee about how the boys had to creosote the floor in hot weather, and without any gloves or goggles. ‘It was a very nasty job because it would get into your eyes and all over your hands and everywhere else’.
  33. There was a profit of £98 mentioned in the 1937 Visitation Report, and a profit of approximately £395 mentioned in the 1953 Visitation Report.
  34. According to the Opening Statement, the main recreational facilities were the hall, schoolyard, football playing pitch and the band room. When the primary school closed, the classrooms were converted into sitting rooms, with TV etc.
  35. The 1949 annals referred to Mr Sugrue, the Department’s Inspector, having made his first visit to the School and having spoken freely to staff and boys.
  36. This Brother to whom the shotgun was taken was the Brother who had the long history of physically abusing boys and spent two separate periods in Tralee.
  37. He also said this of Br Toussnint and of a lay teacher.
  38. St Helen’s was in Booterstown.
  39. 67 in 1945, 70 in 1946, 90 in 1947, 90 in 1949, and 45 in 1952. In 1960, the annals note that families were willing to take boys for three to four weeks, but there was no evidence of this actually happening that year. 68 boys went on home leave in 1968.