Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

Show Contents



The Minister ‘suggested tentatively’ that Ferryhouse, Tralee, Salthill and Glin should be closed. The two Christian Brother Provincials agreed to the closure of Glin and Tralee, but no clear decision was made. The debate continued until 1966, when it was agreed that Upton and Glin would be closed, and Tralee kept open. In August 1966, the Minister signed Orders directing that 10 boys be transferred from Upton and 28 boys be transferred from Glin to Tralee. In fact, Tralee only stayed open for another three to four years after that, the last group of boys having left by 30th June 1970.3


Notwithstanding the temporary increase in numbers brought about by these transfers, the numbers continued to fall. The Kennedy Committee had been established and it was widely anticipated that it would recommend a gradual closure of industrial schools. A decision was made by the Provincial Council of St Helen’s Province, to which Tralee belonged, that there would be no further admissions from August 1968 and that Tralee would close in 1969.


According to the Opening Statement of the Congregation, between 1940 and 1969 the courts committed 700 boys to Tralee. Between 1948 and 1967, a further 122 boys were referred to Tralee by the Boards of Health. Of those, approximately two-thirds came from Dublin. A third ‘minimal’ category of boys was those who were placed in the Institution on a voluntary basis and they were known as ‘voluntaries’.


These 700 boys were committed because of destitution, homelessness, receiving alms and wandering. They were also committed because of improper guardianship and non-attendance at school. Because Tralee was a registered place of detention, a small number of boys were also sent there for criminal offences, such as larceny, house-breaking and malicious damage.


Numerous daily timetables for both the boys and the Brothers were set out in the Visitation Reports. The boys’ day started at 7.00 am and ended at 9.00 pm, and the daily routine was the same as in all other industrial schools run by the Christian Brothers. The Saturday programme allowed some extra time for household chores and showers, distribution of bedclothes and additional recreation. A film was usually shown in the evening. On Sundays there was a talk from the chaplain or Resident Manager and a walk or, occasionally, attendance at local matches, although one Brother said that boys were not as a rule encouraged to attend them.


The Brothers’ day started earlier, at 6.10 am, and ended with Conference and night prayers at 9.20 pm.


As with other institutions, the Resident Manager affected the overall atmosphere of the Institution. There were seven Resident Managers in Tralee throughout the period of this inquiry. Five served for approximately six years, another served for two years, and a further Brother served for a matter of weeks in the late 1960s. The system of Visitation Reports was used to monitor the performance of Resident Managers, and the Brothers in the School could give their opinion on his work. The Visitor appeared not to speak to the boys and, therefore, their experiences and views were not taken into account.


In the 1950s, there were two Resident Managers who appeared to take a genuine interest in the School and who tried to improve conditions there. The first of these, however, was criticised by ‘senior Brothers’ who found him too interfering. The follow-up letter after one Visitation implied that he should place more reliance on his Brothers and recommended he refrain from interference, since it ‘may produce much better results’ in the Community. In the late 1950s, a Resident Manager was appointed who was noted for his kindness to the boys and the Brothers. A Visitation Report remarked that he was regarded as a ‘kind father and guide’ by the boys and the Brothers.


By contrast, a Resident Manager who was appointed in the 1960s was clearly unsuited to the role. This was recognised by the Visitor who came to Tralee six months after his appointment. That Visitor said that he was somewhat slow mentally and would require the advice and guidance of an alert senior Brother: Owing to his deafness, the present Sub-Superior leads a life somewhat apart but is always ready and willing to help. Nobody else on the present staff would be a good substitute.


The next Visitor said that the Resident Manager was ‘inclined to remain too much in his office and it is said that he does not visit the school’. Much of this Resident Manager’s work was left to the Brothers. The Report stated: The Superior is kind and considerate with the community but it would seem that more generosity on his part towards the boys would have a very wholesome effect ... It has been pointed out to the Superior that it is necessary for him to assert his authority more. I can see that he has a good deal of office work to do between phone calls and callers and this perhaps distracts him from what should be his chief concern – the boys.


Subsequent reports criticise his lack of support of the Brothers and his lack of engagement with the School. In the final year of his appointment, the Visitor commented: There would seem to have been a general neglect in the upkeep of the premises and rightly or wrongly I place this at the responsibility of the Superior ... I have the impression that the Superior is a lazy man; he has no school work and, as far as I can find out, very little supervision duty. This puts much extra work on the staff. In short the place has needed a leader.4


The Visitor described the School as a ‘most depressing establishment’.


During the years of this Resident Manager’s tenure, a number of serious allegations came to light and were poorly handled by him. These are dealt with in more detail later..


The post of Resident Manager was central to the functioning of the School. Brothers and boys benefited from a better quality of life under good ones, and conditions deteriorated under those who were incompetent.

Physical abuse


In their Opening Statement, the Christian Brothers addressed the question of physical punishment of the boys. Under the heading ‘Corporal Punishment’ they discussed in general terms its use in their schools, and under ‘Records of Abuse in St Joseph’s Tralee – Physical Abuse’ they detailed the cases of documented abuse in their records.

  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.